Howl And Kaddish By Allen Ginsberg As you read the first lines of “Howl” and “Kaddish”, the overall tone of the poem hits you right in the face. Allen Ginsberg, the poet, presents these two poems as complaints and injustices. He justifies these complaints in the pages that follow. Ginsberg also uses several literary techniques in these works to enhance the images for the reader. His own life experiences are mentioned in the poems, the majority of his works being somewhat biographical. It is said that Allen Ginsberg was ahead of his time, but in fact he was just riding the wave of a literature revolution.
The decade of the 1950s was a time of change. America and the world was experiencing a transition from innocence to a more knowledgeable society. Revolutions in all aspects of life were going on: civil rights, sexual, rock and roll and the introduction of new experimental drugs in the communities of San Francisco and Greenwich Village. Out of all of these revolutions came the beat generation, a group of young Bohemian writers who wrote and thought about the things that Americans used to “throw under the rug”. Names can be mentioned: Jack Kerouac, Philip Whalen, Lawrence Felinghetti.
Perhaps the most famous and most criticized of these “beatniks” is Allen Ginsberg. Allen Ginsberg was born on June 3, 1926 in Newark, New Jersey. His mother, Naomi, was a Russian immigrant, and his father Louis was a poet and Paterson, NJ teacher. Allens childhood was not always a happy one; Naomi went back and forth from mental hospitals and endured the physical abuse of Louis. She also had Communist leanings, thinking that spies were out to get her and that Hitler was on the way.
All of these are mentioned in some of Allens works, the topic of many of them. After being dismissed from Columbia University, he joined the merchant marines and sailed to the West Coast. In San Francisco he befriended young men just like himself: angry, pessimistic about the future, confused about their sexuality, and not knowing what their place in life really was. After he was released from the merchant marines, he went back to the Bay Area. These young men began to hold meetings where they would read poems and share ideas. They also formed a sense of friendship, because they were all that they really had.
“Howl” is a three part poem written in 1955 to his friend Carl Solomon. In it he talk about the “best minds of my generation destroyed by madness” “It destructively catalogues evils of our time from physical deprivation to madness” (Eberhart, Page 25). The first part of “Howl” is a list of the atrocities that have allegedly been endured by Ginsberg and his friends. These atrocities accumulate to form a desperate critique of a civilization that has set up a power structure that determines everything people do. This power structure is dictated by the conservative society of America.
The theme of the poem is given in the first part: it is one of question, seeing the things going on and hoping things get better. By”burning their money in wastebaskets” he shows that anyone who does not fit into societies mold is made to feel that life is hopeless. The imagery used here is very well placed- dark “Negro” streets give a picture of gloominess, “angry fix” deals with the consumption of drugs. He really blames society for his friends going “mad” when in fact they are not, they are just different. So much pain and pressure is put on them that they are “demanding instantaneous lobotomy” Ginsberg is also aware of the fact that these atrocities are not just occurring in San Francisco and New York but in all of America, big and small.
He mentions Houston, Chicago, Denver, North Carolina, etc. No one is excluded from the changes that are happening. The allusion in the first part of the poem reflects the tone and the way that Ginsberg feels about the future of the world. You can be “listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox” which is of course in reference to the hydrogen bomb. The ever growing threat of nuclear war loomed over the 1950s and Ginsberg was no exception to the rule.
“Howl is the confession of faith of the generation that is going to be running the world in 1965 and 1975, if it is still there to run” (Rexroth, Page 32) “The sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down and wailed down wall, and the Staten Island Ferry also wailed”. In this he mentions wails and walls, which is not only alliteration, but it is also a double interpretation. It is meant to be Wall Street because of the Staten Island Ferry and the New York connection but also the Wailing Wall in Israel. People go to the wall to pray, perhaps Ginsberg is suggesting we get down on our knees and start to pray ourselves to prepare for what is to come. “Hothead Golgotha” is another Biblical allusion to the place where Jesus was crucified. The Jews were perhaps to hasty in crucifying Jesus, therefore they were a bunch of hotheads. Ginsberg is telling us to be more cautious in our words and actions before we “crucify” another innocent.
There are some similarities between the early Christians and the Beatniks. Both groups were trying to introduce a time of change in their respective societies- one with religion and the other with peoples way of thinking in general. They were both persecuted; the Christians were stoned, fed to lions, and martyred. The Beatniks were stoned (no pun intended) as well-but verbally via reviews and the conservative society deeming them outcasts. Eventually the Christians and the Beatniks won their fights. Christianity became a major world religion and the Beatnik way of thinking about drug use and homosexuality (as well as their writing) became more widespread.
Part two of “Howl”, written under the influence of peyote, is an accusation: “What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashes open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?” The who from the first part is now replaced with a WHAT, which creates a more hostile tone. He compares the ear of people to a “smoking tomb”, in effect saying that it is dead and will not listen to anything he or anyone else has to say. Once again Ginsberg alludes to the hydrogen bomb in the line “whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen” When the end of the world comes, the sexual preference or the gender of a person will not matter; they will be dead anyway. Ginsberg is frustrated with the majority of people who will not accept the fact of homosexuality. The hostility shines through when he screams “Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness!” Each phrase is ended with an exclamation point.
He repeats the word Moloch is almost every line, which is a god of the Ammonites and Phoenicians to whom parents offered their children to be burnt in sacrifice. Perhaps this is some sort of litany or prayer to this god, Ginsberg feels that society is offering their children, the outcasts, to be sacrificed. Part three begins like a peptalk or a get well card: “Carl Solomon! Im with you in Rockland where you are madder than I am” This final section of the poem unfolds as once again Ginsberg uses the image of Golgotha in “where you accuse your doctors of insanity and plot the Hebrew socialist revolution against fascist national Golgotha” The most obvious of techniques …