'Howl' by Allen Ginsberg

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Howl and Other Poems1956ForCarl SolomonII saw the best minds of my generation destroyed bymadness, starving hysterical naked,dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawnlooking for an angry fix,angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenlyconnection to the starry dynamo in the machin-ery of night,who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high satup smoking in the supernatural darkness ofcold-water flats floating across the tops of citiescontemplating jazz,who bared their brains to Heaven under the El andsaw Mohammedan angels staggering on tene-ment roofs illuminated,who passed through universities with radiant cool eyeshallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedyamong the scholars of war,who were expelled from the academies for crazy &publishing obscene odes on the windows of theskull,who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burn-ing their money in wastebaskets and listeningto the Terror through the wall,who got busted in their pubic beards returning throughLaredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine inParadise Alley, death, or purgatoried theirtorsos night after nightwith dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, al-cohol and cock and endless balls,incomparable blind; streets of shuddering cloud andlightning in the mind leaping toward poles ofCanada & Paterson, illuminating all the mo-tionless world of Time between,Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemeterydawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops,storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neonblinking traffic light, sun and moon and treevibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brook-lyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,who chained themselves to subways for the endlessride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrineuntil the noise of wheels and children broughtthem down shuddering mouth-wracked andbattered bleak of brain all drained of brilliancein the drear light of Zoo,who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford'sfloated out and sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate Fugazzi's, listening to the crackof doom on the hydrogen jukebox,who talked continuously seventy hours from park topad to bar to Bellevue to museum to the Brook-lyn Bridge,lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumpingdown the stoops off fire escapes off windowsillsoff Empire State out of the moon,yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering factsand memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicksand shocks of hospitals and jails and wars,whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven daysand nights with brilliant eyes, meat for theSynagogue cast on the pavement,who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving atrail of ambiguous picture postcards of AtlanticCity Hall,suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grind-ings and migraines of China under junk-with-drawal in Newark's bleak furnished room,who wandered around and around at midnight in therailroad yard wondering where to go, and went,leaving no broken hearts,who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketingthrough snow toward lonesome farms in grand-father night,who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telep-athy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos in-stinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking vis-ionary indian angels who were visionary indianangels,who thought they were only mad when Baltimoregleamed in supernatural ecstasy,who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Okla-homa on the impulse of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain,who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houstonseeking jazz or sex or soup, and followed thebrilliant Spaniard to converse about Americaand Eternity, a hopeless task, and so took shipto Africa,who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leavingbehind nothing but the shadow of dungareesand the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago,who reappeared on the West Coast investigating theF.B.I. in beards and shorts with big pacifisteyes sexy in their dark skin passing out incom-prehensible leaflets,who burned cigarette holes in their arms protestingthe narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in UnionSquare weeping and undressing while the sirensof Los Alamos wailed them down, and waileddown Wall, and the Staten Island ferry alsowailed,who broke down crying in white gymnasiums nakedand trembling before the machinery of otherskeletons,who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delightin policecars for committing no crime but theirown wild cooking pederasty and intoxication,who howled on their knees in the subway and weredragged off the roof waving genitals and manu-scripts,who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintlymotorcyclists, and screamed with joy,who blew and were blown by those human seraphim,the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbeanlove,who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of public parks andcemeteries scattering their semen freely towhomever come who may,who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound upwith a sob behind a partition in a Turkish Bathwhen the blond & naked angel came to piercethem with a sword,who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fatethe one eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollarthe one eyed shrew that winks out of the womband the one eyed shrew that does nothing butsit on her ass and snip the intellectual goldenthreads of the craftsman's loom,who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle ofbeer a sweetheart a package of cigarettes a can-dle and fell off the bed, and continued alongthe floor and down the hall and ended faintingon the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt andcome eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,who sweetened the snatches of a million girls tremblingin the sunset, and were red eyed in the morningbut prepared to sweeten the snatch of the sunrise, flashing buttocks under