Critical Analysis of Ginsberg’s Poem: The Howl

First of all I would like to analyze the poem from the school of New Criticism which emphasizes the aesthetic aspect. The focus is on the tropes used in the poem. Ginsberg’s poem focuses on drugs, altered states of consciousness and counter culture. The trope, ‘angel headed hipsters (a person outside mainstream culture) burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night is a metaphor which fuses eastern mysticism with techno-punk and refers to the thirst for the addicted to altered states, and also reveals poet’s heart to be in rapture of a postmodern Gnosticism.

The figure of speech: ‘bared their brains under the EL and saw Mohameddian Angels staggering on the tenement roofs illuminated is a hyperbolic personification and refers to a mind clouded with surreal imagination, a tryst with the music of jazz and techno-Gnosticism. ‘Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war who were expelled from the academics for crazy publishing of obscene odes on the window of the skull is a metaphor, where a politicized protest of the Vietnam and the sit-ins were thwarted out vehemently by the egoistic bureaucracy. ‘Who ate fire paint in hotels’ is a metaphor suggestive of sniffing drugs. ‘Purgatoried their torsos night after night’ refers to an idealism with countless adventures with heterosexuality. ‘Blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning’ is personification. ‘Time between peyote solidities of halls, backyard cemetery dawns’ is a metaphor which reveals a mechanistic surreal hallucination, a dark obsession, a phantasmagoria. ‘Who sank all night in the submarine light of Bickfords’ is a metaphor that suggests a hallucinating mysticism got from a drug induced trip. ‘Listening to the crack doom on the hydrogen box’ is a metaphor that inclines to having a trip with rock music. ‘Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy is personification’. ‘Who disappeared in the volcanoes of Mexico leaving nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava of ash poetry scattered in the fireplace is a metaphor that portrays the subliminal, chthonic, cathartic experience when one goes though the dizzy haze of a drug induced trip. ‘What Sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination’ is a metaphor that shows the mechanization of the soul going through a drug induced trip of narco-neurosis. ‘Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in long streets like Jehovahs’ is a simile which portrays the cold gaze of the city on the human. The city is an inhuman spectacle, warped and distorted all down to drown feelings and passions in it. ‘Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog’ is personification to show a wasteland of dehumanization.

Next I would like to unravel the political consciousness inherent in the poem. The poet laments on the ‘best generation’ of New York being destroyed. The poet is an advocate of counter culture and experimenting with drugs and alcohol to excess is a norm. The poet is in both minds and showing a contradiction. Has America become a ghetto of drug trips and a mental and financial hell for its proletarians? The poet bombards the American bureaucracy for having expelled Vietnam War protesters from the university. The American bureaucracy is put in modern linguistic jargon: Trump Trumpeting. The American bureaucracy is colonially masculine and sexist. The poet is a critique of the legal machinery for having busted marijuana possessors. The pacifism of the counter culture generation is emphasized by the poet as they distributed anti-war pamphlets and organized sit-ins in the university. The poet in a metaphor describes the narcotic haze of capitalism. The poet sympathizes and becomes an advocate of egalitarianism. The poet is excited about the protests and mentions how the counter culture activists encountered screaming police cars. ‘Boys sobbing in armies’ are suggestive of military conscription reveals the wickedness of Capitalism to spread its tentacles of vicious power and to start and get involved in wars worldwide.

The poet in a metaphor compares Moloch, the Capitalist State to an incomprehensible prison. Again the poet in metaphoric language says: Moloch the pure machinery: Moloch whose fingers are ten armies. The poet voices the counter culture of protest against an inhuman government who is globally monstrous and satanically obsessed with the rights of the advocates of the Counter Culture movement. The poet again goes on with invective metaphors: ‘Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows: Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in long streets like endless Jehovahs: Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog’. The poet becomes a prophet of dehumanized, mechanized creation of people whose lives become nihilism of despair. ‘I am with you in Rock Land where you plot the Hebrew Socialist Revolution against the Nationalist Golgotha’. The poet laments for a just society grounded on Socialistic lines. The poet becomes Utopian when he talks of an ultimate kind of mystic freedom.

To ground the work psychoanalytically would be to consider the poet as a sensitive hedonist, liberal with morals, yet a Gandhi who advocates leniency and pacifism in Politics. The poet is supportive of a drug induced consciousness and is a libertine when it comes to sex with wanton. The poet is a techno-Gnostic who becomes fascinated with the philosophies of Eastern mysticism. The poet is a hybrid of the Orient and the Occident. The poet’s hallucinations are surreal and go against the rational. The poet’s mind is in a haze, a neurotic labyrinth where time becomes a cosmic language of a vehicle flowing in streams of consciousness. Being populated in multiple worlds and multiple realities is a mythical and poetic adventure for the mind of the poet. The poet achieves a mechanized transcendence, mystical, cathartic and warped-the consciousness which echoes the beatific in a world heading for an apocalypse. The poet is an angelic archetype, a fallen angel who is ultimately an idealist and who has a Utopian vision for his society. Dream and reality in merge in beatific visions. For example: the poet sees visions of Mohemmadian angels staggering on the illuminated roof. The vision becomes like a surreal painting with a voice. Is the poet a hedonistic Bacchus when he openly preaches of experimenting with free sex and alcohol? Is the poet disturbing the democratic ethos of the society? The poet is visionary, an internalized angelic mystic whose mind alters between Christ, Buddha and Time and Plato. The poet has to be criticized for still clinging on to grand narratives of the day and failing to devise a mythology that would triumph individuality.



Source by Bose Anand