Vegetable-snake Undersea Beings: A Belated Correction
January 20, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
When The Paris Review interviewed Allen Ginsberg for our Spring 1966 issue, he expressed a sense of conflict about hallucinogens. He treasured their effects on consciousness—“you get some states of consciousness that subjectively seem to be cosmic-ecstatic, or cosmic-demonic”—but his body was having trouble tolerating them. “I can’t stand them anymore,” he said, “because something happened to me with them … After about thirty times, thirty-five times, I began getting monster vibrations again. So I couldn’t go any further. I may later on again, if I feel more reassurance.”
Thomas Clark conducted that interview in June 1965; the issue was on newsstands the following spring. A year later, though, in June 1966, Ginsberg sent The Paris Review the following letter, which recently resurfaced in our archives:
June 2, 1966
To readers of Paris Review:
Re LSD, Psylocibin [sic], etc., Paris Review #37 p. 46: “So I couldn’t go any further. I may later on occasion, if I feel more reassurance.”
Between occasion of interview with Thomas Clark June ’65 and publication May ’66 more reassurance came. I tried small doses of LSD twice in secluded tree and ocean cliff haven at Big Sur. No monster vibration, no snake universe hallucinations. Many tiny jeweled violet flowers along the path of a living brook that looked like Blake’s illustration for a canal in grassy Eden: huge Pacific watery shore, Orlovsky dancing naked like Shiva long-haired before giant green waves, titanic cliffs that Wordsworth mentioned in his own Sublime, great yellow sun veiled with mist hanging over the planet’s oceanic horizon. No harm. President Johnson that day went into the Valley of Shadow operating room because of his gall bladder & Berkley’s Vietnam Day Committee was preparing anxious manifestoes for our march toward Oakland police and Hell’s Angels. Realizing that more vile words from me would send out physical vibrations into the atmosphere that might curse poor Johnson’s flesh and further unbalance his soul, I knelt on the sand surrounded by masses of green bulb-headed Kelp vegetable-snake undersea beings washed up by last night’s tempest, and prayed for the President’s tranquil health. Since there has been so much legislative mis-comprehension of the LSD boon I regret that my unedited ambivalence in Thomas Clark’s tape transcript interview was published wanting this footnote.
Your obedient servant
Allen Ginsberg, aetat 40
The Paris Review regrets the error. May the record hereafter reflect Allen Ginsberg’s unequivocal endorsement of lysergic acid diethylamide.
Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.