'Sunflower Sutra' by Allen Ginsberg

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Howl and Other Poems1955I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock andsat down under the huge shade of a SouthernPacific locomotive to look at the sunset over thebox house hills and cry.Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty ironpole, companion, we thought the same thoughtsof the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, sur-rounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees ofmachinery.The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sunsank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in thatstream, no hermit in those mounts, just our-selves rheumy-eyed and hungover like old bumson the riverbank, tired and wily.Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead grayshadow against the sky, big as a man, sittingdry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust----I rushed up enchanted--it was my first sunflower,memories of Blake--my visions--Harlemand Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking JoesGreasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, blacktreadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, thepoem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steelknives, nothing stainless, only the dank muckand the razor-sharp artifacts passing into thepast--and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset,crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smogand smoke of olden locomotives in its eye--corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken likea battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face,soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sun-rays obliterated on its hairy head like a driedwire spiderweb,leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gesturesfrom the sawdust root, broke pieces of plasterfallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower Omy soul, I loved you then!The grime was no man's grime but death and humanlocomotives,all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroadskin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of blackmis'ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuber-ance of artificial worse-than-dirt--industrial--modern--all that civilization spotting yourcrazy golden crown--and those blear thoughts of death and dusty lovelesseyes and ends and withered roots below, in thehome-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollarbills, skin of machinery, the guts and innardsof the weeping coughing car, the empty lonelytincans with their rusty tongues alack, whatmore could I name, the smoked ashes of somecock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and themilky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs& sphincters of dynamos--all theseentangled in your mummied roots--and you therestanding before me in the sunset, all your gloryin your form!A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellentlovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eyeto the new hip moon, woke up alive and excitedgrasping in the sunset shadow sunrise goldenmonthly breeze!How many flies buzzed round you innocent of yourgrime, while you cursed the heavens of the rail-road and your flower soul?Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were aflower? when did you look at your skin anddecide you were an impotent dirty old locomo-tive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter andshade of a once powerful mad American locomo-tive?You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were asunflower!And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget menot!So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuckit at my side like a scepter,and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack's soultoo, and anyone who'll listen,--We're not our skin of grime, we're not our dreadbleak dusty imageless locomotive, we're allbeautiful golden sunflowers inside, we're bles-sed by our own seed & golden hairy naked ac-complishment-bodies growing into mad blackformal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by oureyes under the shadow of the mad locomotiveriverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sit-down vision.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Glory of Sunflower Sutra by Allen Ginsberg

As I read Sunflower Sutra by Allen Ginsberg, my heart began to race with excitement. The poem is a masterpiece of modern literature, and it is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the human soul. Ginsberg's words are raw, emotional, and honest. They speak to the deepest parts of our beings, and they remind us of the beauty and the pain of the human experience.

The Poet's Unique Style

Ginsberg's style is unique, and it is evident in Sunflower Sutra. The poem is written in free verse, with no set rhyme or meter. This style allows the poet to express himself in a natural, unfiltered way. Ginsberg's use of language is also unconventional. He uses slang, profanity, and colloquialisms to create a sense of authenticity and realism.

The poem begins with the poet observing a "dead blue sunflower" lying on the side of the road. The image is haunting, and it sets the tone for the rest of the poem. Ginsberg uses the sunflower as a metaphor for the human experience. The flower, once bright and alive, has now withered and died. It represents the pain and suffering that we all experience in our lives.

The Poet's Observation and Interpretation

As the poem progresses, Ginsberg observes the sunflower in detail. He describes the "brown heart" of the flower, which is still visible despite its decay. He also notes the "broken stalk" and the "blackened face" of the flower. These details serve to emphasize the beauty and the tragedy of the sunflower's existence.

Ginsberg then poses a question that is central to the poem: "who is to blame?" He wonders if it is the fault of the flower itself, or if it is the fault of those who have neglected it. He suggests that the flower is a victim of circumstance, and that it has been abandoned by society.

The poet then moves on to a broader discussion of the human condition. He speaks of "millions of cars rushing by" and "the unobtainable sky." He suggests that we are all trapped in a world that is indifferent to our suffering. He speaks of the "madness" of the world, and he suggests that it is this madness that has led to the decay of the sunflower.

A Sense of Hope

Despite the darkness of the poem, there is also a sense of hope. Ginsberg suggests that there is a beauty in the sunflower, even in its decay. He speaks of the "golden purity" of the flower's heart, and he suggests that there is a beauty in the struggle for life.

