From An Essay On

9 September 2017

“ Howl ” By James E.B. Breslin Essay, Research Paper

Reprinted from the book, FROM MODERN TO CONTEMPORARY: American

POETRY 1945-1965 by James E. Breslin published by the University of Chicago

Press, right of first publication? 1983, 1994 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

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James E. B. Breslin

“ Twenty old ages is more or less a literary coevals, ” Richard Eberhart

comments, “ and Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s Howl ushered in a new coevals. ” Many

modern-day poets have testified to the emancipating consequence that Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s poem had on

them in the late 1950ss, but “ ushered in ” is excessively tame a phrase to depict

Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s historical impact. Ginsberg, for whom every verse form begins, or ought to, with a

frontal assault on established places, thrust a buffeting random-access memory against those protective

enclosures, human and literary, so of import to the immature Wilbur and Rich. Angstrom

“ ululation ” is a drawn-out animate being call and so an natural call, and Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s poem

still forcefully communicates the sense of a sudden, angry eruption of inherent aptitudes long

thwarted, of the release of excluded homo and literary energies. Not irony but prophetic

vision ; non a created character but “ bare ” confession ; non the autotelic verse form but

wroth societal protest ; non the decorousnesss of high civilization but the linguistic communication and affair of

the urban streets ; non disciplined craftmanship but self-generated vocalization and

indiscriminate inclusion & # 8211 ; ” Howl ” violated all the current artistic canons and

provoked a literary, societal, and even legal dirt.

Yet the Ginsberg of the late 1950ss was an curiously contradictory figure. He was a

strident revolutionist who, when non denoting his absolute newness, was busily following

his genealogical links with belowground traditions and ignored Masterss, particularly Blake

and Whitman. History was bunk, but the new consciousness Ginsberg proclaimed was empowered

by a reasonably familiar signifier of nineteenth-century Idealism, the footing for his esteem for

Blake and Whitman. Ginsberg opened his poesy to sordid urban worlds, and he packed

“ Howl ” with things, with affair. Yet, as we shall see, submergence in what he

calls “ the entire carnal soup of clip ” was the first measure in a painful ordeal

which ended in the airy & # 8217 ; s flight out of clip. Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s verse form ranges,

nervously and ardently, after remainder from urban craze, a declaration the poet can merely happen

in a perpendicular transcendency. Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s going from the end-of-the-line modernism

was a dramatic but barely a new one ; it took the signifier of a return to those really romantic

theoretical accounts and attitudes that modernism tried to eschew.

Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s corruption of the prevailing artistic norms was non achieved either rapidly

or easy. While poets like Wilbur and Lowell early built poetic manners and earned

impressive critical acknowledgment, Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s early calling consisted of a series of false

starts. “ Howl ” & # 8211 ; contrary to popular feeling & # 8211 ; is non the work of an angry immature

adult male ; the verse form was non written until its writer was 30, and Howl and Other Poems

was Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s first published but 3rd written book. Nor was

“ Howl ” & # 8211 ; contrary to a popular feeling created by its writer & # 8211 ; a sudden,

self-generated flood of originative energy. The verse form, started, dropped, so started once more a

few old ages subsequently, was itself the merchandise of a series of false starts. The airy

position of “ Howl ” had already been revealed to Ginsberg in a series of

hallucinations he had experienced in the summer of 1948. The false starts were a portion of

Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s battle to accept these visions and to happen a literary signifier and linguistic communication that

would dependably incarnate them. The letters, notebooks, and manuscripts in the Allen

Ginsberg Archives at Columbia, along with Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s published autobiographical Hagiographas

and interviews, let us to document in ample item the slow development, in the late

mid-fortiess and early 1950ss, of one dissenting poet.

