Allen Ginsberg’s Poetry Themes and Values of the Beat Generation As Expressed in Allen Ginsberg’s Poetry Perhaps one of the most well known authors of the Beat Generation is a man we call Allen Ginsberg, who expresses the themes and values in his poetry. He was, in fact, the first Beat Writer to gain popular notice when he delivered a performance of his now famous poem, ?Howl?, in October of 1955. The Beat Generation is typically described as a vision, not an idea and being hard to define. It is characterized as ?a cultural revolution in process, made by a post-World War II generation of disaffiliated young people..without spiritual values they could honor? (Charters XX). Although first condemned and criticized, it became a national phenomenon. Allen Ginsberg expressed the intangible beliefs of this generation in his poems about his childhood, curiosity, war, freedom of thought, and other people.
Through Allen Ginsberg?s ideal individualism, he has been able to express the themes and values of the Beat Generation. Because of Allen Ginsberg?s tormented childhood, many of his poems were about his relationship with his mother and his own mental problems. Allen Ginsberg was born in Patterson, New Jersey to Louis and Naomi Ginsberg on June 3, 1926. His mother became insane during Ginsberg?s formative years. She was described as a paranoid schizophrenic, believing she was in danger from assassins and was spied on by everyone, including her own family members.
For example, in the poem, ?Howl?, Ginsberg writes ? I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked..? (Charters 62) of his mother, Naomi. This statement employs him as a witness to the destruction. Her struggle for sanity eventually led to the deterioration of her sons sound mind. Kaddish is a poem written by Ginsberg for his mother. It is 2.
a relatively confessional poem and indirectly addresses the reader, or in this case, his mother. It is also seen as an autobiographical elegy that reveals many private experiences which shaped Ginsberg?s life and a confession of personal necessity. Kaddish, the term, comes from a Judaic prayer and suggests the poem is in memory of his mother. Kaddish becomes a song for the dead indicated by the first six words: ?Strange now to think of you.? This indicates one of the poem?s?s themes, his mother. For instance, it is written, ?Death is that remedy all singers dream of? (Litz 319). The singer represents the poet and his own turmoil.
The fourth section, ?Lament?, is a list of regrets for his mother, illustrating his obsession with her. The fifth, called ?Litany?, reiterates major episodes of Naomi?s sickness. Finally, the fifth section of ?Kaddish?, ?Fugue?, represents his own turmoil of emotion and problems which render the poet incapable of articulating anything other than the poems ending, ?Lord Lord Lord caw caw caw Lord Lord Lord caw caw caw? (Charters 98). ?Howl? also describes Ginsberg?s own mental problems shown when he locates the core of corruption as a ?monster of mental consciousness? (Ginsberg 48), or Moloch, a Fire God. This part of the poem is written in chaotic chants. Ginsberg?s poems about his childhood express the value that Beat writers are ?very tired people-tired of living before one has started living? (Charters XXIV) forced upon Ginsberg by his mother and his own mental problems.
In the same way Ginsberg?s poems were stemmed from his childhood, many were stemmed from his undying curiosity. In 1943, he entered Columbia University intending to become a labor lawyer. Though, he soon fell in love with a group of wild students and non students including Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Neal Cassady. Indeed, 3.
he wrote of the group and himself in ?Howl? by saying ?who passes through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating../who were expelled from the academies for crazy and publishing obscene odes on the windows of skull..? (Litz 308). This is where his use of drugs came into being, and he was suspended from school for various small offenses. He began experimenting with Benzedrine and marijuana and going to gay bars. Most of ?Kaddish? was written while on the drugs nitrous oxide, ayahausco, LSD, and mescaline. He used them to ?widen the area of consciousness? (Litz 320), shown in the stream like quality and lack of punctuation in the poem itself.
In brief, Ginsberg?s experience of school at Columbia and his use of drugs affected his poetry to illustrate the value shared by the Beat writers that a New Vision, or new light, must be reached through any means. Furthermore, Ginsberg?s feelings about war inspired him to write, what some critics say, some of his best poetry. Beat writers, for the most part, share the same antiwar feelings. They are typically against all sorts of armed conflict and also the oppression that war causes everyone. Ginsberg became a very familiar face at protests against the Vietnam war (Holmes 8).
