“High”

by Philip Lamantia
(1967)
   This 19-line, two-stanza poem explores solitude, a favorite subject for the Beats. In the first line philip lamantia alters the spelling of the word solitude. He substitutes the letter o for the letter e, then adds an o to the end of the word beat to create a rhyming musical phrase beato solitudo—that strikes a romantic note from the start. For Lamantia and the Beats, to be “beat” meant to be beaten down to the very depths of society. “Beat” also meant to be lifted up spiritually-to be “beatific,” as allen ginsberg and jack kerouac said. The “I” in Lamantia’s poem is beaten down; in line nine he says, “I am worn like an old sack by the celestial bum.” He’s also “high,” which in the lingo of the Beat subculture meant to be on drugs and in a state of heightened awareness. In the first part of the poem, the “I” who speaks exhibits the traits of someone who is both on drugs and lost. Lamantia often felt lost and sought refuge in solitude. The “I” here might be the author, and yet it is perhaps unwise to assume that “High” is autobiographical. Lamantia urged readers not to take his work as an account of his experiences. What we can say with assurance is that the “I” feels that his familiar world—“the wall of my music” as he aptly depicts it—has been “overturned” by the universe itself. There is a sense of alienation and at the same time a sense of abundance and freedom that is conveyed by the images of “the lark of plenty” and the ovens that “overflow the docks.” The word neant, which appears in the fifth line in the phrase “ovens of neant,” is French and appears in “Le Gout Du Neant” by Charles Baudelaire, one of Lamantia’s favorite 19th-century poets. Lamantia enjoyed word play and even coined words of his own—such as ONGED, which appears capitalized in “High” in line 13, and makes one think of unhinged or singed. After its spirited beginning, the poem slows down. “This much is time,” the poet exclaims. “High” shifts mood and tone. Now, the poem portrays a surreal landscape that is meant to shock readers into recognizing the horrors of the world. Lamantia capitalizes the word Eagles and thus reminds us that they serve as the symbol of American military might. Here, however, the mighty, invincible Eagles “crash thru mud.” The image might remind readers who lived through the Vietnam War that thousands of American planes were shot down and crashed and that the American military seemed to be stuck in Southeast Asia. In this world of war it is no wonder that the poet seeks the peaceful refuge that is offered by solitude. The “I” has been crazed by the world around him. “I’m mad,” he explains. Lamantia uses the word mad to mean longing or desire, as well as insane or crazy. So the “I” is insanely eager to embrace solitude, which now seems so real and so tangible that he addresses it as “you.” But how will he get to solitude? At first, the speaker does not know. Indeed, he is stuck—“wedged in this collision of planets.” It is a difficult situation that leads him to exclaim, in everyday street language, “Tough!” The way out, the poem suggests, is through art and expression. “I’m the trumpet of King David,” he says. An Old Testament poet and musician and a mighty warrior who defeated Goliath in combat with his slingshot, King David serves as a symbol of the heroic artist triumphing over adversity. Biblical scholars have said that Jesus of Nazareth was a descendant of King David, and so Lamantia links the Old Testament with the New Testament, Jews and Christians. Amid collision and crash, the “I” in the poem makes himself into an instrument—a trumpet-and expresses his anguish. The Beat poets admired jazz musicians, and Lamantia’s King David with his trumpet is an Old Testament version of a hip horn player. Finally, the first stanza ends with a violent image that has all the force of a terrifying nightmare: “The sinister elevator tore itself limb by limb.” It is an image worthy of the surrealist masters-André Breton and Salvador Dali—since it takes a machine—an elevator—and gives it the attributes—limbs—of a living organism. One can imagine Lamantia’s elevator descending out of control, tearing itself apart, and perhaps killing its passengers.
   The last stanza provides a remarkable sense of closure. Relying on repetition and rhyme (head/ bread and break/make)—Lamantia pulls the poem together. “You cannot close / You cannot open,” he writes, as though summing up the human condition. We can never be complete, cut off, and shut down from others nor totally vulnerable and accessible. Human beings live on the edge, never entirely at rest or safe, Lamantia suggests. That thought is enough to drive anyone crazy—“You break your head,” he writes. But from that kind of head splitting emerges something sacramental and redeeming. That is what the last four words—“You make bloody bread!”—indicate. “Bloody bread” encourages readers to think of Christ, his miracles, and his time on the cross, and so the poet’s use, in line five, of the place name—Veracruz—which literally means “true cross”—is hardly accidental. It is the true Christian state of solitude that Lamantia seeks. Christ himself was “high” on the cross. Beaten down by the Romans who crucified him, he rose up in a state of beatitude. For Lamantia, solitude is a spiritual place in which one is alone and yet, paradoxically, connected to all creation. Out of solitude comes art, and art makes the poet feel exalted and in a state of grace.
 Bibliography
■ Frattali, Steven. Hypodermic Light: The Poetry of Philip Lamantia and the Question of Surrealism. New York: Peter Lang, 2005.
■ Raskin, Jonah. American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’sHowland the Making of the Beat Generation. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 2004.
   Jonah Raskin

