Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters

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For anyone who has ever felt drawn to the Beat Generation, yet has never fully comprehended its history,

provides a long-awaited context for the lives, loves, and poetry of its founders. Beginning in 1944, Kerouac and Ginsberg’s correspondence stretched nearly 20 years, spurred by a murder and sustained by a mutual love of the written word.

In Viking’s new publication, the depth and cultural significance of the two writers’ works takes on a new perspective. Their letters chronicle the authors’ complex relationship, including Ginsberg’s early admiration of the hyper-heterosexual Kerouac, as well as their numerous publication rejections, and the establishment of a literary movement that defined a generation.

As Kerouac once wrote to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Someday ‘The Letters of Allen Ginsberg to Jack Kerouac’ will make America cry.”

Click through the gallery below for a few of our favorite quotes from the book.

Allen Ginsberg, 1945. Image courtesy Allen Ginsberg Project, © Allen Ginsberg Estate

“I am neither romantic nor a visionary, and that is my weakness and perhaps my power; at any rate it is one difference. In less romantic and visionary terms, I am a Jew, (with powers of introspection and eclecticism attendant, perhaps.) But I am alien to your natural grace, to the spirit which you would know as a participator in America.” — Allen Ginsberg to Jack Kerouac, July, 1945

“A line from my diary: ‘We are sealed in our own little melancholy atmospheres, like planets, and revolving around the sun, our common but distant desire.’ Not so good, perhaps, but if you steal that line of mine, I’ll actually kill you, for a change.” — Jack Kerouac to Allen Ginsberg, August, 1945

Jack Kerouac, 1944-45, New York. Photo by Allen Ginsberg. Image courtesy Allen Ginsberg Project, © Allen Ginsberg Estate

“I think we none of us realize the importance, nay the sweetness, of admiration; it is one of the dying virtues of character.” — Kerouac to Ginsberg, September, 1945

“Love is only a recognition of our own guilt and imperfection, and a supplication for forgiveness to the perfect beloved. This is why we love those who are more beautiful than ourselves, why we fear them, and why we must be unhappy lovers. When we make ourselves high priests of art we deceive ourselves again, art is like a genie. It is more powerful than ourselves, but only by virtue of ourselves does it exist and create.” — Ginsberg to Kerouac, September, 1945

Allen Ginsberg, ca. 1948. Image courtesy Allen Ginsberg Project, © Allen Ginsberg Estate

“Realize, Allen, that if all the world were green, there would be no such thing as the color green. Similarly, men cannot know what it is to be together without otherwise knowing what it is to be apart. If all the world were love, then, how could love exist? This is why we turn away from each other on moments of great happiness and closeness. How can we know happiness and closeness without contrasting them, like lights?” — Kerouac to Ginsberg, September, 1948

“The point is that all thought is inexistence and unreality, the only reality is green, love. Don’t you see that it is just the whole point of life not to be self conscious? That it must all be green? All love? Would the world then seem incomprehensible? That is an error. The world would seem incomprehensible to the rational faculty which keeps trying to keep us from the living in green, which fragments and makes every thing seem ambiguous and mysterious and many colors. The world and we are green. We are inexistent until we make an absolute decision to close the circle of individual thought entirely and begin to exist in god with absolute unqualified and unconscious understanding of green, love and nothing but love, until a car, money, people, work, things are love, motion is love, thought is love, sex is love. Everything is love. That is what the phrase ‘God is Love’ means.” — Ginsberg to Kerouac, October, 1948

Jack Kerouac, New York, 1953. Image courtesy Allen Ginsberg Project, © Allen Ginsberg Estate

“….I had the Dolophine Visions now and after 48 hours of hi American chemical synthetic I am actually now junksick I guess and so lushing and barbitrating—but in the midst of that feeling such great tenderness and love for you two fellows, together or alone, wish there was some heavenly accolade I could lay on you or something you’d value—and soon we are going in three directions—but eventually and about a year probably we all probably be in Mexico City anyhow—but now I want to make a speech, an after dinner speech, a big successful fat cigar big steakdown after dinner speech, don’t know really what to say, ain’t no George Jessel, know you understand, etc. and just writing and mailing this letter and goofballs got me now, you boys okay, you boys gonna go heaven ya, you boys, coupla fine fellows, that what, tha wha, you bonna be do all right, okay, in heaven dog, love you.” — Kerouac to Ginsberg and William Burroughs, November, 1953