[ . . . . ]

Ginsberg one time described Howl and Other Poems as a series of experiments in what

can be done with the long line since Whitman. In “ Howl ” itself Ginsberg stepped

outside the formalism of the 1950ss, stepped off from even the modernism of Williams,

and turned back to the then-obscure poet of Leaves of Grass, transforming

Whitman & # 8217 ; s bardic jubilations of the airy yet stamp ego into a prophetic chant

that is angry, agonised, fearful, amusing, mysterious, and affectionate & # 8212 ; the drawn-out and

ardent call of Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s conceal ego which had survived. “ Loose

shades howling for organic structure attempt to occupy the organic structures of populating work forces ” : this is how

Ginsberg, from “ Howl ” onward, perceives the literary yesteryear: haunting signifiers tidal bore,

like Moloch, to devour the present. Searching alternatively for a linguistic communication that would incarnate

the ego, Ginsberg took the impression of signifier as find he had learned from Williams and

pushed it in confessional and airy waies alien to the older poet. Form was no

longer self-protective, like “ asbestos baseball mitts, ” but a procedure of

“ compositional self-exploration, ” the activities of the notebooks turned into

art. The Gates of Wrath had at the same time produced an ideal and an

riddance of the writer & # 8217 ; s personality ; the elevated formality of the linguistic communication, by its

vagueness, confronts us with a poet who may be a grandiose figure but is besides cipher, and

nowhere, in peculiar. In Empty Mirror, Ginsberg had tried to cast the eternal

ego and descend to specifics ; but his imitativeness of Williams had produced the same

self-annihilating consequence. “ Howl ” links the airy and the concrete, the

linguistic communication of mystical light and the linguistic communication of the street, and the two are joined

non in a inactive synthesis but in a dialectical motion in which an exhausting and

penalizing submergence in the most seamy of modern-day worlds issues in transcendent

vision. Ginsberg is still uneasy about life in the organic structure, which he more frequently represents as

doing hurting ( i.e. , “ purgatoried their trunk ” ) than pleasance ; but in this manner

he is, like his female parent in “ Kaddish, ” “ pained ” into Vision. At the

stopping point of “ Howl, ” holding looked back over his life, Ginsberg can confirm a nucleus

ego of “ innate Spirit ” and sympathetic humanity that has survived an

agonising ordeal.

Of the verse form & # 8217 ; s three parts ( plus “ Footnote ” ) , the first is the longest and

most powerful, an angry prophetic plaint. Its cataloging of existent and phantasmagoric images in

long dithyrambic lines creates a motion that is rushed, frenzied, yet filled with sudden

spreads and wild lights ; the verse form begins by plunging us in the appendages of modern

urban life, overpowering and deluging us with esthesiss. Generalizing generational

experience in Parts I and II, Ginsberg shows these “ best heads ” swerving back and

Forth between extremes, with the abruptness and strength of an electric current spring

between two poles ; they adopt attitudes of rebelliousness, yearning, panic, zaniness, craze,

supplication, choler, joy, cryings, exhaustion & # 8211 ; climaxing in the absolutes of lunacy and

self-destruction. Apparels and so flesh are invariably being stripped off in this ordeal ; the

“ best heads ” are exposed and tormented, so cast out into the cold and

darkness. So they are at one time hounded and neglected ( “ unknown ” and

“ forgotten ” in the verse form & # 8217 ; s words ) . But modern civilisation & # 8217 ; s indifference and

ill will provoke a despairing hunt for something beyond it for religious light.

Again and once more, the immature work forces are left “ round ” and exhausted, entirely in their

empty suites, trapped in clip & # 8211 ; at which point they gain glances of infinity.

“ Howl ” invariably pushes toward exhaustion, a dead terminal, merely to hold these terminals

turn into minutes of shivering rapture. In one of the verse form & # 8217 ; s metaphors, boundaries are

set down, push in on and envelop the ego & # 8211 ; so all of a sudden disintegrate. At such times

panic displacements to ecstasy ; the “ madman rotter ” is discovered to be the angel-headed

hippie, and “ round ” ( beaten, exhausted ) becomes “ beatific. ”

As the catalog of Part I moves through gestures of greater and greater despair, the

flower peoples eventually present “ themselves on the granite stairss house with shaved caputs and

harlequin address of self-destruction, instantaneous leukotomy ” & # 8211 ; an act that madly mixes

rebelliousness and entry, clownishness and martyrdom. What they want is immediate release

from their caputs, from enduring ; what they get is drawn-out captivity, “ the

concrete nothingness of insulin ” shootings and therapy aimed non at release but

“ accommodation, ” their “ organic structures turned to lapidate every bit heavy as the Moon. ” At

this point, in its longest and most desperate line, the verse form seems about to fall in, to

“ terminal ” :

with mother eventually ****** , and the last antic book flung out of the tenement


and the last door closed at 4am and the last telephone slammed at the

wall in answer and

the last equipped room emptied down to the last piece of mental

furniture, a xanthous paper

rose twisted on a wire hanger in the cupboard, and even that complex number,

nil but a hopeful

small spot of hallucination & # 8211 ;

With all communicating broken off and all vision denied, the ego is left in a lonely,

silent, empty room & # 8211 ; the ego is such a room & # 8211 ; the room itself the apogee of the

verse form & # 8217 ; s many images of walls, barriers, and enclosures. In holding the airy quest terminal

in the refuge, Ginsberg is mentioning to his ain hospitalization, that of Carl Solomon

( whom he had met in the Columbia Psychiatric Institute ) and that of his female parent. Furthermore,

lunacy is here perceived as encapsulating the mind in a private universe. In a strikingly

similar transition in “ Kaddish ” Ginsberg emphasizes the manner his female parent & # 8217 ; s unwellness

removed her into a private, hallucinatory universe ( “ her ain existence ” ) where, in

malice of all his hysterical shriek at her, she remained unaccessible ( “ no route

that goes elsewhere & # 8211 ; to my ain ” universe ) . Ginsberg himself had found it impossible to

pass on his ain visions, to do them existent to others. At this climactic minute of Part

I, so, the status of separation, division in clip & # 8211 ; a preoccupation of Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s

poesy since The Gates of Wrath & # 8211 ; has been taken all the manner out: temporal world

is experienced as a series of unbridgeable spreads, a nothingness populated with self-enclosed

heads. Ordeal by submergence leaves the ego experiencing dead and walled-in ; the organic structure, heavy as

rock, deficiencies affect and becomes a heavy load, while the spirit incarcerated inside the

“ dead ” organic structure finds itself in no sweet aureate climate but a “ concrete

nothingness. ”

Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s province of head at this point can be compared with his prevision temper “ of

hopelessness, or dead-end ” : with “ nil but the universe in forepart of me ” and

“ non cognizing what to make with that. ” Here, excessively, at the bounds of

desperation & # 8211 ; with the active will yielded up & # 8211 ; Ginsberg experiences a sudden extract of

energy ; the verse form & # 8217 ; s temper dramatically turns and the concluding lines in Part I affirm

the ego & # 8217 ; s power to love and to pass on within a life universe. Immediately

following the verse form & # 8217 ; s most desperate lines comes its most fond: “ ah, Carl,

while you are non safe I am non safe, and now you & # 8217 ; re truly in the entire animate being soup

of clip. ” Unlike Wilber and Rich, Ginsberg does non seek a cautious self-insularity,

and he here endorses exposure to danger and a stamp designation with the victims

of clip and history. “ I saw the best heads of my coevals, ” Ginsberg

had begun, as if a prophetic and retrospective withdrawal exempted him from the destiny he

was depicting ; but Ginsberg now writes from inside the ordeal, as if the purpose of

composing were non to determine or incorporate, but sympathetically to come in an experience.

By his ain unrestrained spring of images and feelings Ginsberg exposes himself as

author to literary ridicule and rejection, and he does put on the line the obliteration of his poetic

ego in the released inundation of natural experience and emotion. But by put on the lining these dangers

Ginsberg can accomplish the sort of poesy he describes in Part I & # 8217 ; s last six lines, a poesy

that bridges the spread between egos by incarnating the writer & # 8217 ; s experience, doing the

reader, excessively, experience it as a “ esthesis. ”

Immediately following the verse form & # 8217 ; s most intimate line comes its most elevated and

grandiose, as if Ginsberg could truly claim a prophetic function merely after admiting

his vulnerable humanity.

and who therefore ran through icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash of

the chemistry of the usage of the elipse the catalog the metre & A ; the



who dreamt and made incarnate spreads in Time & A ; Space through images juxtaposed,

and trapped the archangel of the psyche betwen 2 ocular images and joined


elemental verbs and set the noun and elan of consciousness together


with esthesis of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus

to animate the sentence structure and step of hapless human prose and base before you

speechless and intelligent and agitating with shame, rejected yet

squealing out

the psyche to conform to the beat of idea in his bare and eternal


the lunatic rotter and angel round in Time, unknown, yet seting down here what

might be left to state in clip to come after decease,

and rose reincarnate in the apparitional apparels of wind in the goldhorn shadow of

the set and blew the agony of America & # 8217 ; s bare head for love into an

eli eli lamma lamma sabachthani saxaphone call that shivered the metropoliss

down to the last wireless,

with the absolute bosom of the verse form of life butchered out of their ain organic structures

good to eat a thousand old ages.

In biographical footings, the agonised elation of these lines may remember the emotional

lift given Ginsberg when, seemingly at the terminal of his rope when hospitalized, he

discovered in Carl Solomon person who shared his “ vision ” of life, person he could

communicate with. But the temper of these lines more evidently grows out of the authorship

that & # 8217 ; s preceded them, as the verse form turns on itself to see its ain nature, manner, and

being ; in fact, these shuting lines of Part I drop some helpful intimations on how to read

“ Howl, ” as if Ginsberg feared he had gone excessively far and needed to flip a few

overcrossings across the spread dividing him from his reader. Subsequently on I want to take

up some

of these intimations and speak in item about the verse form & # 8217 ; s thought and pattern of linguistic communication ; for now

I want to stress what Ginsberg is stating here about the really act of composing his verse form.

In the 1948 visions the “ living Godhead ” had spoken to Ginsberg as “ to his

boy ” ; no secret about Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s individuality here! Now, holding been persecuted for his

visions, Ginsberg echoes the desperation of Christ on the cross: “ eli eli lamma lamma

Sabacthani. ” Yet this modern christ incarnates divine spirit non in his organic structure but in

his authorship, which embodies the “ esthesis of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus. ” So

the anguished Ginsberg arises “ transmigrate ” in the revelatory words of his

ain verse form. “ Howl, ” butchered out of his ain organic structure, will be “ good to eat a

thousand old ages. ”

The motion of Part I & # 8212 ; a edifice sense of being closed-in issue in a release of

airy energy & # 8212 ; becomes the motion between Parts II and III of “ Howl. ”

“ What sphinx of cement and aluminium bashed unfastened their skulls and ate up their encephalons

and imaginativeness? ” Ginsberg asks at the start of Part II ; his reply & # 8211 ; Moloch! & # 8211 ; becomes

the perennial base word for a series of emphatic phrases ( “ Moloch the loveless!

Mental Moloch! ” ) in which Ginsberg seeks to exorcize this diabolic power by calling it

right and exposing its true nature. In Part I Ginsberg immerses himself and his reader

in the anguished strength and sudden lights of the belowground universe ; now in Part

II, strengthened by his descent and return, he can face his tormentor angrily, his

words endeavoring for charming force as they strike, like a series of hammer blows, against

the Fe walls of Moloch. As we have merely seen, Moloch is an ancient divinity to whom

kids were sacrificed, merely as the “ rains and imaginativeness ” of the present

coevals are devoured by a covetous and barbarous societal system. Moloch stands loosely for

authorization & # 8212 ; familial, societal, literary & # 8212 ; and Ginsberg does non portion the immature

Adrienne Rich & # 8217 ; s belief in an authorization that is “ tenderly terrible. ”

