This is a book that envisions and examines some of the origins and development of imagination as recorded in cave wall imagery (for the most part in southwestern France) [1] during the last European Ice Age, roughly between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago. It will examine the theories of others as well as propose its own two-part thesis as to why such imagery occurred when and where it did. The metaphorical unfolding that can be traced back to a 30,000-year-old Aurignacian engraving of a horse head and neck across which a vulva of equal size has been superimposed is as startling and fresh as Allen Ginsberg’s "hydrogen jukebox."

To follow poetry back to Cro-Magnon metaphors is not only to discover its real bedrock—a genuine back wall—but to gain a connection to the continuum during which imagination first flourished. My becoming aware of the caves led to the recognition that, as an artist, I belong to a pre-tradition that includes the earliest nights and days of soul-making.

This book is also an attempt to answer the first question that the science writer Alexander Marshack fired at me when he walked into our kitchen in the French Dordogne in the spring of 1974:

"What is a poet doing in the caves?"


In 1980, Gary Snyder wrote to me: