'And when he came to the place where the wild things are they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said "BE STILL!"
and tamed them with the magic trick
of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all
and made him king of all wild things '
(From a children's story by Maurice Sendak)
A few days later I was sitting by myself in an outfarm high on
the upper reaches and timber line of Rayneberg overlooking
Lake Mjoesa and the town of Lillehammer, where the air is as thin
and as pure as Vichy water; and all sounds are permanently sharp
in the mountain stillness.
Rock was now a feature of my landscapeand the tiny farm I rented sat plum in a nest of great rocks, and it was easy to see why the old dalesman family left it for a State-provided modern apartment in the town. My window looked out over an untouched moor and the eye was drawn downwards down tousled slopes of ubiquitous bracken to the lake some 2500 feet below.
There was a prehistoric feel about the place and I now understood why it was this valley which Ibsen chose to set the home of Peer Gynt, the universal wanderer, the exile in the heart of each one of us. Yet would a Himalayan Rishi understand Nordic gods (which the vision of these mountains quite naturally created in my soul) were he to observe the landscape of this valley?I think not; he would probably die of excessive cold.
Yet I loved the place, especially at night, sitting by the open peis or fireplace, listening to the softly stirring firs outside, so silent in my solitary retreat. For my life here had something of Advent about itwaiting and hoping and getting on with ordinary things. In certain moods I'd occupy my time translating Old Norse Sagas. I found this to be an excellent aid to concentration. There is one text I particularly remember, from Morkinskinna, a history of twelfth-century Norwegian kings, which was compiled by an Icelander in 1220; the text is called 'Audun buys himself a white bear', which actually turned out to be something of a white elephant; the story is about one Audun who, desiring to see the world, made the dangerous voyage from Iceland to Greenland; there he exchanged his entire cargo for a single white bear. That is all. Nothing more; it is an exquisite story, exquisitely told: and in the mind of the thirteenth-century narrator, Audun's behaviour in spending his cash like this was perfectly reasonable, for Greenland was an important place at that time, and a white bear a great treasurelike a white Cadillac might be today, something whose price is simply our All and not a penny less.
I also got to know a few people in the district and also in Lillehammer itself, where I would go for my weekly shopping. On one of these trips I met a Norwegian poetwhose name escapes me who invited me to attend a reading of 'Nordic poets' which he had arranged at the local Folk High School, when I could also read something myself if I so wished. A lot of people from Oslo were going to be there. And Vesaas, the celebrated author of The Ice Palaceby which English reviewers are not much impressedhad promised to attend.
Thus it was, on the appointed day, at the appointed time, and with due solemnity appropriate to the almost reverential sense of 'presence', if that is the right word for a rather stiff atmosphere. It reminded me more of a meeting of Kirk Elders than any poetry-reading I had been to before. Absolute seriousness is not without a dose of humour except in Norway, where it is absolutely serious that is, until the 'snaps' begins to flow, when everyone seems to get very wild and something in the structure of their thought completely snaps, as it were; it is a completely different psychophysical effect from that of getting stoned on hashish or marijuana. (A recent report by WHO, Geneva'The Use of Cannabis' notes that 'Individuals who have no taste for the cannabis experience per seregardless of moral or other considerationsare more apt to exhibit a preference of a controlled, structured, rational and secure approach to life,' as it also suggested that alcohol is much more closely associated with crime, aggression, and violence than is cannabis.)
At any rate, I had taken the precaution of smoking several joints on my way down the mountain, and arrived very stoned that is, 'quiet' and 'sensing'.... 'Those who enjoy cannabis tend to prefer an unstructured and spontaneous style of life, are relatively prone to take risks, value states of altered consciousness, and tend to seek such effects both through drugs and through other methods.' (Same WHO report).
Soon the booze began to have its effect, and the first poetfrom Swedenwas helped on to the stage, where he raged through his mother tongue like a prairie fire, his bull voice crashing through our heads like falling masonryand with about as many mixed metaphors in each line as in my description of his reading. He finally collapsed in a wave of laughter or tears, and disappeared backstage and was seen again no more.
Then followed a lady poet from Denmark, who read a series of poems on the theme of Vietnam, and in the form of imaginary letters from a Vietcong private to his mother in Haiphong, telling her about the effects on his mind of being bombed from planes 'too high in the sky even to see'. And this had a temporary sobering effect on the listeners, who had perhaps become aware, even if ever so faintly, that they were somehow, in some way, also a bit culpable.
Three or four poets in quick succession. And then it was my turn.... 'Cannabis users are most frequently young, male, unmarried, and exhibit some instability with respect to residence, work, school and goals.' (Ibid) I seated myself on the stage in the half-lotus position, lit two candles, which I put on either side of me, and asked that the hall lights be put out, which was done, though not without a bit of protest from members of a party from Oslo, who had, I gathered, been wanting to dance on one of the large tables.
There was a hush, finally. And into this silent space I inserted, in the Danish, Timothy Leary's translation of Tao Sutra number fourteen from the Chinese classic, the Tao Te Ching, which I reproduce here in its more familiar English form:
'Gazing they do not see it
they call it empty space.
Listening they do not hear it
they call it silence or noise
Groping they do not grasp it
they call it intangible
We spin through it
Electric Silent Subtle'
After a few hours' quiet reflection, I realised that what had
really upset me about the poetry-reading the evening before was
an overheard remark following Ulla Ryum's 'Vietnam poems'
'Det tross alt er farlig aa leve i Norge ogsaahva med superhighwayene
og alt, ikke?' ('Despite that, it is pretty dangerous living
in Norway toowhat with these "superhighways" coming
along and everything.') From one point of view, the person was
right but I could imagine there were many in Vietnam who would
gladly exchange the dangers of Norwegian highways for the sort
of life they had to contend with there. But if I felt this strongly,
why should I remain 'aloof with Hermit Eye' ? Wasn't my situation
just as much a 'cop-out' as for the indifferent majorityjust
living out our simple life or death? Or in some Nietzschean sense,
was not my life now also a kind of 'germinative regression', an
attempt to return to my roots ?
