Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ginsberg's "Howl" Part 1: An Ode to Fallen Comrades

This poem is in honor of "the best minds of my generation destroyed". I consider it to be an elegy--yes it's elegiac because it is mournful of a past that is gone--but it's a different version of elegy that Ginsberg has created his own, that doesn't follow the same tradition. When Ginsberg himself reads it, it sounds like a is performing a sermon--the tone of his voice seems like he's a priest in a church. The form is elevated and important, rhythmic, like the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. It's easy to feel the beat of the poem--it's from the Beat generation after all.

"Howl" is in honor of all of Ginsberg's fallen comrades. He's listing everything, good and bad, that made them great. Whether it was being caught for sneaking drugs, being high and wild under the influence, having sex with "saintly motorcyclists", writing poetry that ends up being only "stanzas of gibberish", growing older and not evading time, Ginsberg is glorifying his friends in their youth, he's immortalizing them in his poetry, and he's honoring them, who fell victim to vices supplied by a rotten generation. Ginsberg even honors his mother, albeit privately, "with mother finally*******". He does all of this, and it's funny!

Ginsberg writes in "Howl" about his generation, as if the regular rules don't apply. In remembering his friends, he chooses to depict them as honestly as possible and yet, mythologizes them. The rules don't apply, because they made up their own rules--Ginsberg is making his own elegy for them. Who says it can't be funny. Perhaps it is so, because it is so definitely heartbreaking as well. Their highest reward is a promise that "their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion".

I'm saying that "Howl" is Ginsberg's eulogy to his generation. His voice seems like it would support this notion, but it's not completely elevated. His tone changes throughout the poem, fluctuating sorrow with defiance, with boasts and regrets, always respectful. He is "putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death". Bad ass eulogy!

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