Howl is a poem written by a fellow New Jersey native, Allen Ginsberg. Born in Newark, New Jersey on June 3rd, 1926 Ginsberg is most recognized for his post- modernistic style of writing (Seitz). The poem addresses a variety of issues, including the inadequacy of society to fulfill its potential. Ginsberg uses a speaker who, in my opinion, is an older man who has seen the growth and development, or lack thereof, of a generation. The opening line in the poem establishes the narrator as a person who has seen this destruction, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix” (Ginsberg).
Furthermore, the perspective of the poem is that of someone who has seen the intellectual deficiencies of American culture affect everyday life. Ginsberg illustrates that most are blind and that although we may have dreams, we do not do much to achieve them as we waste our efforts on drugs and alcohol; as is evident in the following passage, “…or purgatoried their torsos night after night with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls, incomparable blind streets…” (Ginsberg). This message is relayed to the reader by using a dark undertone that can be perceived as anger.
Ginsberg accomplishes this task by structurally designing the poem using repetitive phrases and run on sentences. The free verse approach establishes a rhythm that is determined by breath pauses and the repetition of key words and phrases that can be seen at the start of each line. For example, “who jumped in limousines,…who lounged hungry,…who disappeared” (Ginsberg), are all beginning lines to verses midway through the poem. The poet’s word choice is also worth noting because it incorporates a visual element through descriptive language. “Who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrating plane,” is a line that exemplifies the true nature of this piece of work and categorizes the poet’s use of conceptual imagery. The author also uses literary devices such as figurative language to add foundation to this carefully constructed poem (Seitz). “Where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’” (Ginsberg) is a perfect example of this device. In addition to figurative language, the poet also uses simile as a mechanism for poetry. “Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovas!” (Ginsberg).
Allen Ginsberg was considered one of the most celebrated poets in American history, and his work, Howl written for Carl Solomon, will continue to be a true testament to cultural adaptations and shortcomings. Ginsberg carefully changed the way in which literature was conceived, and perhaps he was ahead of his time. All of the literary devices, coupled with structure, and tone of the speaker make this poem an American classic about the tragic downfall of a post-modern society.
Ginsberg, Allen. Collected Poems 1947-1980. Harper &
Row Publishers, New York, NY. 1988.
Seitz, Gregory. Allen Ginsberg: Modern and Contemporary
Poetry. University of Minnesota, 1994.