Discussion on Allen Ginsberg's "Howl"
When I read this poem, the first thing came into my mind was, " I wanted to howl too!" That was because it's so long and has a lot of allusions. The whole poem is just like an excited person's monologue. He just goes on and on shouting and screaming, expressing his extreme anger and passion. It looks like that Ginsberg used "stream of consciousness" in this poem, for he wrote down what he was thinking about. Though the poem was written in the '50s, what Ginsberg described kept making me thinking about the '60s. Many young people sought carefree life, enjoy sex liberation, respecting the nature (name babies like "River," "Leaf," or "Dawn"), taking drugs, disapprove wars and so on; in short, they led a Bohemian life (my knowledge about the above statement was all from movies and music). Then I realized that hippies in the '60s actually resulted from the beatniks in the '50s.
"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked," this first line directly shows Ginsberg's sympathy for the beatniks and his anger towards the mainstream culture. "Madness" is resulted in the beatniks' struggle with the mainstream society. The beatniks are anti the conformity and social values, wanting the society to listen to and recognize them. No matter how hard they try, their crying is still ignored. Most people think that they are weird, and their life style is poisonous to the peace of the society.
Although the first part of this poem contains all run-on sentences (it's a kind of enjambment), it still can be categorized as some sections. And those sections are all around the ideas like taking drugs, free sex, traveling and the carefree and wild life style and so forth. Besides, Ginsberg uses quite a few allusions, which seem to be nothing but a person's crazy words. The stanza begins with "who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love," I guess "Atlantic" and "Caribbean" actually suggest the races, the white and Latin American people. When those young people embraced the sexual liberation, they might also encourage the interracial romances or marriages.
Part II of "Howl" is Ginsbergs' serious and strong protest against the mainstream culture. Ginsberg describes the mainstream society as Moloch, a bloody god whom many children were burnt to be the offered items to the god. "Moloch" controls people's lives; people are not free from it. They would become lifeless in that kind of world. The worst thing about "Moloch", however, is that it's a kind of ideology. It's invisible, so it's hard to destroy it from the society.
In part III of "Howl," Ginsberg writes about his good friend, Carl Soloman. He thinks about how he's treated in a hospital and Soloman's feelings about his treatments. The last stanza of this part somehow again presents the painful result of the treatment: "íKin my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey on the highway across America in tears to the door of my cottage in the Western night." Unlike the strong tone of part I and II, part III is more compassionate and a kind of sorrowful for Carl Soloman.
This poem is an experiment of adopting new writing skills. Ginsberg uses some skills like catalogue, long sentences and the ladder form of the poetry. I don't find the regular rhymes within the poem, and I can imagine that how some people despised or hated this poem. I think the reason why this poem has been so popular for decades is its spirit. Ginsberg stands out to speak for his young generation, expressing his ideas for leading a Bohemian like life. Besides that, he gives a chance to young people to have a close look at their society and government. He defenses the different life style of the beatniks, regarding it as the right action and good way for living. He strikes against the mainstream ideas. He was surely a rebellion guru in his whole life.
Footnotes: About two years ago, a Chinese poet on exile, Northern Island, wrote several articles about his friendship with Allen Ginsberg in a newspaper. I didn't know who Ginsberg was at that time, so I didn't keep the clippings. I remember that he described Ginsberg as a man with guts and character. Also, there was an issue of Rolling Stone about Ginsberg when he passed away last April. They interviewed many famous people in different fields and about their ideas or impression about Allen Ginsberg. Again, I didn't know who he was at that time, so I didn't pay much attention to those pages. Now all I can remember what they said about Ginsberg is he was a cool guy and avant guarde.