Lawrence Ferlinghetti Ferlinghetti, Lawrence (Vol. 10) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ferlinghetti, Lawrence 1919(?)–

An American poet, editor, playwright, essayist, novelist, and translator, Ferlinghetti was a leader of the Beat movement and the American poetry revival of the fifties that aimed to bring poetry to a wider reading public. Much of his work is political and satirical, portraying reality as fragmented and protesting violence. Strongly influenced by French existentialism and the surrealists, he has been compared with Jacques Prévert, Paul Eluard, and e.e. cummings. Ferlinghetti's poetry is often improvisational, with the spontaneous quality of jazz. He uses flexible, spoken rhythms, as well as frequent allusions to literature and art. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Jascha Kessler

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ferlinghetti has always been addicted to spiritual posturings, to invoking the names of the gods, saints and bards in phrases such as Time magazine uses for captions, and to digging their ineffable incarnations in the apparitions of old men and boys, misfits and thugs and flowers and bums. This is San Francisco-style sentimentality, largely his own creation.

He writes merely endless sentences of flat prose, with here and there a Tibetan or Arabic formula, a prayer phrase, and breaks them up into panting lines. Headlines, that is, blown up and made to sound as significant, as portentous as headlines shouted or keened out over a mike in concert with amplified sitars and bongos and young people rocking and whining, delirious with noise and smoke and bemused by the desire to trip along. Public poetry, publicly performed.

Everywhere today the voice of the inauthentic is heard in the land, and Ferlinghetti is its prophet. [The] six poems [in "The Secret Meaning of Things"] wander lonely as a cloud through Boston, San Francisco, Germany and Russia, offering visions reminiscent of the first 15 seconds of TV commercials, before the product comes on, visions of blurbs commented on sententiously by an egotistic trifler, never a phrase or idea or rhythm original with himself.

Jascha Kessler, "Sentimental Trifles in Frisco Vein," in The Los Angeles Times (copyright, 1969, Los Angeles Times; reprinted by permission), July 20, 1969, p. 49.

Crale D. Hopkins

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Lawrence Ferlinghetti deserves] disentanglement from the old Beat-poet characterization. His poetry cannot be dismissed either as protest polemic or as incoherently personalized lyric. His craftsmanship, thematics, and awareness of the tradition justify a further consideration. (p. 60)

By the time his later works were published, Ferlinghetti had been firmly fixed by and large in the Beat school and received little more individual attention. (p. 61)

The subject of the doctoral thesis Ferlinghetti wrote at the University of Paris was "The Symbolic City in Modern Literature." His poetry reflects this acquaintance with modern European and American literature, and this constitutes the first point at which Ferlinghetti departs from the Beat stereotype…. [In] Ferlinghetti's poetry there is no bitter anti-intellectualism [as some critics found in Beat poetry] but rather a knowledge and appreciation of traditional literary materials which are integrated into his own verse.

A second generalization has it that all Beat literature is either crippled by disengagement and a poverty of feeling…. Ferlinghetti, however, wrote some of the most sensitive lyrics of the last twenty years. In A Coney Island Of The Mind, Poem 19 … is in part a criticism of the usual Beat stance, bemoaning

this unshaved today
with its derisive rooks
that rise above dry trees
and caw and cry
and question every other
spring and thing
(pp. 61-3)

The first published work, Pictures Of The Gone World, is largely composed of poems of lyric observation. The word "gone" in the title implies in its 50s slang sense that they are "hip" or "groovy" visions of the world, but it also suggests the past, the world that is gone. Thus there is one group of poems that deal with novel insights into the world…. Others are surrealistic portraits, which can be quite penetrating:

Yes Dada would have died for a day like this
with its sweet street carnival
and its too real funeral
just passing through it
with its real dead dancer
so beautiful and dumb
in her shroud
and her last lover lost
in the unlonely crowd
and its dancers darling baby
about to say Dada
and its passing priest
about to pray
and offer his so transcendental
Yes Dada would have loved a day like this
with its not so accidental

Characteristically this poem, 23, uses the short broken lines alternatingly to slow the eye and produce a detached ironic effect emphasized by the alliteration and internal rhyme. The poem ends tellingly on the dangling word "analogies," beautifully preceded by "apologies" and the completed multiple rhyme of "transcendental-accidental." These...