Manifest in skyscrapers, prisons, mills, Bankss, Bedlams, ground forcess, authoritiess,

engineering, money, bombs, Moloch represented a huge, across-the-board societal world that

is at best unresponsive ( a “ concrete nothingness ” ) , at worst a malign presence that

provenders off individualism and difference, Moloch & # 8212 ; ” whose head is pure

machinery ” & # 8212 ; is Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s version of Blake & # 8217 ; s Urizen, pure ground and

abstract signifier. A clear contrast to the grave yet tender voice that Ginsberg heard in the

foremost of his visions, Moloch is besides “ the heavy judger of work forces, ” the parent whose

chilling glimpse can terrorize the kid, paralyze him with diffidence and do him experience

“ loony ” and “ fagot. ” Moloch, so, is the rule of separation and

struggle in life, an external force so powerful that it eats its manner inside and divides

the ego against itself. “ Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a

consciousness without a organic structure! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural rapture! ” It

is Moloch who is the beginning of all the verse form & # 8217 ; s images of stony coldness ( the granite stairss

of the Bedlam, the organic structure turned to lapidate, the sphinx of cement and aluminium,

the huge rock of war, the stones of clip, etc. ) . Like the Medusa of

classical myth, Moloch petrifies. Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s drive, heated repeat of the name,

furthermore, creates the feeling that Moloch is everyplace, environing, enveloping & # 8211 ; a cement

or Fe construction inside of which the spirit, devoured, sits imprisoned and languishing ;

and so Moloch is besides the beginning of all the verse form & # 8217 ; s images of enclosure ( caput, room,

refuge, gaol ) .

“ Moloch whom I abandon! ” Ginsberg cries out at one point. Yet in malice of all

the maledictions and even wit directed against this omnipresent presence, the release of

repressed fury is eventually non emancipating ; choler is non the manner out. Part II begins with

abounding rebelliousness, but it ends with loss, futility, and self-contempt buttocks Ginsberg sees

all he values, “ visions! Omens! Hallucinations! Miracles!

Ecstasies! “ & # 8212 ; ” the whole shipload of sensitive Irish bull ” & # 8212 ; ” gone

down the American river! ” And so the temper at the stopping point of Part II, similar to the

minute in Part I when the flower peoples with shaved caputs and harlequin address, present

themselves for leukotomy, the temper here is hysterically self-destructive, with choler, laughter, and

weakness uniting in a dizzy self-destructiveness:

Real sanctum laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy cries!

They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof! to solitude! wave!


flowers! Down to the river! into the street!

An spring of choler against compressing authorization may be a phase in the procedure of

self-liberation, but is non its terminal ; choler, perpetuating division, perpetuates Moloch. In

fact, as the last line of Part II shows, such fury, futile in its whippings against the

rocky consciousness of Moloch, at last bends back on the ego in Acts of the Apostless that are, nevertheless

zany, suicidal.

But in Part III, dramatically switching from self-consuming fury to renewal in love, a

sort of self-integration, a reconciliation of destructive and originative urges, is sought.

“ Carl Solomon! I & # 8217 ; m with you in Rockland, ” Ginsberg begins, turning from angry

declamatory rhetoric to a simple, conversational line, affectionate and reassuring in its

gently swaying beat. Repeated, this line becomes the base phrase for Part III, its

utterance each clip followed by a response that farther defines both Rockland and Solomon,

and this unfolding word picture provides the dramatic motion of this subdivision every bit good

as the declaration of the full verse form. At first, the responses stress Rockland as prison

and Solomon as victim & # 8211 ;

where you & # 8217 ; re madder than I am

where you must experience really unusual

where you imitate the shadiness of my female parent & # 8211 ;

but these are balanced against the undermentioned three responses, which stress the power of

the “ lunatic ” to exceed his mere physical imprisonment.

where you & # 8217 ; ve murdered your 12 secretaries

where you laugh at this unseeable wit

where we are great authors on the same awful typewriter

A little more than midway through, nevertheless, get downing with & # 8211 ;

where you bang on the catatonic piano the psyche is guiltless and immortal it

should ne’er decease ungodly in an armed Bedlam & # 8211 ;

the replies begin to acquire longer, faster in motion, more phantasmagoric in imagination, as

they, proclaiming a social/political/religious/sexual revolution, affirm the transcendent

freedom of the ego. Part III & # 8217 ; s forbear therefore establishes a context of emotional

support and religious Communion, and it is from this “ base, ” taking off in

progressively more audacious flights of rebellious energy, that Ginsberg eventually arrives at

his “ existent ” ego.

