Analysis of Ginsberg's Howl Essays

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William Wordsworth's definition of poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" is more evident in Allen Ginsberg's Howl than just about any other poem (Wordsworth). Divided into three distinctive sections as well as an additional footnote, the poem utilizes a writing style based on self-symmetry to act as the framework for this overflow. The progression from one section to the next gives an impression of a crumbling society, brought to its knees through years of excessive lifestyle choices. Though the individual sections don't have official titles of their own, they could be assigned the titles of Life, Moloch, Rockland, and Holy respectively. The decision to include the footnote as separate from the original work is questionable, since its very existence has the potential to change the entire reading of the poem. If the reader skips the footnote, the poem is noticeably more straightforward than otherwise, cataloging a steady decent into the all-encompassing destroyer government. The poem would be singular in its expression, ending with the madness of the third section where the only hope of escape is to ignore the walls of the asylum and use delusion as a gateway to personal freedom. With the footnote included, Ginsberg seems to be offering a possible refutation to the negativity of the previous three sections, where both good and bad perception melt into a singular divinity with no subject or activity being left exempt. Besides the attempt at redemption in the footnote, Howl demonstrates the strong contrast between popular culture and counterculture, and serves as a portrait of American youth desperately trying the escape their inevitable assimilation into the machinery present in Moloch.

Ginsberg's poem is expressive enough that it was labeled as obscene when it was published in 1957. America had steadily let itself become boring enough as a culture that the following decade would feel the need to establish a new link with their own humanity, so the obscenity trial isn't overly surprising. The average working-class family would be shocked to read lines like:
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Carribean love. (Ginsberg, 36-37)

The legal trouble experienced by Ginsberg could be looked at as a case of ...

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...fe that can be located at any point in space, and has been going on since the Big Bang initially set the wheels in motion (Watts).

Though he refutes his own dominant message throughout the course of Howl, it is a resolution based on symbolism rather than a concrete solution steeped in reality. By focusing on the rapid introduction of unnamed individuals, he establishes the setup before the fall. Their chaotic and frantic lifestyles fly in the face of the popular opinion of the country, and so the energy they present exists almost solely to be destroyed. The omnipresent troubles in our country can only be solved through means of either absolute insanity or convincing ourselves through means of philosophy that there was never a problem to begin with. With the description of popular culture as one of the most oppressive figures in literary history, Ginsberg's optimism is perhaps reserved only for the counterculture that he sought to glorify. All the power and energy of life is still present in the form of the anonymous "who," and it's merely a battle to see whether or not the human spirit can manage to struggle through the trials of Moloch without ending up in a mental institution.

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