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C. R. Metzger

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ferlinghetti's "Autobiography" [one of seven "oral messages" in A Coney Island of the Mind] is a highly and mockingly-learned riddle poem…. [It] is a witty testament to Ferlinghetti's seriously held poetic faith….

[One] cannot fully appreciate the poem without knowing that Ferlinghetti has written a "pied" or medley poem after the riddling manner of the ancient Celtic unofficial bards or minstrels, and that it contains allusions not only to ancient Celtic poetic history, but also to even more ancient pre-Cymric, old-Goidelic, myth. These are suggested by the presence of individual lines in Ferlinghetti's poem which are taken exactly from English translations of three ancient Celtic riddle poems. These three poems are 1) the Hanes Taliesen (The Tale of Taliesin), 2) the Câd Goddeu (The Battle of the Trees), and 3) the Song of Amergin. (p. 25)

[It is necessary] to explain what these lines "plagiarized" from translations of three ancient Celtic poems are doing in Ferlinghetti's "Autobiography," a poem presumably, and indeed actually, about Ferlinghetti himself, as person, and as poet. I suggest that the explanation lies in the nature and circumstances of these three ancient poems themselves, more particularly as they relate to the bardic tradition of thirteenth century Wales, and to the antecedent traditions of Celtic bards in the sixth century, and beyond that to the tradition of the Druid-Bards, or Derwyddvierdd, and to the Beirdd, who preceded them, dating back as far as 1268 B.C. …, and more than likely to some time anterior even to that date. (pp. 26-7)

[His] reference … to Joyce's "silence, exile, and cunning" is not only appropriate to a description of a portion of his own life, but also suggestive of the cunning and secretive nature of his own poem, as well as the similar nature of the Song of Amergin from which he does pirate. (p. 28)

It so happens that Ferlinghetti's "Autobiography" demonstrates [the] kind of deliberately pied, riddling poetry which [Robert Graves describes in The White Goddess]. It demonstrates equally the kind of poetry which the Druid in the envoi at the beginning of the Song of Amergin called for: cunning, incantatory, extensively learned, mocking, and crystal clear to sufficiently well educated fellow poets. The crystal is no less clear, one might add, for having been cut with many facets; it merely reflects more light, more images. (p. 30)

Ferlinghetti's poem reads most richly and waggishly comprehensible when read in terms of Graves' White Goddess….

[Of] the eighteen or more writers that Ferlinghetti either quotes, paraphrases, or alludes to in his 302 line poem (all but three are poets), the one poet that Ferlinghetti refers to most often, although never directly by name, is the thirteenth century Welsh bard whom Graves calls Gwion. It is to this Gwion that Graves ascribes the authorship of the versions of the Câd Goddeu and the Hanes Taliesin that appear in the Romance of Taliesin. And it is this Gwion whose lines, translated into English, appear in Ferlinghetti's poem. (p. 31)

Ferlighetti identifies with this eponymous and Protean "Gwion-Taliesin." To remain ignorant of this identification is to run the serious risk of misunderstanding not only what the "Autobiography" is all about, but who the speaker is in that...

(The entire section is 1430 words.)

Michael Skau

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In his prose volume, Her, Lawrence Ferlinghetti explores the dynamics of artistic consciousness and control. He posits as his protagonist Andy Raffine, who is seeking his own unique identity, symbolized by his search for the enigmatic "her" of the title. His quest is frustrated by his reluctant recognition of his role as a fictional character and by his vulnerability to the forces of illusion. In addition, Ferlinghetti allows the relationship between the author and his creation to image his view of the relationship between God and man. (p. 40)

Her focuses on the interrelationship of three figures—the author; a theoretically unique and autonomous literary character; and the hybrid...

(The entire section is 1281 words.)