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Please summarize each part of the poem of "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg.

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swang1 | Salutatorian

Posted January 9, 2014 at 3:46 AM via web

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Please summarize each part of the poem of "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 9, 2014 at 12:12 PM (Answer #1)

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As one of the poets of the "Beat Generation," Allen Ginsberg experimented with the spontaneity and flow of emotion that often characterizes jazz; thus his writing is often called "typewriter jazz," a free melody of thought and emotion that is improvised with the poet's thoughts. He also experimented with syntactic subversion of meaning called "parataxis," or a long line based on breath organized by a fixed base, such as phrases. Ginsberg's poem employs this parataxis in three long sentences.

Part I

The poem opens with a lament for his contemporaries, who have been psychologically destroyed, 

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. 

These youthful minds have been endangered through the use of drugs, as in line described in line 6--

who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,

as they sense the dangers of war embraced by the conservative elements on college campuses. Further,in a verbal collage Ginsberg connects people he has known with the relative pronoun "who" which conjoins his rhythmic litany of the best minds that deviated both intellectually and sexually from the norms of the 1950's. Moreover, in lines 36-38 and more, he uses religious words in phrases such as "saintly motorcyclists" and "human seraphim" in reference to homosexual activity in order to attack traditional mores. [These lines led to the censorship trial of this poem.] Another religious allusion is in line 59: "journeying to each other's hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude...." 

Ginsberg catalogs the people of the Beat Generation who travel and use drugs, violating both social and sexual mores in protest of their society, but some end up committing suicide or in traditional jobs, such as owning antique shops. Near the end of this part, he mentions both his mother and Carl Solomon (to whom the poem is dedicated), who languish in a mental institution. As long as Carl is there, Ginsberg feels unsafe himself. He ends Part I in a poetic discussion, describing Solomon's writing that combined

visual images and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus.

Part II

Using metaphor and symbolism in this part, Ginsberg names the social forces of militarization, governmental violence and oppression, and corporate power and domination; he uses the false god of "Moloch," whose soul is "electricity and bank" to symbolize the evil of these forces. Ginsberg, who was interested in communism, lists the ills of the capitalistic U.S. with its industry and corporate power. Unlike the vision of his Muse, Walt Whitman, America is not open spaces and nature; instead it is "pure machinery, so the "best minds" leave.

Part III

In direct address to Carl Solomon, this part takes the reader into the mind of Ginsberg's friend. As Part I is a litany of the "best minds" and their experiences and Part II names the cause of the destruction of these young people as Moloch, Part III names the savior who is meant to lead the "best minds."

Yet, line 98 indicates that Solomon is more an inspiration than a true leader: "I'm with you in Rockland where you laugh at this invisible humor." For, there is a holiness in his madness that, tragically, does inspire Ginsberg, whose poem may be all interior dialogue. 

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