Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Heaven balanced on a grass blade"

Llanthony Priory attributed to Creative Commons photo
The following poem by Allen Ginsberg is long and he was under the influence of drugs when he wrote this, so why did it capture my attention.  The history of the poem by this American writer in the 60s is far too long to write about but when he wrote this poem he was on a visit to Llanthony Priory through the little valley that winds its way to Hay-on-Wye.  I know the area well, walking round the old ruined priory, trying to find the house/chapel of Eric Gill further down the road, who probably designed the font I am writing in at the moment and is most remembered for his sculpture work.
 Capel-y-Ffin; Attribution: Dara Jasumani Creative Commons.

Ginsberg had come down with his publisher to a weekend cottage and to 'chill out' on the way he had visited Tintern Abbey, that glorious ruin of the past that has had many a poet winding his words around the old stones that are magnificently arranged against the backdrop of a tree lined hill with the River Wye running past.
he Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window by J. M. W. Turner, 1794

The poem is beautiful, pastoral springs to mind, his intense bonding to the natural world through the influence of drugs a revelation.  It made me sad as well, remembering my cousin who was also on LSD at the time, and sitting with him when he had been brought back from one of the squats in London where he had been traced down to by his father.  Barry had also tried to tell me the experiences he had seen whilst under the influence and I had never understood till reading this poem.
J.M.W.Turner's painting of Llanthony Priory, taken from the Tate Gallery website
Turner's romantic painting features the wild dramatic nature of Wales, the priory set about by a raging river and backed by those ''sort of'' mountains, the Black mountains, though in truth they are little more than hills.  Walking up that hill behind the priory one visit, I came across a dead sheep fallen into a stream, just skin and bones, it was a very desolate picture but sometimes this is how I see Wales, rock, water and death, that of course is the influence of the chapels ;)
All these photos I have hunted on the web, including the poem but in actual fact it was Landscapism blog that introduced me to it, for which I am very  grateful and say thank you......

Wales Visitation
White fog lifting; falling on mountain-brow
Trees moving in rivers of wind
The clouds arise
as on a wave, gigantic eddy lifting mist
above teeming ferns exquisitely swayed
along a green crag
glimpsed thru mullioned glass in valley raine—

Bardic, O Self, Visitacione, tell naught
but what seen by one man in a vale in Albion,
of the folk, whose physical sciences end in Ecology,
the wisdom of earthly relations,
of mouths; eyes interknit ten centuries visible
orchards of mind language manifest human,
of the satanic thistle that raises its horned symmetry
flowering above sister grass-daisies’ pink tiny
bloomlets angelic as lightbulbs—

Remember 160 miles from London’s symmetrical thorned tower;
network of TV pictures flashing bearded your Self
the lambs on the tree-nooked hillside this day bleating
heard in Blake’s old ear; the silent thought of Wordsworth in eld Stillness
clouds passing through skeleton arches of Tintern Abbey—
Bard Nameless as the Vast, babble to Vastness!

All the Valley quivered, one extended motion, wind
undulating on mossy hills
a giant wash that sank white fog delicately down red runnels
on the mountainside
whose leaf-branch tendrils moved a sway
in granitic undertow down—
and lifted the floating Nebulous upward, and lifted the arms of the trees
and lifted the grasses an instant in balance
and lifted the lambs to hold still
and lifted the green of the hill, in one solemn wave

A solid mass of Heaven, mist-infused, ebbs thru the vale,
a wavelet of Immensity, lapping gigantic through Llanthony Valley,
the length of all England, valley upon valley under Heaven’s ocean
tonned with cloud-hang,
—Heaven balanced on a grassblade.
Roar of the mountain wind slow, sigh of the body,
One Being on the mountainside stirring gently
Exquisite scales trembling everywhere in balance,
one motion thru the cloudy sky-floor shifting on the million feet of daisies,
one Majesty the motion that stirred wet grass quivering
to the farthest tendril of white fog poured down
through shivering flowers on the mountain’s head—

No imperfection in the budded mountain,
Valleys breathe, heaven and earth move together,
daisies push inches of yellow air, vegetables tremble,
grass shimmers green
sheep speckle the mountainside, revolving their jaws with empty eyes,
horses dance in the warm rain,
tree-lined canals network live farmland,
blueberries fringe stone walls on hawthorn’d hills,
pheasants croak on meadows haired with fern—

Out, out on the hillside, into the ocean sound, into delicate gusts of wet air,
Fall on the ground, O great Wetness, O Mother, No harm on your body!
Stare close, no imperfection in the grass,
each flower Buddha-eye, repeating the story,

Kneel before the foxglove raising green buds, mauve bells dropped
doubled down the stem trembling antennae,
 look in the eyes of the branded lambs that stare
breathing stockstill under dripping hawthorn—
I lay down mixing my beard with the wet hair of the mountainside,
smelling the brown vagina-moist ground, harmless,
tasting the violet thistle-hair, sweetness—
One being so balanced, so vast, that its softest breath
moves every floweret in the stillness on the valley floor,
trembles lamb-hair hung gossamer rain-beaded in the grass,
lifts trees on their roots, birds in the great draught
hiding their strength in the rain, bearing same weight,

Groan thru breast and neck, a great Oh! to earth heart
Calling our Presence together
The great secret is no secret
Senses fit the winds,
Visible is visible,
rain-mist curtains wave through the bearded vale,
gray atoms wet the wind’s kabbala
Cross legged on a rock in dusk rain,
rubber booted in soft grass, mind moveless,
breath trembles in white daisies by the roadside,
Heaven breath and my own symmetric
Airs wavering thru antlered green fern
drawn in my navel, same breath as breathes thru Capel-Y-Ffn,
Sounds of Aleph and Aum
through forests of gristle,
my skull and Lord Hereford’s Knob equal,
All Albion one.

What did I notice? Particulars! The
vision of the great One is myriad—
smoke curls upward from ashtray,
house fire burned low,
The night, still wet moody black heaven
upward in motion with wet wind. 


  1. Parts of the poem are very powerful - he reminds me of Dylan Thomas, who was also messing with his mind, only using a different drug of choice.

    Llantony Priory is a magical place, and the little chapel at Capel-y-Ffyn one of the places I will miss the most when we finally leave Wales.

  2. I know what it is that is so intense - it is his sensing - feeling - the minutest detail around him, all his senses vividly alive.

    1. You are right the poem is powerful, and lucid of course, Thomas of course but also Richard Jeffries came to mind....

  3. Interesting poem. Haven't read it before..
    I know Tintern Abbey well - it is one of those places which is full of atmosphere.

    1. There is a certain spookiness to this ruin, and of course it must be by Offas Dyke, the boundary between England and Wales, or have I got that wrong...

  4. I didn't know it either. Beautiful. Lovely to see those Turner's too. His genius surpasses most other art in my opinion.

  5. Not sure if I should have nicked the Turner but it was beautiful, I can't remember the river raging in that way ;)


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