"Big Sur" novel by Jack Kerouac

My favorite passages from “Big Sur’

Author: Jack Kerouac

I love Jack Kerouac’s first impressions of Big Sur. I’ve never seen another writer translate or personify the energy of this sacred place in such raw, perfect, appropriate, style.

“What in the hell is this?——I’ve got the directions all memorized from a little map Monsanto’s mailed me but in my imagination dreaming about this big retreat back home there’d been something larkish, bucolic, all homely woods and gladness instead of all this aerial roaring mystery in the dark—”


“There are glades down there, ferns of horror and slippery logs, mosses, dangerous plashings, humid mists rise coldly like the breath of death, big dangerous trees are beginning to bend over my head and brush my pack—There’s a noise I know can only grow louder as I sink down and for fear how loud it can grow I stop and listen, it rises up crashing mysteriously at me from a raging battle among dark things, wood or rock or something cracked, all smashed, all wet black sunken earth danger—I’m afraid to go down there—I am affrayed in the old Edmund Spenser sense of being frayed by a whip, and a wet one at that—A slimy green dragon racket in the bush—An angry war that doesn’t want me pokin around—It’s been there a million years and it doesn’t want me clashing darkness with it—It comes snarling from a thousand crevasses and monster redwood roots all over the map of creation—”


“That feeling when you wake up with the delirium tremens with the fear of eerie death dripping from your ears like those special heavy cobwebs spiders weave in the hot countries…”


“…the blue sea behind the crashing high waves is full of huge black rocks rising like old ogresome castles dripping wet slime, a billion years of woe right there, the moogrus big clunk of it right there with its slaverous lips of foam at the base—So that you emerge from pleasant little wood paths with a stem of grass in your teeth and drop it to see doom—”


“Big elbows of Rock rising everywhere, sea caves within them, seas plollicking all around inside them crashing out foams, the boom and pound on the sand, the sand dipping quick (No Malibu Beach here)—Yet you turn and see the pleasant woods winding upcreek like a picture in Vermont—But you look up into the sky, bend way back, my God you’re standing directly under that aerial bridge with its thin white line running from rock to rock and witless cars racing across it like dreams! From rock to rock! All the way down the raging coast! So that later when I heard people say ‘Oh Big Sur must be beautiful!’ I gulp to wonder why it has the reputation of being beautiful above and beyond its fearfulness, its Blakean groaning rough-rock Creation throes, those vistas when you drive the coast highway on a sunny day opening up the eye for miles of horrible washing sawing.”


“I gulp to wonder why it has the reputation of being beautiful above and beyond its fearfulness”


“…where Alf the pet mule of local settlers slept at night such sleepfull sleeps under a few weird trees and then got up in the morning to graze in the grass then negotiated the whole distance slowly to the sea shore whey you saw him standing by the waves like an ancient sacred myth character motionless in the sand—Alf the Sacred Burro I later called him—”


“A creek having so many voices it’s amazing, from the kettledrum basin deep bumpbumps to the little gurgly feminine crickles over shallow rocks”


“Even the first frightening night on the beach in the fog with my notebook and pencil, sitting there crosslegged in the sand facing all the Pacific flurry flashing on rocks that rise like gloomy sea shroud towers out of the cove, the bingbang cove with its seas booming inside caves and slapping out, the cities of seaweed floating up and down you can even see their dark leer in the phosphorescent seabeach nightlight—”


“And at first it’s so amazing to be able to enjoy dreamy afternoon meadows of heather up the other end of the canyon and just by walking less than halfmile you can suddenly also enjoy wild gloomy sea coast, or if you’re sick of either of these just sit by the creek in a gladey spot and dream over snags—so easy in the woods to daydream and pray to the local spirits and say “Allow me to stay here, I only want peace” and those foggy peaks answer back mutely Yes—”


“I also take long curious hikes to see what’s what in the other direction inland, going up a few miles along the dirt road that leads to isolated ranches and logging camps—I come to giant sad quiet valleys where you see 150 foot tall redwood trees with sometimes one little bird right on the topmost peaktwig sticking straight up—The bird balances up there surveying the fog and the great trees—You see one single flower nodding on a cliff side far across the canyon, or a huge knot in a redwood tree looking like Zeus’ face, or some of God’s little crazy creations goffing around in creek pools (zigzag bugs), or a sign on a lonely fence saying ‘M.P. Passey,’ No Trespassing,’ or terraces of fern in the dripping redwood shade, and you think ‘A long way from the beat generation, in this rain forest’—”


“All kinds of strange and marvelous things like the weird Ripley situation of a huge tree that’s fallen across a creek maybe 500 years ago and’s made a bridge thereby, the other end of its trunk is now buried in ten feet of silt and foliage, strange enough but out of the middle trunk over the water rises straight another redwood tree looking like it’s been planted in the treetrunk, or stuck down into it by a God hand”


“…in August a horrible development took place, huge blasts of frightening gale lie wind came pouring into the canyon making all the trees roar with a really frightening intensity that sometimes built up to a booming war of trees that shook the cabin and woke you up—And was in fact one of the things that contributed to my mad fit.”