I & # 8217 ; m with you in Rockland

where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our ain psyche & # 8217 ;


boom over the roof they & # 8217 ; ve come to drop beatific bombs the infirmary

illuminates itself fanciful walls prostration O skinny hosts run


O starry-spangled daze of clemency the ageless war is here O triumph

bury your underwear we & # 8217 ; rheniums free

I & # 8217 ; m with you in Rockland

in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey on the main road

across America in cryings to the door of my bungalow in the Western dark

Again, boundaries ( “ fanciful walls ” ) prostration, in a surging minute of

revelatory release ; and the ego & # 8211 ; which is “ guiltless and immortal ” & # 8211 ; interruptions free

of Moloch, of whom Rockland & # 8217 ; s walls are an extension. The verse form, so, does non

near with the self-destructive rescue of Part II ; nor does it stop with a amusing apocalypse

( “ O triumph bury your underwear we & # 8217 ; re free ” ) ; it closes, alternatively, with a

Whitmanesque image of love and reunion. “ Howl ” moves from the ordeal of

separation, through the projecting out of the rule of division, toward fusion, a

procedure that happens chiefly within the ego.

Harmonizing to Ginsberg, Part III of “ Howl ” is a “ litany of avowal of

the Lamb in its glorification. ” His repeat of the conversational “ I & # 8217 ; m with you in

Rockland ” turns it into an elevated liturgical chant. Wordss, no longer arms as

they were in Part I, construct a charming conjuration which delivers us into a vision of the

“ inexperienced person ” Lamb, the ageless Spirit locked inside Rockland, or inside the difficult

surfaces of a defensive personality. Carl Solomon maps partially as a alternate for

Naomi Ginsberg, still hospitalized in Pilgrim State when “ Howl ” was written ;

Ginsberg, who hints every bit much in the verse form ( “ where you imitate the shadiness of my

female parent ” ) , has late conceded this to be the instance. But less of import than

placing the real-life referents in the verse form is to see that a actual individual has been

transformed into ageless original, the Lamb of both Christian and Blakean mythology, and

that Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s loving reassurance is chiefly directed to this everlastingly guiltless facet

of himself. The chorus line in Part II articulates the human understanding of the poet, while

his responses uncover his messianic and airy ego which at foremost rendered him

terrified and incommunicado but subsequently yielded what Ginsberg calls in “ Kaddish ”

the “ cardinal ” to unlock the door of the encapsulated ego. “ Howl ” stopping points

with Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s loving credence of & # 8211 ; himself ; the portion of him that had been lost and

banished in clip in The Gates of Wrath has been reborn ( “ dripping from a

sea-journey ” ) and reintegrated. The mirror is no longer empty.

Yet this integrity, happening merely in a dream, is attained by agencies of flight and return.

“ Howl ” battles for liberty, but Ginsberg, as he had when he moved to the West

Coast, keeps looking back over his shoulder, confirming his fidelity to Carl Solomon, to

Naomi Ginsberg, to images from his past life. Similarly, he says the tradition is “ a

complete fuck-up so you & # 8217 ; re on your ain, ” but Ginsberg leans for support on Blake and

Whitman, both of whom he perceives as maternal, stamp, and hence non-threatening

governments. Ginsberg in fact terminals by retreating from the societal, historical nowadays

which he so strongly creates in the verse form. He stuffs the verse form with things from

modern urban life ; but materiality maps in the verse form as a sort of whip, scourging

Ginsberg into vision. Moloch, it seems, can non be exorcised, merely eluded through a

perpendicular transcendency ; what starts out as a verse form of societal protest terminals by withdrawing

into private religious/erotic vision, and Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s silent premise of the

immutableness of societal world establishes one regard in which he is a kid of the

1950ss instead than of the existence. Ginsberg decided non to “ compose a verse form ”

so that he could show his “ existent ” ego & # 8211 ; which turned out to be his idealised

ego: the Lamb in its glorification. Confessional poesy frequently presents non an exposure but a

mythologizing of the ego, as Plath & # 8217 ; s poems strive to ordain her transmutation into

“ the mulct, white winging myth ” of Ariel. In “ Howl ” Ginsberg wants to

retrieve an original integrity that has been lost in clip ; he wants to continue a

self-image which he can merely continue by maintaining it separate from temporal, physical

world. Compositional self-exploration turns out to be compositional self-idealization.