barns and nakedin the lake,who went out whoring through Colorado in myriadstolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of thesepoems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver--joyto the memory of his innumerable lays of girlsin empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses'rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or withgaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely pet-ticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-stationsolipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too,who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted indreams, woke on a sudden Manhattan, andpicked themselves up out of basements hungover with heartless Tokay and horrors of ThirdAvenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemploy-ment offices,who walked all night with their shoes full of blood onthe snowbank docks waiting for a door in theEast River to open to a room full of steamheatand opium,who created great suicidal dramas on the apartmentcliff-banks of the Hudson under the wartimeblue floodlight of the moon & their heads shallbe crowned with laurel in oblivion,who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digestedthe crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers ofBowery,who wept at the romance of the streets with theirpushcarts full of onions and bad music,who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under thebridge, and rose up to build harpsichords intheir lofts,who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crownedwith flame under the tubercular sky surroundedby orange crates of theology,who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over loftyincantations which in the yellow morning werestanzas of gibberish,who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht& tortillas dreaming of the pure vegetablekingdom,who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking foran egg,who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballotfor Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocksfell on their heads every day for the next decade,who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccess-fully, gave up and were forced to open antiquestores where they thought they were growingold and cried,who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suitson Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse& the tanked-up clatter of the iron regimentsof fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of thefairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinis-ter intelligent editors, or were run down by thedrunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually hap-pened and walked away unknown and forgotteninto the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free beer,who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out ofthe subway window, jumped in the filthy Pas-saic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the street,danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashedphonograph records of nostalgic European1930s German jazz finished the whiskey andthrew up groaning into the bloody toilet, moansin their ears and the blast of colossal steamwhistles,who barreled down the highways of the past journeyingto each other's hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitudewatch or Birmingham jazz incarnation,who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find outif I had a vision or you had a vision or he hada vision to find out Eternity,who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, whocame back to Denver & waited in vain, whowatched over Denver & brooded & loned inDenver and finally went away to find out theTime, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes,who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals prayingfor each other's salvation and light and breasts,until the soul illuminated its hair for a second,who crashed through their minds in jail waiting forimpossible criminals with golden heads and thecharm of reality in their hearts who sang sweetblues to Alcatraz,who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or RockyMount to tender Buddha or Tangiers to boysor Southern Pacific to the black locomotive orHarvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to thedaisychain or grave,who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism & were left with their insanity & theirhands & a hung jury,who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaismand subsequently presented themselves on thegranite steps of the madhouse with shaven headsand harlequin speech of suicide, demanding in-stantaneous lobotomy,and who were given instead the concrete void of insulinMetrazol electricity hydrotherapy psycho-therapy occupational therapy pingpong &amnesia,who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolicpingpong table, resting briefly in catatonia,returning years later truly bald except for a wig ofblood, and tears and fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of the madtowns of theEast,Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetidhalls, bickering with the echoes of the soul, rock-ing and rolling in the midnight solitude-benchdolmen-realms of love, dream of life a night-mare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as themoon,with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic bookflung out of the tenement window, and the lastdoor closed at 4. A.M. and the last telephoneslammed at the wall in reply and the last fur-nished room emptied down to the last piece ofmental furniture, a yellow paper rose twistedon a wire hanger in the closet, and even thatimaginary, nothing but a hopeful little bit ofhallucination--
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, andnow you're really in the total animal soup oftime--