“And when the fog’s over and the stars and the moon come out at night it’ll be a beautiful sight.”


“Words from that trumpet of the morning in America, Emerson, he who announced Whitman and also said ‘Infancy conforms to nobody’—The infancy of the simplicity of just being happy in the woods, conforming to nobody’s idea about what to do, what should be done—’Life is not an apology’—”


“Better at noon to watch the orange and black Princeton colors on the wings of a butterfly—Best to go hear the sound of the sea at night on the shore.”


“And I just sit there listening to the waves talk all up and down the sand in different tones of voice ‘Ka bloom, kerplosh, ah ropey otter barnacled be, crowsh, are rope the angels in all the sea?’ and such*—”

“…it’s the little things that count (cliches are truisms and all truims are true)—On my deathbed I could be remembering that creek day and forgetting the day MGM bought my book, I could be remembering the old lost green dump T-shirt and forgetting the sapphired robes—Mebbe the best way to get into Heaven.”

“And as far as I can see the world is too old for us to talk about it with our new words—”

“…the fog says ‘We are fog and we fly by dissolving like ephemera,’ and the leaves say ‘We are leaves and we jiggle in the wind, that’s all, we come and go, grow and fall”

“But there’s moonlight fognight, the blossoms of the fire flames in the stove—There’s giving an apple to the mule, the big lips taking hold—There’s the bluejay drinking my canned milk by throwing his head back with a miffle of milk on his beak—There’s the scratching of the raccoon or of the rat out there, at night—There’s teh poor little mouse eating her nightly supper in the humble corner where I’ve put out a little delight0-plate flull of cheese and chocolate candy (for my days of killing mice are over)—There’s the racoon in his fog, there the man to his fireside, and both are lonesome for God—”

“(Ten delicate olives slowly chewed at midnight is something no one’s ever done in luxurious restaurants)—”

“There’s universal substance which is divine substance because where else can it be?”

“The sea seems to yell to me GO TO YOUR DESIRE DON’T HANG AROUND HERE—For after all the sea must be like God, God isn’t asking us to mope and suffer and sit by the sea in the cold at midnight for the sake of writing down useless sounds, he gave us the tools of self reliance after all to make it straight thru bad life mortality towards Paradise maybe I hope—but some miserables like me don’t even know it, when it comes to us we’re amazed—”

“Ah, life is a gate, a way, a path to Paradise anyway, why not live for fun and joy and love or some sort of girl by a fireside, why not go to your desire and LAUGH”

“But it is beautiful especially to see up ahead north a vast expanse of curving seacoast with inland mountains dreaming under slow clouds, like a scene of ancient Spain, or properly really like a scene of the real essentially Spanish California, the old Monterey pirate coast right there, you can see what the Spaniards must’ve thought when they came around the vend in their magnificent sloopies and all all that dreaming fatland beyond the seashore whitecap doormat—Like the land of gold—the old Monterey and big Sur and Santa Cruz magic—So I confidently adjust my pack straps and start trudging down the road looking back over my shoulder to thumb.”

“And on the way there’s all kinda interesting things to see anyway like the seals barking on rocks below, or quiet old farms made of logs on the hills across the highway, or sudden upstretches that go along dreamy seaside meadows where cows grace and graze in full sight of endless blue Pacific—”

“Soon we’re set straight and pointed head on down beautiful fourlane Bayshore Highway to that lovely Santa Clara Valley—But I’m amazed that after only a few years th damn thing no longer has prune fields and vast beet fields like at Lawrence when I was a brakeman on the Southern Pacific and even after, it’s one long row of houses right down the line 50 miles to San Jose like a great monstrous Los Angeles beginning to grow south of Frisco.”

“We all agree it’s too big to keep up with, that we’re surrounded by life, that we’ll never understand it, so we center it all in by swigging Scotch from the bottle and when it’s empty I run out of the car and I buy another one, period.”

