TO SEE A WORLD IN A GRAIN OF SAND
Updated: Mar 31, 2018
Blake and Huxley.
"To see a World in a Grain of Sand and a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand and Eternity in an hour."
I read the last few pages of Huxley's essay Heaven and Hell this morning with a cup of tea in the garden. Its almost as though the sky knew it was the first day of my holidays and I deserved a moment of calm. This essay casts a slightly broader net than his meditations in praise of mescalin that is The Doors of Perception. It looks at different cultures and religions and the similarities in their heavens, hells and visionary experiences - and how they all contain the same elements that may be found in a trip to the antipodes of the mind that can be visited by way of ingesting mescalin.
It is thoughtful, intelligent, and both narrow and broad in its scope. Whilst all is brought together in a series of parallels, he reaches back into the past and casts his reach around the world and into the fields of the various arts to illuminate his ruminations. He shows us that the fundamentals of the visionary experience are time and cultureless; that the gem incrusted visions of heaven that appear common to many religions are the manifestations of the geometric kaleidoscopes that are in the stems of all our brains. It is a lovely essay - though he does perhaps overuse his analogy of the exploration of our minds as being akin to those first explorers who travelled the world, visited the antipodes and in strange continents found such improbable creatures as the Platypus and the Giraffe. He is also inordinately fond of the word praeternatural.
The titluar essay of the book is an amazing exercise in magic surrealism. Huxley takes mescalin and has someone notate his experience such that he might write it up after the fact. It is no crazed drug trip ramblings; not Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This trip take him to visit the worlds in which Blake, Swedenborg and Bach were at home. He sees the transformative beauty in the mundane. He spends pages describing the delicacy in the folds and drapes of his trousers as though he were a renaissance statue, as well as revelling in the delights of nature. Thoughout his experiences are juxtaposed with the creation of great artists. It is beautiful and bizarre - and quite educational!
I like that Huxley loves Blake. I am also entertained that it was this book that inspired the name of the band The Doors - Break on Through (to the Other Side) takes on a slightly new complexition. I kind of wish I was still teaching Blake at A-level, it would be an amusing entry to the unit to start with a bit of music and might have provided my students with some different cultural touchstones to appreciate the bonkers mind of the poet. But now I teach Rossetti and get to have a lot of fun with Goblin Market so all is not lost!
Read some Blake - read some Huxley. But to end for today, Blake is a little more quotable than Huxley:
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”