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Psalm IV Analysis



Author: poem of Allen Ginsberg Type: poem Views: 7

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Now I'll record my secret vision, impossible sight of the face of God:

It was no dream, I lay broad waking on a fabulous couch in Harlem

having masturbated for no love, and read half naked an open book of Blake

        on my lap

Lo & behold! I was thoughtless and turned a page and gazed on the living

        Sun-flower

and heard a voice, it was Blake's, reciting in earthen measure:

the voice rose out of the page to my secret ear never heard before-

I lifted my eyes to the window, red walls of buildings flashed outside,

        endless sky sad Eternity

sunlight gazing on the world, apartments of Harlem standing in the

        universe--

each brick and cornice stained with intelligence like a vast living face--

the great brain unfolding and brooding in wilderness!--Now speaking

        aloud with Blake's voice--

Love! thou patient presence & bone of the body! Father! thy careful

        watching and waiting over my soul!

My son! My son! the endless ages have remembered me! My son! My son!

        Time howled in anguish in my ear!

My son! My son! my father wept and held me in his dead arms.



                                        

                                        1960






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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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Psalm IV by Allen Ginsberg is a poem about a vision he had while reading Ah! Sunflower by William Blake. In the poem he describes hearing Blake’s “earthen voice” reciting the poem to him as he looks out his window into the urban Harlem world outside. I believe that what Ginsberg was trying to get across is very similar to what his contemporary, Joseph Campbell, talked about. We, as humans, feel a need to create religion and myth, and strive after God, but we live in an era where one could argue that God is dead.
“I was thoughtless and turned a page and gazed on the living Sun-flower and heard a voice, it was Blake\'s…” What Ginsberg is referring to is the poem Ah! Sunflower by William Blake. Blake’s poem is based off of the Greek myth about Clytie who falls in love with the sun god Apollo. After watching his chariot soar through the sky for nine days she turned into a sunflower, which is a plant that literally follows the sun as it moves through the sky. William Blake’s poem is about desire, especially the desire for God. So we see that Ginsberg is talking about the human drive to find, understand, and be with God.
“I lay broad waking on a fabulous couch in Harlem having masturbated for no love…” This is one of the beginning lines in the poem, which provides a pretense for the mood of the poem. He has this longing for something that does not exist, sexual desire but no love, a desire for God but no God. He then accidently opens up a book of poetry by William Blake and sees Ah! Sunflower. As Ginsberg hears Blake reciting this poem in his “secret ear” he turns his gaze outside where he sees the red brick walls of the buildings of Harlem. As he observes the urban world outside he notes that, “each brick and cornice stained with intelligence like a vast living face-- the great brain unfolding and brooding in wilderness!” This reminds me of the tower of Babel, which was built by the ancient humans in an attempt to build a bridge to God so that they could connect with him, and really be on his level. I like that he refers to these buildings as the “great brain” which makes me think of Jung’s idea of the archetype. As Campbell said, we have these archetypes, these basic shared ideas stored in our minds that make us interpret the world in similar ways, and, I think, drives us to pursue this concept of “God” or something higher than ourselves. He then hears the buildings say, with Blake’s voice, “Love! thou patient presence & bone of the body! Father! thy careful watching and waiting over my soul! My son! My son! the endless ages have remembered me! My son! My son! Time howled in anguish in my ear! My son! My son! my father wept and held me in his dead arms.” This last part of the poem is key to understanding the entire message of the poem. It brings to mind what Jesus said before he died, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” These last lines are like a conversation between God and Jesus. For ages people have remembered and had love and patience for God, and God has watched over us, but in the end God is holding us, dead.
The time period that Ginsberg and Campbell lived in was an era where for the first time there was a widespread doubt about Gods existence. Science had taken the foreground, producing facts that challenged many religious beliefs. In the middle of the poem Ginsberg sees, “endless sky sad Eternity” and, “apartments of Harlem standing in the universe”, both of these images evoke feelings of being something tiny in a massive universe. These were sentiments that many people were beginning to feel at this time. He thinks of the sunflower, which symbolizes our desire to pursue the great unknown and he sees that we have built these massive cities of brick walls. We have built our civilization on the drive to understand the mysteries of life and the universe, and in the process we killed God accidently. Religion and myth have served the purpose of understanding the unknown, and from that came alchemy and other pseudo sciences. Science would not exist without religion. Religious understanding gave way to the scientific method, and the great irony is that science has killed what it originally set out to understand. Psalm IV is Allen Ginsberg expression of the sentiments of a generation that had to come to terms with the civilization they created that cannot have a God. It is the modern man’s dilemma of being inherently like the sunflower, following God through the sky, and yet living in a world where there is no God in the sky, just the son. It is our own tower of Babel.

| Posted on 2010-11-04 | by a guest




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