Beatniks protested their country?s excess on the front lines (Charters XXXI). They were not only against the war itself, they were against war against humanity. Perhaps Ginsberg?s poem ?America? best describes his and other Beat writers? attitudes towards the war itself and war against humanity. Granted, Ginsberg writes, ?America I?ve given you all and now I?m nothing / America when will we end the human war? / Go *censored* yourself with your atom bomb / I don?t feel good don?t bother me.? (Charters 74) This poem also illustrates Ginsberg?s obsession with an atomic fallout and radiation sickness. Ginsberg called this ?the idea of transience of phenomena – Not a morbid 4.
interest in death but the realization of the mortal turn.? (Charters XIX)His belief was also spread by the fear and tension of the cold war when people realized he was speaking out against it. ?Howl? also fought for an enlightenment from the war and a hope for an end to all forms of it. Ginsberg?s poems about war share the groups beliefs and values against war and everything that it entails. Moreover, his poems about other people than himself illustrate the Generations? beliefs in a personal attitude, as said by an interviewer of the Beats, Stanley Fisher. The most important individual Ginsberg wrote about is the man who most influenced him, Walt Whitman. ?A Supermarket in California? is a narrative poem about he and Whitman.
Ginsberg tries to follow in Whitman?s footsteps in writing, and, in the poem, walks in Whitman?s footsteps in the supermarket (Barr 1). To illustrate, Ginsberg?s lines ?What thoughts I have of you, Walt Whitman / I saw you Walt Whitman / Where are we going Walt Whitman?? (Charters 71-72) illustrate Ginsberg?s admiration of the man. While at Colombia University, Ginsberg met and pronounced his love for Jack Kerouac, who was a heterosexual. They continued only a friendship. ?Sunflower Sutra? is a poem about Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and their friendship together. It illustrates the importance of his friends and fellow writers in his life. Ginsberg then met Neal Cassady, who he desperately falls in love with.
He believed Cassady incapable of loving him in the way he needed. They eventually broke up, sending Ginsberg into a great bought of severe depression. Allen wrote him many letters begging for his love and him back. Ginsberg wrote two important poems to him, ?Do We Understand Each Other?? and ?A Lovers Garden?. To illustrate Ginsberg?s obsession with Cassady, he wrote in ?A Lovers Garden?, ?As seconds on the clock do move, Each marks another thought of love, and we devise, Each minute to antitheses..? 5.
(Litz 311) After his time in depression, Ginsberg met Peter Orlovsky, who became his lifetime companion. The greatest poem about love written by Allen Ginsberg was ?Song?. It was his definition and belief of what love was. Indeed, he wrote: ?The weight of the world is love. Under the burden of solitude, under the burden of dissatisfaction the weight, the weight we carry is love.? (Charters 99) Altogether, Ginsberg?s poems about love and other people illustrate the Beat Writers belief in personal attitude.
Finally, Ginsberg?s never-ending freedom of thought expressed the Beatnik?s beliefs in non-conformity and instinctive individuality. These, perhaps, are the most important of the beliefs and values of the Beat Writers. They all believed in shocking people and stirring things up, even if it did get them into a bit of trouble, such as Ginsberg?s suspension from school, a brief time in a psychiatric hospital, and a short time in jail. Ginsberg also spoke out against America and against government in general. He believed that America has reneged on its promise of opportunity, freedom, and liberty (Barr 3). In 1965, Ginsberg was invited to both Cuba and Czechoslovakia.
He was expelled from both countries for his condemnation of their policies and governments. He had been invited because of his ability to speak out against his own country. These two countries believed Ginsberg would accept their policies because of this. He was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in. In the poem, ?America?, Ginsberg attacks America?s faults by mimicking the foolishness of the public and the government.
He believed anyone who can attack evil (to him, the government) is no longer so helplessly its victim. For example, Ginsberg writes in his poem, ?America?, ?My mind is made up there?s going to be trouble. / You should have seen me reading 6. Marx.? (Charters 75) Thus addressing his and the Beats non-conformist beliefs. His public announcement of his own sexuality was also a stand against conformity. Although the Beats have many beliefs in common, they are known for their instinctive individualism.
No two are the same, or even close for that matter. They each expressed their individualism differently. They all wanted some breakthroughs of consciousness or a new consciousness. They all reached for it differently. Allen Ginsberg did so by speaking his mind at any time, appropriate or not.
In writing ?Howl?, Ginsberg accomplished the creation of a territory for writing that was radically different from the narrow, nearly exhausted modes of expression approved by the literary establishment (Lewis 3). His writing expressed the beliefs of Beats in non-conformity and individualism. Poetry Essays.