I was a mere sixteen that Summer day
We all piled in a beat-up car and drove
To Woodstock, or someplace we had been told
That a great spectacle was to occur—
An earth-shaking event where all the stars
That lit a generation’s sky would be
Together, like an astronomical
Alignment—all their energies would merge,
And give voice to the coming brighter dawn
We all felt was awakening in those times—                             10
A spirit free of all the bitter strife
Our parents’ lives had known, and free of all
The forms of tyranny; the little rows
Of doll-houses in suburbs, where the chains
Of smug conformity, in silence grow,
And rigid, time-encrusted old beliefs,
That led the world in mad pursuit of power
To war and to the very brink of doom;
Again sat mute as merchants of that trade
Enslaved the beautiful Promethean fire                                     20
Of Reason to their grim and violent ends—
Yes, even as we blithely breathed the air
Of Summer’s freedom in those sunny fields,
Across the world, in steamy jungle hells,
Our brothers bled and died and went insane,
And only last Summer, our cities burned,
When the last one of those great prophets fell,
And hatred, like a cataclysmic storm,
Loomed over the horizon of our lives;
And though we heard the voice of our own kind                      30
Proclaim the god-like feat that had been done,
As they stood on the face of a new world,
Across the radios and TV screens
Of our whole world, the weak and crackling sound
Fell as a lover’s words, when love is gone—
The bygone dreams of days that were no more.
For we were a new generation born
Not for the narrow realm of ordered thought,
The world of soulless men and cold machines,
And empty phrases that no one believed,                                   40
But piously repeated, just the same;
Of gods who punished or rewarded men
As they obeyed like herded sheep, or not—
No! We were born to be the golden ones,
Free from all law save what was in our hearts,
And free from Time, but what each moment gave
To pleasure mind and body without guilt–
That greatest of the chains of tyranny.
And so we came to the appointed place
And joined the thousands, walking on the roads                       50
Like pilgrims to some mystic, holy shrine,
And I became as if one of that throng
And lost myself in that great, surging crowd,
Becoming like a leaf born on the winds
That came from where we knew not, but which drove
Our minds and bodies on as with a tide,
Where thought and feeling melted into one,
A moment with no future and no past,
Where I was free to passively observe,
Without the mirror of falsely judging eyes                                 60
As if truly opened for the first time;
And I saw many things bizarre and new;
The wild profusion of free-growing hair,
And every possible exotic state
And hue of clothing, or of nakedness;
And people dancing mid the Summer corn
To waves of mystical, hypnotic tones,
And odors of hashish and cannabis
Which sweetly drifted over all that place,
Like incense in some ancient Doric rite;                                    70
And just beyond the tumult of this scene,
Upon a path that led into the woods,
I noticed a lone figure sitting there,
With such a placid look upon his face,
Yet so intense, as if by force unseen,
I was drawn to him, and as I came near,
It seemed as if a gentle light played ‘round
His head and brightened with his widening smile,
And I could not resist a certain charm
That seemed to flow forth from his very form,                         80
For he was beautiful in that strange way
That blends the essence of woman and man;
Long, flowing locks and penetrating eyes,
Broad forhead, and that knowing, smiling mouth;
“What brings you here?” he said, as I stood there,
Not knowing what he meant, and so I said,
“Do you mean here with you, or do you mean
The here that is this general event,
Or here upon this earth to walk a time?”
“Good answer!” he replied, and with a laugh,                           90
Invited me to sit down by his side.
As we looked out upon that human sea,
The magic of his speech, like music, charmed
My soul into believing that we were
Above all place and time, and free to see
The hidden truths that guide the human heart.
“I’ve waited a long time for this,” he said,
With almost a paternal love and pride,
“No single day in all those ancient times,
No pious rite or pagan spectacle                                             100
Of Greece or Rome, no conquering warrior host,
No angry revolutionary mob,
Or zealous movement, marching in the streets
Will change the world as will this day,” he said,
And smiled as he stared far away, it seemed,
And I said, “who can tell what noble dreams
Are sleeping in the minds that gather here?”
