On Cremation of Chögyam Trungpa, Vidyadhara Summary

Allen Ginsberg


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Allen Ginsberg’s poem celebrating the life and teachings of Chögyam Trungpa, “On Cremation of Chögyam Trungpa, Vidyadhara,” was written as a heartfelt tribute to his spiritual guide on the occasion of the burial ceremony conducted in Vermont by friends and students. Ginsberg’s description of the events of the afternoon is designed to convey the inspirational effect of his teacher’s life in the evocation of the exuberant mood of the gathering. Using a characteristic signature phrase similar to those in other well-known poems, “I noticed . . . ,” Ginsberg adopts the position of a keen-eyed commentator, both involved and able to maintain a perspective with sufficient distance to acknowledge the power and providence of Trungpa’s wisdom and example.

Beginning with a view of the terrain (“I noticed the grass, I noticed the hills”), the poem is structured as an inward spiral, moving steadily closer to the ceremony, as the poet becomes a part of the celebration. He moves among the spectators arriving, their dress and appearance indicative of the diverse population that was drawn to the guru. Then, the poet tightens the focus, highlighting the distinctive details that form the image-pattern of the poem. Color (“amber for generosity, green for karmic works”), texture (“silk head crowns & saffron robes”), and sound (“monks chanting, horn plaint in our ears”) create an ambience of reverence and respect, charged with the energy practically pouring from the devotees, their families and friends. The poet registers the force of the celebration in his physical response to the myriad stimuli (“I noticed my own heart beating”), a full-body experience that is fused with his intimations of the eternal, expressed in a reversal of narrative direction back toward the outer edges of the scene, with the enduring elements of the natural world (“a misted horizon, shore &/ old worn rocks in the sand”) leading toward a feeling of ecstasy, as the poem concludes with an exultant “I wanted to dance.”


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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