“ The lone manner to be like Whitman is to compose unlike Whitman, ” Williams

believed. Ginsberg surely did take over some specific proficient characteristics of Whitman & # 8217 ; s

work & # 8211 ; the long line, the catalog, the syntactic correspondence ; he was in fact rereading Leafs

of Grass as he was working on “ Howl. ” Is it possible, so, that in larning

to compose unlike Williams Ginsberg ended up composing like Whitman and therefore being like

neither of these independent and advanced poets? The reply, I think, is that while

Ginsberg did non carry through the absolute fresh start that he sometimes liked to conceive of,

he does non simply reiterate the literary yesteryear. He imagines Whitman as the laminitis ; Ginsberg

wants to travel frontward along lines initiated by the earlier author. “ Whitman & # 8217 ; s signifier

had seldom been farther explored, ” Ginsberg said ; the character of his progress can be

defined by comparing the first two lines of one of Whitman & # 8217 ; s long catalogs in “ Song

of Myself “ & # 8211 ;

The pure contralto sings in the organ loft,

The carpenter & # 8217 ; s plane whistles its wild, go uping lisp,

with two lines near the beginning of Part I of “ Howl ” :

who bared their encephalons to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels reeling on

tenement roofs illuminated,

who passed through universities with beaming cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and

Blake-light calamity among the bookmans of war

Both poets build a catalog out of long, end-stopped lines that are syntactically

analogue. Yet Whitman & # 8217 ; s lines, each entering a individual ascertained image in a

crystalline manner, are simple and travel with an easy carefreeness, while Ginsberg, an

embattled visionary, packs his lines with phantasmagoric images, and makes them travel with an

about frenzied strength. As he does here, Ginsberg works throughout the verse form by juxtaposing

the linguistic communication of the street ( “ El, ” “ staggering, ” “ tenement

roofs, ” “ illuminated ” ) in electrifying ways. “ Howl ” therefore arrives

at the airy by manner of the actual, as the verse form in The Gates of Wrath did non ;

and Ginsberg here creates “ images / That work stoppage like lightning from ageless

head ” instead than discoursing the possibility. Ginsberg & # 8217 ; s linguistic communication incarnates

spreads & # 8211 ; between street and Eden, actual and airy & # 8211 ; so leaps across them in “ a

sudden flash. ” His usage of “ images juxtaposed ” shows that Ginsberg came to

Whitman by manner of the modern poets ; but the resulting line is his ain. The line serves an

expressive intent in baring the tormented mysterious consciousness of the poet ; but it serves

a rhetorical intent as good & # 8211 ; seeking “ to interrupt people & # 8217 ; s mind systems unfastened ” by

rationally overthrowing ( “ mechanical ” ) consciousness and replacing it with a wild

associatory logic which sees connexions where before there were resistances. As a concluding

illustration we can look at the line

uncomparable unsighted streets of shivering cloud and lightning in the head jumping toward

poles of Canada & A ; Paterson, lighting all the inactive universe of Time between

At foremost the line moves toward a terrorizing dead-end ( “ blind streets ” ) but

so the landscape is internalized ( “ in the head ” ) and a flash illuminates the

temporal universe and releases “ the archangel of the psyche ” from the dead-end of

clip. As we have seen, the verse form as a whole & # 8211 ; plunging us in the actual and temporal, so

let go ofing us in a minute of vision & # 8211 ; works in merely this manner.

By James E.B. Breslin. Copyright? 1983, 1994 by University of Chicago

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