Allen Ginsberg, Mexico, ca. 1954. Image courtesy Allen Ginsberg Project, © Allen Ginsberg Estate

“Stars over pyramids—tropic nite, forest of chirruping insects, birds and maybe owls—once I heard one hooting—great stone portals, bas relief of unknown perceptions, half a thousand years old—and earlier in the day saw stone cocks a thousand years old grown over with moss and batshit in dripping vaulted room of stone stuck in the wall. A high air silent above niteforest—tho a clap of hands brings great echoes from various pillars and arenas.” — Ginsberg to Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Carolyn Cassady, ca. January, 1954

“Please be reassured, angel, I think dearly of you whenever I do think of you, which is often, as I’m sure you do think of me often and dearly, naturally, and I’m not trying to be mysterious, or quiet, or anything, but just have reached the essence center of things where nothingness resides and does quite absolutely nothing, and this is my Chinese position….As for all your latest Mayan discoveries and poems, I want to hear every word of it if you want to transmit it, or tell it when we meet, but don’t expect me to get excited by anything anymore.” — Kerouac to Ginsberg, May, 1954

Jack Kerouac, New York, 1953. Image courtesy Allen Ginsberg Project, © Allen Ginsberg Estate

“Maybe we should write no more letters but have absolute trust in each other till we meet. He who knows does not speak. Incidentally, I’ve lost my taste for booze, and don’t hardly drink no more. You’ll see. It’s a matter of my taste changing again. Like no-smoke. Forc’d to it…I’m too old, I’m 33, to stay up all night drinking….I’m waiting till I see you again cause I’m not coming to California by a long shot, if anything I’m going nowhere…I have a little plan but my plans are always so poor….” — Kerouac to Ginsberg, August, 1954

“I’m sick, kind Kerouac, your hallowed Allen In sick in eternity! laboring lonesome and worse and worse by the day by the hour… but I need a little sweet conversation sad as the tears of that great prince Sebastian. (after Catullus)” — Ginsberg to Kerouac, December, 1954

Allen Ginsberg, Berkeley, ca. 1954. Image courtesy Allen Ginsberg Project, © Allen Ginsberg Estate

“I look down from above, watch everybody’s window, big secret plots, I’m still in love, boy loves me we don’t sleep we talk, never flesh really yet (except a few times) we talk, great lover for me, young, digs my curiosity heart, I dig his saints, he has visions too. Trees bowing in park on startled mornings for him on way to school.” — Ginsberg to Kerouac, January, 1955

“As for a woman, what kind of man sells his soul for a gash? A fucking veritable GASH—a great slit between the legs lookin more like murder than anything else. Really, my dear, every time I look at a woman now I almost get sick thinking of it.” — Kerouac to Ginsberg, July, 1955

Jack Kerouac, ca. 1956. Photo by Tom Palumbo

“We saw Times September 5 review, I almost cried, so fine and true—well now you don’t have to worry about existing only in my dedication and I will have to weep in your great shadow. What is happening in NY? Are you being pursued? Is there a great mad wave of fame crashing over our ears?” — Ginsberg to Kerouac, September, 1957

“Now listen Viking wants to publish Howl and your others and also Grove they racing to reach you first take your choice I think Howl needs distribution it has not even begun to be read. But I don’t understand politics, if this would fuck up Ferlinghetti don’t do it. I’m just telling you the news…they sense you will make money with Howl.” — Kerouac to Ginsberg, October, 1957

Allen Ginsberg, 1956, San Francisco. Photo by Peter Orlovsky. Image courtesy Allen Ginsberg Project, © Allen Ginsberg Estate

“….I don’t have your football energy for scrawling endlessly on pages. I am nervous and fretful and have to force myself to sit down—at least lately—other seasons it’s been more natural. I guess all this publicity is bad. Well like I say I prophecy a natural obscurity will befall me anyway and take that problem out of my hands. Fuck this bullshit.” — Ginsberg to Kerouac, January, 1958

“Beat generation, members of the generation that came of age after World War II-Korean War who join in a relaxation of social and sexual tensions and espouse anti-regimentation, mystic-disaffiliation and material-simplicity values, supposedly as a result of Cold War disillusionment.” — Kerouac to Ginsberg, March, 1959