“Nobility?” he said, with laughing sneer,
“No, pleasure is the only god who reigns
Today, as it will rule the Age to come—                                 110
And he shall raise the Self above all else,
And make the universe revolve around
The sovran being, as if it were God,
And they will drink the power of that wine,
As each to each they smiling pass the cup,
Until they have forgotten that which once
Had bound their souls together, and the words
Which echo from the future and the past,
And even that great being who exists,
In whom they had believed in innocence,                                120
That great, eternal tyrant of the soul,
They will deny, or jealously reject,
As if he were the hated enemy.”
He fell into a long and silent smile,
“You speak of God,” I said, in reverent tone,
More out of fear for where these thoughts might lead,
He said, “He has no power here on earth,
Save what the minds of men have been deceived
To forfeit of their natural, true birthright—
For they are born of that same flesh and blood                        130
As all the creatures of this lovely earth,
And share with them the same deep, primal urge
To live and breathe each moment to the full,
And love and recreate in all the joy
That mind and spirit lend to pleasure’s sway;
And merging with that universal dance
Of Life, they find an immortality
Of joy and pleasure, ever born anew;
The Great Deceiver would have them believe
That they must sacrifice for some reward                                 140
That never was, and robs them of the thing
That makes each moment like a paradise.”
And his words lulled my soul like opium,
As I gazed out across the teeming fields;
A myriad of beautiful young souls
Were sharing thoughts and feelings as a one,
All swaying to the same entrancing tones,
As if one, powerful wave that could rise up,
And sweep the world with it’s all-cleansing force,
And he said, “Yes, and they will come of age,                          150
Inheriting the reigns of power in the world,
But still the freedom of this moment will,
Like half-remembered dreams, enchant their souls,
Then cold necessity will intervene,
Few will to their precious ideals stay true,
But rather justify their wild pursuit
Of money and material things, as means
To that imagined earthly paradise
That they believed themselves, alone, deserve;
And some will seek the power to impose                                    160
The empire of their will upon the world,
And many will uphold them in their greed,
For they will seem to gain by loyalty,
And from the flattery of their self-love.
But as their power and riches multiply,
So does their taste for greater pleasure grow
In more insipid, mindless decadence,
So that those lords of plunder who exploit
The blood and sweat of the vast, aching world,
Must feed them ever more to satisfy                                            170
Their lust and ever more rapacious greed;
And after their own lands have been sucked dry,
They will, by age-old logic, turn to war,
That ultimate corrupter of the soul—
And all will cheer as victims are contrived
And hatred for the enemy inflamed—
Their hearts will harden then, to the most cruel
And bestial methods of the ancient days—
For weakness will become the greatest sin—
But the most passionate in their vehemence                                180
Will be the pious ones who once confessed
That noble faith of human love and peace,
For love had long since vanished from their hearts,
That puling, weak and poisonous idea
Which plagued the world for two millenia,
That all are destined to an equal worth,
And with some innate sacredness are born—
For it was never so in Nature’s realm,
Where strength and beauty are their own reward,
And mankind, lacking this necessity,                                       190
Will never rise to all that he can be—
Terrible and beautiful in his might,
Conquering all the universe he sees!”
When he had finished, something in his eyes
Seemed as if burning with unnatural fire,
That I had never seen, yet chilled my soul,
For I was impotent to answer him,
As I stood on the edge of an abyss
Of doubt and fear, for I could not deny
That all he saw existed like the seeds                                       200
Of some dark tragedy, already sown
In this bright moment, and my darkest fears,
That often haunted me in feverish dreams—
A world gone mad, in which I roam alone
Among the ghostlike beings, unheard, unseen;
And as I wept, I thought I heard him say,
But only now like a voice from within,
“You will not have the strength to stand alone,
Forever alien to those creatures’ love.”
I walked away, and never looked behind,                                210
But heard him laugh in piercing mockery,
Which echoed in my soul throughout those days
And long into the years that passed since then,
Each time our common folly would fulfill
Somehow again, that fateful prophecy,
I heard that laugh, as I can hear it now,
Out in the street, in churches and in homes,
And in the very corridors of power.

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Editor’s Note: The featured image is a photo taken at Woodstock in 1969 and is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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