The poet also suggests that there is a way out of the madness of the world. He speaks of the "angelic" potential of humanity, and he suggests that we can rise above our circumstances. He speaks of the "eternal universe" that is within us, and he suggests that we can find a sense of peace and wholeness by connecting with this universe.

An Interpreted Meaning

To me, Sunflower Sutra is a poem about the human experience. It speaks to the pain and suffering that we all experience, and it suggests that there is a beauty in this struggle. The sunflower, with its decayed beauty, represents the human condition. We are all flawed and imperfect, but we are also capable of great beauty and transcendence.

The poem also speaks to the madness of the world. We are all caught up in a society that is indifferent to our suffering, and we are all searching for a way out of this madness. Ginsberg suggests that we can find this way out by connecting with the eternal universe that is within us. This connection can bring us a sense of peace and wholeness, even in the midst of the madness of the world.


In conclusion, Sunflower Sutra is a masterpiece of modern poetry. It speaks to the deep realities of the human experience, and it suggests that there is a way out of our suffering. Ginsberg's style is unique and powerful, and it allows him to express himself in a way that is raw and authentic. Sunflower Sutra is a poem that will stay with me for a long time, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have read it.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Sunflower Sutra: A Poetic Ode to the Beauty of Life

Allen Ginsberg's Sunflower Sutra is a classic poem that captures the essence of life's beauty and the human struggle to find meaning in it. Written in 1955, the poem is a tribute to the sunflower, a symbol of hope and resilience, and a metaphor for the human spirit. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used in the poem, and how they contribute to its enduring appeal.

The poem begins with the speaker and his friend, Jack Kerouac, observing a dead sunflower in a railroad yard. The sunflower, once a symbol of vitality and beauty, is now a lifeless object, discarded and forgotten. The speaker laments the loss of the sunflower's beauty and the indifference of the world to its passing. He says, "The world stands out on either side / No wider than the heart is wide; / Above the world is stretched the sky, / No higher than the soul is high."

Here, the speaker is expressing his belief that the world is a reflection of our inner selves. The world is as wide or narrow as our hearts allow it to be, and the sky is as high or low as our souls perceive it to be. The dead sunflower represents the loss of hope and beauty in the world, and the speaker's lament is a call to action to reclaim it.

The second stanza of the poem is a description of the sunflower's former glory. The speaker recalls how the sunflower "was once a beautiful tall flower / with its full head of sun / So proud, a little sun." The sunflower's beauty is compared to the sun, a symbol of life and vitality, and the speaker's admiration for it is evident in his description. He goes on to say, "And who died / And made it a dead gray ghost." The sunflower's death is a metaphor for the loss of hope and beauty in the world, and the speaker's anger and frustration are palpable.

In the third stanza, the speaker shifts his focus to the sunflower's resilience. He says, "But there are men too gentle to live among wolves / Who prey upon them with IBM eyes / And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon." Here, the speaker is referring to the conformity and materialism of modern society, where people are willing to sacrifice their values and integrity for the sake of success and social acceptance. The sunflower, on the other hand, is a symbol of resilience and defiance, standing tall and proud despite the harshness of its surroundings.

The fourth stanza is a call to action to reclaim the beauty and hope that the sunflower represents. The speaker says, "We're not our skin of grime, we're not our dread bleak dusty imageless locomotive, / We're all beautiful golden sunflowers inside." Here, the speaker is urging us to look beyond our external appearances and societal roles and embrace our inner beauty and potential. The sunflower is a symbol of this inner beauty, and the speaker's message is a call to action to reclaim it.

The fifth and final stanza of the poem is a celebration of life and the beauty of the world. The speaker says, "This is the story of the sunflower, / And this is the story of mankind, / Together they go through the ages." Here, the speaker is drawing a parallel between the sunflower's journey and the human experience. Both are subject to the ups and downs of life, but both are also capable of resilience and beauty. The speaker ends the poem with the lines, "And when our bones are dust / to dust again, / The space between is love / and love again, / For love is the voice under all silences, / The hope which has no opposite in fear; / The strength so strong mere force is feebleness: / The truth more first than sun, more last than star." These lines are a celebration of the enduring power of love and hope, and a reminder that they are the true essence of life.

In conclusion, Allen Ginsberg's Sunflower Sutra is a timeless poem that captures the beauty and resilience of the human spirit. Through its vivid imagery and powerful language, the poem urges us to reclaim the hope and beauty that we have lost, and to embrace our inner potential. The sunflower is a symbol of this potential, and the speaker's message is a call to action to reclaim it. The poem is a celebration of life and the enduring power of love and hope, and a reminder that they are the true essence of our existence.

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