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • High — High, a. [Compar. {Higher}; superl. {Highest}.] [OE. high, hegh, hey, heh, AS. he[ a]h, h?h; akin to OS. h?h, OFries. hag, hach, D. hoog, OHG. h?h, G. hoch, Icel. h?r, Sw. h[ o]g, Dan. h[ o]i, Goth. hauhs, and to Icel. haugr mound, G. h[ u]gel… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • High — High, adv. In a high manner; in a high place; to a great altitude; to a great degree; largely; in a superior manner; eminently; powerfully. And reasoned high. Milton. I can not reach so high. Shak. [1913 Webster] Note: High is extensively used in …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • high — ► ADJECTIVE 1) of great vertical extent. 2) of a specified height. 3) far above ground or sea level. 4) extending above the normal level. 5) great in amount, value, size, or intensity. 6) (of a period or movement) at its peak. 7) great in r …   English terms dictionary

  • high — [hī] adj. [ME heigh, hei, hie < OE heah, akin to Ger hoch, Goth hauhs < IE * keuk < base * keu , to curve, arch > Sans kakúd , peak, Russ kúča, heap] 1. of more than normal height; lofty; tall: not used of persons 2. extending upward… …   English World dictionary

  • high — high, tall, lofty mean above the average in height. High, the general term (opposed to low), implies marked extension upward and is applied chiefly to things which rise from a base or foundation {a high hill} {a high building} or are placed at a… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • high — high; high·ball·er; high·be·lia; high·bind·er; high·bind·ing; high·brow·ism; high·er; high·est; high·ish; high·land·er; high·lone; high·ly; high·ness; high·way·man; ul·tra·high; high·light·er; high·fa·lu·tin; high·land; High; high·fa·lu·ting; …   English syllables

  • High — may refer to:* Height * High (atmospheric), a high pressure area * High (computability), a quality of a Turing degree, in computability theory * High (technical analysis), or top, an event in market price fluctuations of a security * High (1967… …   Wikipedia

  • High Q — is the name of various local television quiz shows broadcast throughout the United States. While the formats vary, all featured two or three teams representing high schools from the station s coverage area, which would compete against each other… …   Wikipedia

  • high — (izg. hȃj) prid. [i]i[/i] pril. DEFINICIJA 1. visok, usp. haj 2. žarg. koji je u uznesenom stanju (ob. ovisnici o drogi) SINTAGMA high end (izg. high ȅnd) žarg. koji se odnosi na vrhunske proizvode ili usluge, one koji su vrhunske kakvoće i… …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • high — [adj1] tall; at a great distance aloft aerial, alpine, altitudinous, big, colossal, elevated, eminent, flying, formidable, giant, gigantic, grand, great, high reaching, high rise, hovering, huge, immense, large, lofty, long, sky high, sky… …   New thesaurus

  • High — High, n. 1. An elevated place; a superior region; a height; the sky; heaven. [1913 Webster] 2. People of rank or high station; as, high and low. [1913 Webster] 3. (Card Playing) The highest card dealt or drawn. [1913 Webster] {High, low, jack,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.