“Howl”

by Allen Ginsberg
(1956)
   First published in the volume Howl and otHer poems, “Howl” is the best-known poem of the Beat Generation. Along with jack kerouac’s on tHe road and William S. Burroughs’s naked luncH, it is considered one of the principle works of literature that launched the Beat Generation. Ginsberg read the first part of the poem at the now-famous Six Gallery reading in San Francisco on October 7, 1955, alongside kenneth rexroth, gary snyder, michael mcclure, philip whalen, and philip lamantia. This reading is considered by critics to be the primary event that inaugurated as a literary force the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance, a reconsideration of new critical aesthetics in favor of open-field avant-garde poetry. The creative locus of U.S. poetry seemed to shift from the East to the West Coast after the Six Gallery reading, prompting reviewers such as Richard Eberhart to write in 1956 that the “West Coast is the liveliest spot in the country in poetry today. It is only here that there is a radical group movement of young poets.” The autobiographical material of “Howl” also has been credited with helping to give birth to the Confessional movement in U.S. poetry. After spending time on the West Coast in 1957, Robert Lowell, one of the earliest of the group who would be known as the Confessionals, noted that the personal material of “Howl” exerted a great effect on him, and he felt encouraged to begin “writing lines in a new style”—material that would become Life Studies, one of the most important volumes of poetry in the Confessional school. The protagonists of Ginsberg’s poem reject the social, religious, and sexual values of post-World War II U.S. capitalist culture. Ginsberg joins their misery to a vision of spiritual attainment, creating a movement in the poem from suffering to redemption. Section I of the poem is an elegy for those whose lives have been degraded by the social, religious, and sexual containment of cold-war United States. Ginsberg writes that they are “the best minds of my generation” and they have been “destroyed by madness” in their efforts to live within these structures of containment. Ginsberg’s use of the repetitive anaphora, inspired by his reading of Walt Whitman and later in his career a model for his incorporation of Buddhist mantra speech, gives this first section the feel of a chant or spell. He said later that this litany, anchored by repetition of who at the beginning of each line, was part of his effort to “free speech for emotional expression”—to give voice to those silenced by the cultural practices of cold-war United States. Ginsberg coined the term one speech-breath-thought to explain that the beginning and the end of each of these lines or strophes was determined by the exhalation of the poet’s breath. In this way, too, Ginsberg’s one speech-breath-thought poetics inaugurated in “Howl” a career-long emphasis for expressing the Buddhist triad of body–speech–mind in the form and content of his poems. The first 72 anaphoric lines of Section I culminate in an invocation to Carl Solomon, the inspiration for the poem, with whom Ginsberg spent time in 1949 in the Columbia Presbyterian Psychiatric Institute and who is a central figure in Section III of the poem. “[A]h Carl,” the poet writes, as if taking a breath, in line 73, “while you are not safe I am not safe and now you’re really in the total animal soup of time.” Section II ends with a vision of what would become Beat poetics: Ginsberg’s effort, a la Cézanne, to create “incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed,” and in the process to “recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose.” Section II pivots on Moloch, the Canaanite god to whom parents burned their children in sacrifice—re-created in “Howl” as the sacrifice of Ginsberg’s generation to the cold-war “military– industrial complex.” As a figure in “Howl” for the physical and psychological effects of compulsory postwar capitalism, Moloch emerges from “Ashcans and unobtainable dollars,” and “Boys sobbing in armies.” He is a creature “whose soul is electricity and banks.” For Ginsberg, America’s psyche is “pure machinery” that produces Moloch’s militaryindustrial complex and whose armaments can destroy the world.
   Section III is structured as a call-and-response litany between the speaker of the poem and Solomon. The two are committed in “Rockland” asylum in Section III, with the name Rockland echoing the dry, sparse hardness of Moloch. Solomon is a figure for the postwar counterculture, those who distrust the sense-bound reason of the industrial United States and who are deemed mad for their inability to conform. Their supposed madness is, for Ginsberg, a sign of their spiritual health in the poem—they are represented by “the madman bum and angel beat in Time” in Section I and are devoured by Moloch in Section II. They speak again in Section III, in an apocalyptic conversation that leads to Ginsberg’s vision of redemption in the final line of the poem. An addendum to the poem, published as “Footnote to Howl,” celebrates the visionary cleansing that follows these final lines of “Howl.”
   As a result of the poem’s explicit homosexual and heterosexual imagery, in 1957 U.S. customs officials seized copies of the book in which it appeared, Howl and Other Poems, and tried Ginsberg’s publisher lawrence ferlinghetti and City Lights Bookstore clerk Shigeyoshi Murao on charges of obscenity. Nine witnesses from the San Francisco literary community testified on behalf of the social importance of the poem; the prosecution countered with two witnesses. Later that year, Judge Clayton Horn ruled the book “not obscene” because of its “redeeming social importance,” a ruling often cited as a landmark judgment on the subject of artistic expression in the 20th century.
 Bibliography
■ Breslin, Paul. The Psycho-Political Muse: American Poetry since the Fifties. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
■ Ehrlich, J. W., ed. Howl of the Censor. San Carlos, Calif.: Nourse Publishing Company, 1961.
■ Ginsberg, Allen. Howl: Original Draft Facsimile. Edited by Barry Miles. New York: HarperCollins, 1986.
■ Hyde, Lewis, ed. On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984.
■ Portugés, Paul. “Allen Ginsberg, Paul Cézanne and the Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus.” Contemporary Literature 21 (Summer 1980): 435–449.
■ Raskin, Jonah. American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’sHowl’ and the Making of the Beat Generation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
■ Trigilio, Tony. “Strange Prophecies Anew”: Rereading Apocalypse in Blake, H.D., and Ginsberg. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2000.
   Tony Trigilio

