Critical Response – ‘Howl’

(895 Words)

Howl (Ginsberg n.d.) was written by Allan Ginsberg (Staff n.d.) in 1955. The poem was dedicated to Carl Solomon whom he met at the mental institution supporting him after the World War sufferings. Howl is a Political Poem because though it is linked to Ginsberg’s personal life ordeals and that of those close to him, he touched more on Economic Issues in a corrupt and broken Society.

The Society was going down the drain with no voice to yell for help and I believe, as Ginsberg was “mentally much disturbed by the life which he had encountered during those first years after the first world war” (Williams n.d.), stood up as a voice for the people finally, as Williams commented on hearing the poem that, “a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America.” Ginsberg did not write focusing on himself but on behalf of society, exposing the Government which he resembled to Moloch, as Moloch was a God who sacrificed people (Lindemans n.d.).  So, to Ginsberg the broken Government was sacrificing its people mentally and spiritually, destroying them, by not fixing the problems.  Ginsberg also admits that not only him was affected as he wrote that he,

“saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness”[1].
(Line 1)

That makes Howl a “voice hurled against the harsh wall of America”.[2], as McClure put it across before.

‘Howl’ being the vocal cry of dogs or wolves which they use to call out to each other.  One howls and the others howl back.  Ginsberg was a voice to make the first howl to alert the others, as also highlighted by McClure who said, when he heard the poem, “at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America and its supporting armies and navies and academies and institutions and ownership systems and power-support bases.” (McClure 1982) even though they all found the poem very unusual with a lot to wonder about.

Ginsberg’s openness of mind and free verse approach allowed him freedom of expression without limit or rules that control him, which is what inspired my poem form, Mushroom in the Sky. This settles well with the then Beat Generation poetry, as the poem is not prearranged, which encourages free thinking without worrying about meter, form, length, rhyme, or order.

Mushroom in the Sky is linked to Howl in that it is a political poem based on the side effects of society and war aftermaths. In Mushroom in the Sky, there is an evil King of Society who owning a ‘Little Boy’[3] and ‘Fat Man’[4], making Cities suffer.  Whereas in Howl, there is evil Moloch, housing a suffering society not aiding. Moloch[5] resembles a God who sacrificed human beings.

Ginsberg also used Anaphora words in Howl e.g., where he began sentences with ‘who’ as an amber light to warn readers of the situation gaining momentum and erupting at any point into action.  His long story-like sentences also gave room to tell a story but remaining in poetry genre.  This method also inspired the layout of Mushroom In The Sky.

In his poem, Ginsberg shows his genius as he uses nearly all five senses technique on several occasions, for example;

  • Touch – “caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love”[6]
  • Hearing, sound of: “the last telephone slammed at the wall”[7].
  • Sight, color description: Backyard Green Tree cemetery dawns[8], and “Big pacific eyes sexy in their dark skin”[9].
  • Taste, of beer: “sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate”[10].

In Mushroom In The Sky, there is strong visual images and symbolism.  Some of the symbolism used are; “The story, a pain in every ear”. (Para. 6), “A Story that shook the wits out of me” (Para.1), and “who’s name deceives the ears” (Para.2).  Examples of imagery used are: “like a ghost apocalyptic town” (Para. 10), and “little big nightmare from anyone’s worst horror movie” (Para.2), and a City “be melted, toasted and turned into ashes, transformed into coal blocks” (Para. 2).  Anaphora is also used, in the first two paragraphs to stress the point to keep the reader well informed like a Synopsis so they don’t get lost in the formless poem. for example, “The story that” (Para 1) and “A King that” (Para. 2) and “They stood” (Para. 3). This was also to take the situation to another height and get the reader ready for approaching action, like a warning.

In all, Howl is a Beat Poem that has a vicious message directed to every Department of Society. The poem support individuality, freedom, and spirituality.  It also contains Ginsberg’s personal sufferings which I believe he saw in others everywhere he looked, and decided to stand up with a howling voice to be heard.

 

 

 

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[1] Allan. Ginsberg.  “Howl”, Poetry Foundation. Web Accessed 15 Feb. 2017. http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/ginsberg/howl P.1

[2] McClure Michael. Scratching the Beat Surface. Web Accessed 14 Feb. 2017. http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/ginsberg/howl

[3]Little Boy “Code name” for Hiroshima Nuclear Bomb. Accessed. 15 Feb. 201  Web. http://www.atomicheritage.org/history/little-boy-and-fat-man

[4] Fat Man, “Code name” for Nagasaki Nuclear Bomb. Accessed. 15 Feb. 2017. Web http://www.atomicheritage.org/history/little-boy-and-fat-man

[5] “Moloch.” Encyclopedia Mythica from Encyclopedia Mythica Online.
< http://www.pantheon.org/articles/m/moloch.html>
Accessed February 15, 2017.

[6] Allan. Ginsberg.  “Howl”, p3

[7] Allan. Ginsberg.  “Howl”, p5

[8] Allan. Ginsberg.  “Howl”, p1

[9] Allan. Ginsberg.  “Howl”, p2

[10] Allan. Ginsberg.  “Howl”, p2

 

Bibliography

Ginsberg, Allen. n.d. Poems-and-poets/poems/detail/49303. Accessed February 15, 2017. https://www.poetryfoundation.org.

Lindemans, Micha F. n.d. “Moloch.” Encyclopedia Mythica from Encyclopedia Mythica Online. Accessed February 16, 2017. http://www.pantheon.org/articles/m/moloch.html.

McClure, Michael. 1982. Modern American Poetry. Accessed February 15, 2017. http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/ginsberg/howl.htm.

Staff, Bio. n.d. People/Allen-Ginsberg-9311994. Accessed February 15, 2017. http://www.biography.com.

Williams, William Carlos. n.d. Introduction – Howl and Other Poetry. Accessed February 15, 2017. http://www.english.illinois.edu.

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