Allen Ginsberg's Poetry

Allen Ginsberg's Poetry Summary

Ginsberg's most famous poem, "Howl," was a meditation on a culture of people living outside of the accepted norms of society. He writes that he saw "the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving / hysterical naked...." His generation was destroyed by the hallmarks of the modern world and modern America: unrestrained capitalism, widespread poverty, militaristic foreign policy, and sexual repression. "Howl" was considered so indecent in its depictions of drug use, sexual acts, and depraved behavior that it was banned by local government authorities in 1957. "Howl," in this sense, was a milestone in twentieth century protest literature and a genesis for the social and cultural revolutions that would occur in 1960's America.

The publication of "Howl and Other Poems" also contained work that would exemplify the themes of Ginsberg's work throughout his life. "A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley" dealt with themes of the natural life within the context of the remains of modern technologies. Ginsberg often felt pulled between two worlds - the ideal rural and natural world exemplified by the Romantic Poets (William Blake and Walt Whitman were two important influences upon Ginsberg's work) and the social and cultural space provided by cities like San Francisco and Berkeley. This poem deals with that tension.

"A Supermarket in California" was an ode and a lament to one of Ginsberg's muses, Walt Whitman. That poem lamented the economic commodification of the modern world that removed objects from their natural world and context. This was a take on the same themes of modernism, yet seen from a broader economic viewpoint. The structures of modern society, Ginsberg says, do not just restrain people from a love and devotion to the natural world but it makes people forget that a natural world even exists. Even the great sages of American Romanticism are left in the dustbin of history.

One of Ginsberg's other famous poem, "America," was a lament for a country that had lost its way. In "America," Ginsberg would hold a conversation with his home country that he feels has abandoned its values of freedom and free thought in favor of a militaristic security state that punishes its artists, free spirits, and political radicals to exact a norm that glorifies unrestrained capitalism, racism, and war. Ginsberg uses multiple forms, all while furthering his experiment with the long line. One of the most original forms he chose to use was the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament in which prophets, having visions from God, warned the people of Israel of their wayward faith and foretold of destruction and captivity. In the same way, Ginsberg prophesies and condemns the modernity of "America," and predicts a spiritual and social destruction.