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Howl — (deutsch Das Geheul) ist das bekannteste Gedicht des US amerikanischen Schriftstellers Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg trug es öffentlich zum ersten Mal am 7. Oktober 1955 in der Six Gallery in San Francisco vor. Es ist Carl Solomon gewidmet, den… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Howl — Álbum de Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Publicación 22 de agosto de 2005 Reino Unido 23 de agosto de 2005 EE. UU. 21 de septiembre de 2005 Japón Grabación 2005 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Howl — Howl, v. i. [imp. & p. p. {Howled}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Howling}.] [OE. houlen, hulen; akin to D. huilen, MHG. hiulen, hiuweln, OHG. hiuwil[=o]n to exult, h?wo owl, Dan. hyle to howl.] 1. To utter a loud, protracted, mournful sound or cry, as dogs… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • howl — [houl] vi. [ME hulen, akin to Ger heulen < IE echoic base * kāu > Sans kāuti, (it) cries, OHG hūwila, owl] 1. to utter the long, loud, wailing cry of wolves, dogs, etc. 2. to utter a similar cry of pain, anger, grief, etc. 3. to make a… …   English World dictionary

  • howl — /howl/, v.i. 1. to utter a loud, prolonged, mournful cry, as that of a dog or wolf. 2. to utter a similar cry in distress, pain, rage, etc.; wail. 3. to make a sound like an animal howling: The wind howls through the trees. 4. Informal. to go on… …   Universalium

  • Howl — Howl, v. t. To utter with outcry. Go . . . howl it out in deserts. Philips. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Howl — Howl, n. 1. The protracted, mournful cry of a dog or a wolf, or other like sound. [1913 Webster] 2. A prolonged cry of distress or anguish; a wail. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • howl — index outcry Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • howl — (v.) early 13c., houlen, probably ultimately of imitative origin; similar formations are found in other Germanic languages. Related: Howled; howling. As a noun from 1590s …   Etymology dictionary

  • howl — vb 1 *bark, bay, growl, snarl, yelp, yap 2 *roar, bellow, bluster, bawl, vociferate, clamor, ululate Analogous words: wail, blubber, *cry: lament, bewail, *deplore …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • howl — [n/v] long, painful cry bark, bawl, bay, bellow, blubber, clamor, groan, growl, hoot, keen, lament, moan, outcry, quest, roar, scream, shout, shriek, ululate, wail, weep, whimper, whine, yell, yelp, yip, yowl; concepts 64,77,595 …   New thesaurus

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.