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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 529

Allen Ginsberg's "Kaddish," alternately titled "Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956)" is a poignant, stream-of-consciousness eulogy for the poet's mother. The title, "Kaddish," is the word for a Jewish prayer, especially one recited for the deceased.

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Ginsberg was born and raised in New York and moved to San Francisco in the 1950s. He is credited with being a founding member of the American literary and social movement known as the "Beat Generation"—a movement that rejected social norms of dress, behavior, and motivation and encouraged the individual to reject mainstream material culture in favor of pursuing a spiritual quest. Ginsberg made a name for himself about five years before the publication of "Kaddish" with the publication of his book, Howl.

"Kaddish" does not have characters in the way that a novel or epic poem does; it is an extended, five-part poem in free verse that reflects on and commemorates the life of Russian émigré Naomi Ginsberg. The narration is episodic and filled with images which are introduced in close succession as these images come to the narrator's memory. While none of the characters other than the titular one are especially well developed, there are several individuals that appear in the poet's stream-of-consciousness narration.

Naomi Ginsberg:

Naomi Ginsberg moved from Russia and grew up in New York, where the author was raised. Ginsberg imagines his mother walking the same streets as he does when she was a young girl. He imagines her drinking "cheap sodas in the morgues of Newark." The poet occasionally describes his mother in quite graphic detail ("forty, varicosed, nude, fat,") and describes instances where she fell violently ill as a result of the medication she took. On one occasion, the poet went with his mother to a mental hospital. Though his mother was perpetually ill, the poet seems to respect her maternal commitment to him ("'Don’t be afraid of me because I’m just coming back home from the mental hospital—I’m your mother—'"). He also describes...

(The entire section contains 529 words.)

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