The Mind is Like a Butterfly

Ginsberg Butterfly, illustration by E.B. Harris

 
 

The mind is like a butterfly
That lights upon a rose
or flutters to a stinky feces pile
swoops into smoky bus exhaust
or rests upon a porch chair , a flower breathing
open and closed balancing a Tennessee breeze —
Flies to Texas for a convention
spring weeds in fields of oil rigs
Some say these rainbow wings have soul
Some say empty brain
tiny automatic large-eyed wings
that settle on the page.

Allen Ginsberg

1997

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Caterpillar Changes

It was a poster for Caterpillar Changes. Printed in red on yellow paper. Typographically designed in the shape of a butterfly with psychedelic-style lettering

 
 

Barbara Rubin (1945-1980) was a filmmaker who was highly active in the New York avant-garde cinema scene in the early to mid 1960s. Her 1963 film Christmas on Earth has become a cult classic and important document. She was heavily involved with Jonas Mekas and his Filmmakers’ Cooperative and was a key figure in counter-cultural circles: she introduced The Velvet Underground to Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan to Allen Ginsberg.

 
 

Gordon Balls’ intimate recollection of a fascinating time in American history allows a vicarious experience for those unwilling or unable (due to age) to participate.

 
 

In 1967 Rubin mounted a two-week multimedia production entitled Caterpillar Changes, one of the first showings of films in a fragmented installation setting. In his memoir ’66 Frames Gordon Ball discusses the production and the poster they created: “among filmmakers lending their work were Harry Smith, Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas, D.A. Pennebaker, Jack Smith, John Cavanaugh, Stan Vanderbeek, Robert Breer, and Bobbie Neuwirth; among the musicians scheduled to perform were Gato Barbieri, the Free Spirits, Angus MacLise, and the Velvet Underground.

Keeping the Beautiful Butterfly

Design for a fashion contest under the Theme The Woman of the Future , Salvador Dalí, 1953

 
 

Eternity

He who binds to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy;

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.

William Blake

 
 

Blake’s short poem Eternity may have resulted from an encounter with a butterfly, but whether or not such an encounter took place, Blake, in his customary way, sought in this poem some insight into the nature of life. And also in his customary way, he seems to be considering life as it extends far beyond the years allotted each of us on earth.

Blake implies what we already know as we grow older, that joy and beauty cannot be possessed and thus are never commodified except in the minds of shallow people or people who are certain that they are entitled to privileges denied to others. Keeping the beautiful butterfly can be done only by destroying its life, which is a path many people follow, unaware of the fact that by doing so they undo its beauty.

Eternity implies something quite opposite to the material world in which we must live our lives. That we have glimpses of beauty in nature makes us all the more aware that Eternity, like beauty, is immaterial, and thus eternal. Blake asks us to live in “Eternity’s sunrise” with a sense of reassurance that somehow we will “see” that sunrise, that metaphoric beginning of something, like joy and beauty, that has no beginning and no end.

Innocence Juxtaposed with Evil and Corruption

Homage to Damien Hirst – The Butterfly Man, Venice, by Sir Peter Blake

 
 

Auguries of Innocence

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.

A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.

A dove-house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell thro’ all its regions.
A dog starv’d at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.

A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.

A skylark wounded in the wing,
A cherubim does cease to sing.
The game-cock clipt and arm’d for fight
Does the rising sun affright.

Every wolf’s and lion’s howl
Raises from hell a human soul.

The wild deer, wand’ring here and there,
Keeps the human soul from care.
The lamb misus’d breeds public strife,
And yet forgives the butcher’s knife.

The bat that flits at close of eve
Has left the brain that won’t believe.
The owl that calls upon the night
Speaks the unbeliever’s fright.

He who shall hurt the little wren
Shall never be belov’d by men.
He who the ox to wrath has mov’d
Shall never be by woman lov’d.

The wanton boy that kills the fly
Shall feel the spider’s enmity.
He who torments the chafer’s sprite
Weaves a bower in endless night.

The caterpillar on the leaf
Repeats to thee thy mother’s grief.
Kill not the moth nor butterfly,
For the last judgement draweth nigh.

He who shall train the horse to war
Shall never pass the polar bar.
The beggar’s dog and widow’s cat,
Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.

