Howl by Allen Ginsberg

Howl by Allen Ginsberg

“Howl” poem is written in a mourning tone, providing a list of issues which the author, Allen Ginsberg addresses. The issues affecting the society are capitalism, exploitation, subjugation and repression, all of which are the aftermath of the Second World War. He describes people as falling into “madness”, while trying to deal with the constraints imposed on them (Ginsberg, 2008). The poem is divided into three parts. The first part describes the desire, of those alienated by the mechanization of the Second World War demands to the American people, to free themselves from oppression and confinement. The second part of the poem personifies the lead causes of oppression to the people from which the people wished to break free. By utilizing characters such a Moloch, this seems to be a personification of capitalism, government bureaucracy, technology and materialism.

Moloch represents a component of modern society which costs the people their freedom. Part 3 puts to measure the extent of damage that would be resultant from the misery of the woes presented in the previous parts. He does this by describing the amount of damage on his personal friend Carl Solomon and closes off by indicating his desire to reconcile back with his country. However, he upholds his belief that the American society has had its spirit destroyed by developments in the country. Howl started the beat generation which is described as a generation that has no boundaries, capable of spontaneous writing. According to William Everson, the beat generation was America’s best example of the emerging 20th century, the Dionysian spirit. The Dionysian spirit is characterized spontaneity, where individuals are not limited by the norms constraining the real persona. An artist is deemed Dionysian if his free spirit is allowed to flourish by saying everything they wished.

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In Howl, Allen paints a picture of how the country was falling apart. The poem speaks of the country losing all it had worked for. “Who cuts their wrist three times unsuccessfully, gave up and forced to open antique store…” he openly rebukes his friends by rebuking the people’s fall into growing problems. He also rebukes the government which he blames for capitalism. “Moloch whose mind is pure machinery…Moloch whose smoke stacks and antennae crown the cities…” Moloch in this case is the government. Allen openly discusses sexuality even with the realization that this would fuel criticism from the government officials.

Allen makes use of anaphora to bring out his message in the poem. Anaphora refers to the repetition of phrases or words with the aim of meaning’s emphasis. Each of the three parts has different words repeated. For example in the first part, the poem repeats the word “Who”. This shows the non-existence of any difference between poetry and prose for Ginsberg. It also keeps the beat in the poem while at the same time forming a base return and take off, while moving from one issue to the other. This means that the repeated “Who” serves to bring Ginsberg back to reality, keeping him away from disappearing into subjectivity. The word keeps him thinking by allowing his imagination and freedom to link up. In part 2 “Moloch” is repeatedly used. It is probably used to emphasize his spiritual background, while alluding to the government oppressors. While in part three the phrase “I’m with you in Rockland” is repeatedly used. This creates the effect that the author, even with his out of this world imagination, still wished to be united with his people. The repetition of ideas is seen as his way of maintaining a balance of ideas, as opposed to common literature which aims to maintain rhythm and accent.

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The poem makes use of imagery by painting a picture of what it is he talks about. In the opening sentence, he describes the best minds as being destroyed by madness. By madness he means civilization and modernization taking place in the country. Moloch is a symbol of the social illnesses that people are facing. Carl Solomon, his friend from university, represents a generation who are manifested by death and madness. Here madness symbolizes the people’s refusal to be antagonized in the social ills. The poem paints a picture through which a modern life is painted by creating hope that one day, people would manage to escape from Moloch. Each line is heavily packed with imagery. The poem achieves this by diverting from the normal grammatical logic to one of ambiguity and defiance. This is characteristic of the beat generation. Moloch is symbolic of the social ills that lead to the mad generation.

Ginsberg’s choice of language is meant to eliminate any form of dispute. When he opens “I saw the best minds destroyed…,” he ensures that he does not invite any form of argument. By using “see” he means he knows. He uses the “Madness” as if an element such as a virus or tragedy that had the ability to come down on an individual and attack. The poem is seen as mixing street language and the mystical illumination. The entire poem is one single sentence which ordinarily defies the rule of writing, the effect of which is to label the poem as speech rather than an object that is open for contemplation. The reader is forced to surrender to the poem. It offers no variety of sentence construction, less complexity of work, therefore, easy for the reader to understand without putting too much thought into the text (Ginsberg, 2008).

The poem also makes use of footnotes. These act as a separate poem for Ginsberg which offers restoration from the social ills of Moloch. Moloch is replaced by holy…“Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long street like endless Jehovah’s! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the cities! Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! Holy the cafeterias filled with millions! Holy the mysterious river of tears under the streets…

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The poem portrays Ginsberg as divinely inspired, particularly gifted with the Dionysian spirit. He comes out as a brutally honest writer, speaking openly about the damage caused by drugs, about the government and the negative effects policies would have on the people. The Dionysian spirit is characterized by spontaneity, Religious ecstasy and feeling. Spontaneity refers to the ability of a poem to move smoothly from one point to the other without a significant pause. A poem is also deemed to have the Dionysian spirit if it exhibits religious inclination, that is, it is influenced by religion. The work of art is also characterized by emotions and feelings. The entire poem, “Howl,” counts as a single sentence. This gives it speed in reciting the poem. The author starts the poem with a feeling which he develops by explaining the objects, causing him the frustration. He first stops the working of the rational mind and then moves the reader to find logic of the heart. By doing this, he creates spontaneity and feeling. The author is said to have his greatest source of influence from his religion. He illustrates how the society, while falling into civilization, forgot the teachings of the Bible. The poem offers a captivating visual of the ills that come with civilization. It describes the silent suffering of the people who loose themselves to sexuality and oppression occasioned by civilization and capitalism and their desire for revival.

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