I had taken to acid and later to myths and ancient stories to seek a formula that would turn the surrounding world to dust and reveal the sought for paradise.
'For now I am homesick
after my own kind: and these people
touch me not.... '
I remember myself as an ancient hero, a wild man
of the mountains, a guardian of the door, a paradox
To sing of heroes Now ?
In this forgotten age ? of giant men ?
Yet I shall speak
that our giant flies might listen and would know
the glory that man is
IN THE BEGINNING, then
men hard and tall, the warriors, who fought
with man and beast, who knew
the call of blood and fire, and whose swords
cut paths to
but who shall hear thishere ?
The paths, the paths! Immortal paths! Cuhulain rides
his five fiery chariots across the firmament!
Arthur and Lancelot in battle! The ground shakes!
IN THE BEGINNING was blood and fire
And now ?
The matterings of the civilised yet impotent
conscience of modern society ?
The sound a new-minted coin makes upon a concrete street ?
Silence then ?
Yessilence. Heroes are dead!
We buried them, and did the rites
And they've long forgotten us.
(by Kristof Konstanty Jastrzebski-Glinka)
I wanted to go on living in Norway, but however well one tries to understand oneself and sort out one's priorities for happiness, reality is forever getting in the way. You never know what you will be doing until you find yourself doing it, mysteriously at work again. I had been toying with the idea of writing a book about my experiences in America, something positive and forward-looking, reflecting somehow the optimism I had for the future, the 'practical Utopia' of the Underground s manifesto of liberation. My need to communicate was very great indeed, but it had nothing to do with the ego or things like that; it was, I think, something similar to the urge that compelled Marco Polo to write about his travels. But there are two things more important than writingaction and meditationand I was impelled by the former. There is perhaps a transcendentalist anticipation of what I mean in Emerson's address on the American Scholar:
'The sacredness which attaches to the act of creation, the act of thought, is transferred to the record. Instantly the book becomes noxious. the guide is a tyrant. The sluggish and perverted mind of the multitude having once received this book, stands upon it, and makes an outcry if it is destroyed. Colleges are built on it. Meek young men grow up in libraries. Hence, instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm. I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my orbit, and make a satellite instead of a system. The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul.'
There is no future, with modern man and man of the future, which
does not resemble what 'free' people are doing in the world. All
are trying to get control over the making of their own lives;
growing their own food in country meadows or backyards, building
their own homes out in the forests, learning how to farm 'liberated'
land and live off the produce of the sea; learning how to bake
their own bread
and learning to love one another as one
enormous family, and with a conscious relation to, or respect
for, the environment.
And this implies, in one word, Revolution, not the revolution against the 'given' which has since the time of Hegel provided the avant-garde with an excuse for anarchist expression or behavioursthe answer from the outsidebut the revolution within the self. Total Revolution is inner-change-in-the-world; the tools are a cultural framework which bypasses (transcends) the existing projection structure; and 'religion' is an artistic tool for getting there, through image, vision and symbol's symbol. ONE METAPHOR CAN CHANGE THE WORLD: 'Peace of Mind brings Peace on Earth ?'Yes, but only if we recognise how the ego is the cause of all the wars inside the human mind and, by implication, also of all the wars in the world-at-large.
How strange that I 'should' do anything again! But these 'revolutionary'
ideas were becoming decisive: action would decide the rightness
or wrongness of our ideas, success that of volition. It is not
enough to take your ease in the world of ideas and live there
naively, as I had earlier thought, for this would mean that we
had merely allowed ourselves to be driven by the stream of events.
We have to know how to guide ourselves to the goal. I found it
increasingly difficult simply to sit and reflect on all this,
for there was still the job of translating recognition into action.
I could not hope to 'change myself' through 'meditation'a temperament
like mine collapses under the burden of living in another kind
of existence that simply 'is' and needs the challenge of 'should'
in order to realise the goal of 'becoming', which is, I suppose
what our Western sort of life is all aboutwe believe we 'should'
grow, become, create, perform, perfect again, and this
is the impetus for conscious volition, since our ideas remain
nonexistent until they have been tested in reality, with the self
as the first testing ground. From the point of view of the world,
it is mere illusion, if a holy man regards himself as an incarnation
or a Saint he must become saintly, change himself, if he
wishes to be taken seriously.
In my own case, I felt strongly that I should return to America, see how my old psychedelic friends were making out on their 'voyages of self-discovery', meet Tim and Richard Alpert again, perhaps even settle over there for a time and try to build a structure in which 1 could exist without losing sight of my goal. But it was a difficult decision to make, seeing how I had been out of touch for so long. And apart from considerations like these, there was the fact that life in America actually scared me stiff. If paranoia is 'having some idea of what is really going on', then you could say that I was definitely paranoid about returning to our brave New World. Just thinking about New York could send icicles up and down my spine.... my paranoia took the form of imagining myself walking alone on 11 5th Street from Riverside to Broadway at midnight, or equallydue to some error in my directionending up, an object of unpleasant attention by members of the 'Roach Guards' or the 'Five Points Gang', in Broome Street down on the Bowery
At any rate, my fears and doubts were overcome somewhat by Christmas, and early in January I found myself once again airborne over the Atlantic on a flight that was to land me a few hours later at Boston's Logan Airport, and the start of a new chapter
Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library