The gnat that sings his summer’s song
Poison gets from slander’s tongue.
The poison of the snake and newt
Is the sweat of envy’s foot.

The poison of the honey bee
Is the artist’s jealousy.

The prince’s robes and beggar’s rags
Are toadstools on the miser’s bags.
A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.

It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro’ the world we safely go.

Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

The babe is more than swaddling bands;
Throughout all these human lands;
Tools were made and born were hands,
Every farmer understands.
Every tear from every eye
Becomes a babe in eternity;

This is caught by females bright,
And return’d to its own delight.
The bleat, the bark, bellow, and roar,
Are waves that beat on heaven’s shore.

The babe that weeps the rod beneath
Writes revenge in realms of death.
The beggar’s rags, fluttering in air,
Does to rags the heavens tear.

The soldier, arm’d with sword and gun,
Palsied strikes the summer’s sun.
The poor man’s farthing is worth more
Than all the gold on Afric’s shore.

One mite wrung from the lab’rer’s hands
Shall buy and sell the miser’s lands;
Or, if protected from on high,
Does that whole nation sell and buy.

He who mocks the infant’s faith
Shall be mock’d in age and death.
He who shall teach the child to doubt
The rotting grave shall ne’er get out.

He who respects the infant’s faith
Triumphs over hell and death.
The child’s toys and the old man’s reasons
Are the fruits of the two seasons.

The questioner, who sits so sly,
Shall never know how to reply.
He who replies to words of doubt
Doth put the light of knowledge out.

The strongest poison ever known
Came from Caesar’s laurel crown.
Nought can deform the human race
Like to the armour’s iron brace.

When gold and gems adorn the plow,
To peaceful arts shall envy bow.
A riddle, or the cricket’s cry,
Is to doubt a fit reply.

The emmet’s inch and eagle’s mile
Make lame philosophy to smile.
He who doubts from what he sees
Will ne’er believe, do what you please.

If the sun and moon should doubt,
They’d immediately go out.
To be in a passion you good may do,
But no good if a passion is in you.

The whore and gambler, by the state
Licensed, build that nation’s fate.
The harlot’s cry from street to street
Shall weave old England’s winding-sheet.

The winner’s shout, the loser’s curse,
Dance before dead England’s hearse.

Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.

We are led to believe a lie
When we see not thro’ the eye,
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light.

God appears, and God is light,
To those poor souls who dwell in night;
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.

William Blake

 
 

An augury is a sign or omen. Auguries of Innocence is a poem from one of William Blake’s notebooks now known as The Pickering Manuscript. It is assumed to have been written in 1803, but was not published until 1863 in the companion volume to Alexander Gilchrist‘s biography of William Blake. The poem contains a series of paradoxes which speak of innocence juxtaposed with evil and corruption. The poem is 132 lines and has been published with and without breaks that divide the poem into stanzas.

Little Claims of Paradise

The Fall of the Titans, Cornelis Corneliszoon van Haarlem, 1588

 
 

Les mains jointes

 

Dans le ciel fument de grands vaisseaux

 et sur terre il y a ce soir un homme qui écrit

 près d’une bougie

 avec un stylographe Waterman

 Il pense aux oiseaux gris

 il pense au pays qu’il ne connaît pas

 comme on pense à son chien endormi

 Il sait beaucoup de choses qui n’ont pas de nom

 sur la terre et dans les cieux

 d’où s’envolent les grands vaisseaux

 Les arbres réclament le silence et la pluie

 Il y a un homme qui écrit près d’une bougie

 près d’un chien endormi

 et qui pense à la lune

 et qui pense au Bon Dieu

 Il y a aussi ces papillons petites réclames du paradis

 
 

Clasped Hands

 

(“Up in the sky big ships send out smoke

and on earth tonight a man is writing

beside a candle

with a Waterman pen.

He thinks of a gray bird

He thinks of the country he doesn’t know

As anyone thinks about their sleeping dog.

He knows a lot of things that have no name

whether on earth or in heaven

Hence, they fly in big ships

The trees demand silence and rain.

There is a man who is writing beside a candle,

Beside an sleeping dog

And he thinks about the moon

And he thinks about the Good Lord

There are also butterflies, little claims of paradise…”)

Philippe Soupault