Ginsberg HomePage

[Ginsberg's own synopsis of the structure of Howl, from a letter to Richard Eberhart, 18 May 1956:]

Howl is an "affirmation" of individual experience of God, sex, drugs, absurdity, etc. Part I deals sympathetically with individual cases. Part II describes and rejects the Moloch of society which confounds and suppresses individual experience and forces the individual to consider himself mad if he does not reject his own deepest senses. Part III is an expression of sympathy and identification with C.S. who is in the madhouse -- saying that his madness basically is rebellion against Moloch and I am with him, and extending my hand in union. . . .

To call it work of nihilistic rebellion would be to mistake it completely. Its force comes from positive "religious" belief and experience. It offers no "constructive" program in sociological terms -- no poem could. It does offer a constructive human value -- basically the experience -- of the enlightenment of mystical experience -- without which no society can long exist.

[ The lines from Whitman's poetry that AG considered using as an epigraph to Howl:]

I will therefore let flame from me the burning fires that were threatening to consume me . . .
I will give them complete abandonment,
I will write the evangel poem of comrades and of love.

Shall I postpone my acceptation and realization and scream at my own eyes?

This is the meal equally set, this is the meat for natural hunger.

My final merit I refuse you, I refuse putting from me what I really am,
I know perfectly well my own egotism.

America isolated yet embodying all, what is it finally but myself?

[These are the lines from "Song of Myself" he decided to use:]

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

[William Carlos Williams' Introduction to Howl:]

When he was younger, and I was younger, I used to know Allen Ginsberg, a young poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, where he, son of a well-known poet, had been born and grew up. He was physically slight of build and mentally much disturbed by the life which he had encountered about him during those first years after the first world war as it was exhibited to him in and about New York City. He was always on the point of 'going away,' where it didn't seem to matter; he disturbed me, I never thought he'd live to grow up and write a book of poems. His ability to survive, travel, and go on writing astonishes me. That he has gone on developing and perfecting his art is no less amazing to me.

Now he turns up fifteen or twenty years later with an arresting poem. Literally he has, from all the evidence, been through hell. On the way he met a man named Carl Solomon with whom he shared among the teeth and excrement of this life something that cannot be described but in the words he has used to describe it. It is a howl of defeat. Not defeat at all for he has gone through defeat as if it were an ordinary experience, a trivial experience. Everyone in this life is defeated but a man, if he be a man, is not defeated.

It is the poet Allen Ginsberg, who has gone, in his own body, through the horrifying experiences described from life in these pages. The wonder of the thing is not that he has survived but that he, from the very depths, has found a fellow whom he can love, a love he celebrates without looking aside in these poems. Say what you will, he proves to us, in spite of the most debasing experiences that life can offer a man, the spirit of love survives to ennoble our lives if we have the wit and the courage and the faith -- and the art! to persist.

It is the belief in the art of poetry that has gone hand in hand with this man into his Golgotha, from that charnel house, similar in every way, to that of the Jews in the past war. But this is in our own country, our own fondest purlieus. We are blind and live our blind lives out in blindness. Poets are damned but they are not blind, they see with the eyes of the angels. This poet sees through and all around the horrors he partakes of in the very intimate details of his poem. He avoids nothing but experiences it to the hilt. He contains it. Claims it as his own -- and, we believe, laughs at it and has the time and affrontery to love a fellow of his choice and record that love in a well-made poem.

Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell.

  • Ginsberg--Shadow Changes Into Bone
    "The Clearinghouse for All Things Ginsberg"

  • Levi Asher, Literary Kicks
    a very rich site on whole Beat Movement

  • Hurl, Our own ode to a generation beat by Foxfield

  • Back to Syllabus