“It’s as familiar as an old face in an old photograph as tho I’m gone a million years from all that sun shaded brush on rocks and that heartless blue of the sea washing white on yellow sand, those rills of yellow arroyo running down mighty cliff shoulders, those distant blue meadows, that whole ponderous groaning upheaval so strange to see after the last several days of just look at little faces and mouths of people—”

“Still the same, the fog is blowing over the walls of the canyon obscuring the sun but the sun keeps fighting back—The inside of the cabin with the fire finally going is still the dear lovable abode now as sharp in my mind as I look at it as an unusually well focused snapshot—The sprig of ferns still ranged along the wall shelves—I feel excited to be with the gang but there’s a hidden sadness too and which is expressed later by Monsanto when he says ‘This is the kind of place where a person should really be alone, you know? when you bring a big gang here it somehow desecrates it not that I’m referring to us or anybody in particular? there’s such a sad sweetness to those trees as tho yells shouldn’t insult them or conversation only”—Which is just the way I feel too.”

“in fact the bonfire lights up the eerie weird beams and staunches of the bridge almost all the way up, giant shadows dance on the rocks—The sea swirls up but seems subdued—It’s not like being alone down in the vast hell writing the sounds of the sea.”

“But the new Big Sun Autumn was now all winey sparkling blue which made the terribleness and giantness of the coast all the more clear to see in all its gruesome splendor, miles and miles of it snaking away south, our three jeeps twisting and turning the increasing curves, sheer drops at our sides, further ghostly high bridges to cross with smashings below—Tho all the boys are wowing to see it—To me it’s just an inhospitable madhouse of the earth, I’ve seen it enough and even swallowed it in that deep breath—”

“it’s just amazing how inside our own souls we can life out so much strength I think it would be enough strength to move mountains at that, to life our boots up again and go clomping along happy out of nothing but the good source power in our own bones—”

“I wake up from this silly but strangely pretty dream feeling exhilarated—Besides now the stars come out every night and I go out on that porch and sit in the old canvas chair and turn my face up to all that mooching going on up there, starmooched firmament, all those stars crying with happy sadness, all that ream and cream of mocky ways with alleyways of lightyears old as Dame Mae Whitty and the hills—”

“but I’m singing ‘Man is a busy little animal, a nice little animal, his thoughts about everything, don’t amount to shit.”

“But Cody’s oldfashioned family tiptoe sneak carries that strange apocalyptic burst of gold he somehow always manages to produce”

“Because he was always tremendously generated towards complete relationship with his women to the point where they ended up in one convoluted octopus mess of souls and tears and fellatio and hotel room schemes and rushing in and out of cars and doors and great crises in the middle of the night, wow that madman you can at least write on his grave someday ‘He Lived, He Sweated'”

“‘The way to drive in the mountains is boy, no fiddlin around, these roads don’t move, you’re the one that moves’—And we come out on the highway and go right battin up to Monterey in the Big Sur dusk where down there on the faint gloamy frothing rocks you can hear the seals cry.”

“It’s all blue dusk all up and down the California world—Frisco glitters up ahead—Our radio plays rhythm and blues as we pass the joint back and forth in jutjawed silence both looking ahead with big private thoughts now so vast we can’t communicate them any more and if we tried it would take a million years and a billion books—Too late, too late, teh history of everything we’ve sen together and separately has become a library in itself—The shelves pile higher—They’re full of misty documents or documents of the Mist—”

“Besides I can see from glancing at him that becoming a writer holds no interest for him because life is so holy for him there’s no need to do anything but live it, writing’s just an afterthought or a scratch anyway at the surface—”

“‘You said in 1957 in the grass drunk on whiskey you were the greatest thinker in the world’—’That was before I feel asleep and woke up: now I realize I’m no good at all and that makes me feel free'”

“and I point out the moon to him, there’s a dead silence in the trees and also among us inside, there she is, vast lugubrious fullmoon that frights madmen and makes waters wave, she’s got one or two treetops silhouetted and’s got that whole side of the canyon lit up in silver—”

“I’m sitting smiling in the sun, the birds sing again, all’s well again. I still can’t understand it. Most of all I can’t understand the miraculousness of the silence of the girls and the sleeping boy and the silence of Dave Wain in the fields—Just a golden wash of goodness has spread over all and over all my body and mind—”

“Monsanto will say ‘That’s all there is to it, take it easy, everything’s okay, don’t take things too serious, it’s bad enough as it is without you going the deep end over imaginary conceptions just like you always said yourself—'”

“On soft Spring nights I’ll stand in the yard under the stars—Something good will come out of all things yet—And it will be golden and eternal just like that—There’s no need to say another word.”


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