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessedwith a sudden flash of the alchemy of the useof the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrat-ing plane,who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Spacethrough images juxtaposed, and trapped thearchangel of the soul between 2 visual imagesand joined the elemental verbs and set the nounand dash of consciousness together jumpingwith sensation of Pater Omnipotens AeternaDeusto recreate the syntax and measure of poor humanprose and stand before you speechless and intel-ligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet con-fessing out the soul to conform to the rhythmof thought in his naked and endless head,the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown,yet putting down here what might be left to sayin time come after death,and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz inthe goldhorn shadow of the band and blew thesuffering of America's naked mind for love intoan eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophonecry that shivered the cities down to the last radiowith the absolute heart of the poem of life butcheredout of their own bodies good to eat a thousandyears.IIWhat sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed opentheir skulls and ate up their brains and imagi-nation?Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under thestairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old menweeping in the parks!Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch theloveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavyjudger of men!Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch thecrossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress ofsorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment!Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stun-ned governments!Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whoseblood is running money! Moloch whose fingersare ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a canni-bal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smokingtomb!Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the longstreets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose fac-tories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whosesmokestacks and antennae crown the cities!Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Molochwhose soul is electricity and banks! Molochwhose poverty is the specter of genius! Molochwhose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen!Moloch whose name is the Mind!Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dreamAngels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker inMoloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whomI am a consciousness without a body! Molochwho frightened me out of my natural ecstasy!Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch!Light streaming out of the sky!Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs!skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonicindustries! spectral nations! invincible madhouses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pave-ments, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city toHeaven which exists and is everywhere aboutus!Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies!gone down the American river!Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the wholeboatload of sensitive bullshit!Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions!gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! De-spairs! Ten years' animal screams and suicides!Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down onthe rocks of Time!Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! thewild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell!They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving!carrying flowers! Down to the river! into thestreet!IIICarl Solomon! I'm with you in Rocklandwhere you're madder than I amI'm with you in Rocklandwhere you must feel very strangeI'm with you in Rocklandwhere you imitate the shade of my motherI'm with you in Rocklandwhere you've murdered your twelve secretariesI'm with you in Rocklandwhere you laugh at this invisible humorI'm with you in Rocklandwhere we are great writers on the same dreadfultypewriterI'm with you in Rocklandwhere your condition has become serious andis reported on the radioI'm with you in Rocklandwhere the faculties of the skull no longer admitthe worms of the sensesI'm with you in Rocklandwhere you drink the tea of the breasts of thespinsters of UticaI'm with you in Rocklandwhere you pun on the bodies of your nurses theharpies of the BronxI'm with you in Rocklandwhere you scream in a straightjacket that you'relosing the game of the actual pingpong of theabyssI'm with you in Rocklandwhere you bang on the catatonic piano the soulis innocent and immortal it should never dieungodly in an armed madhouseI'm with you in Rocklandwhere fifty more shocks will never return yoursoul to its body again from its pilgrimage to across in the voidI'm with you in Rocklandwhere you accuse your doctors of insanity andplot the Hebrew socialist revolution against thefascist national GolgothaI'm with you in Rocklandwhere you will split the heavens of Long Islandand resurrect your living human Jesus from thesuperhuman tombI'm with you in Rocklandwhere there are twenty-five-thousand mad com-rades all together singing the final stanzas of the InternationaleI'm with you in Rocklandwhere we hug and kiss the United States underour bedsheets the United States that coughs allnight and won't let us sleepI'm with you in Rocklandwhere we wake up electrified out of the comaby our own souls' airplanes roaring over theroof they've come to drop angelic bombs thehospital illuminates itselfimaginary walls col-lapseO skinny legions run outsideO starryspangled shock of mercy the eternal war ishereO victory forget your underwear we'refreeI'm with you in Rocklandin my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey on the highway across America in tearsto the door of my cottage in the Western night

Editor 1 Interpretation

Howl by Allen Ginsberg: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Howl is not just any poem. It is a poem that stands out as one of the most controversial and significant works of the 20th century. Written in 1955 by American poet Allen Ginsberg, Howl is a poem that embodies a powerful critique of the societal norms that constrain individual expression and freedom in America. This literary criticism and interpretation aims to explore the themes, literary techniques, and cultural context of Howl, and to analyze the poem’s impact on American poetry and culture.

Overview of Howl

Howl is a poem that consists of three parts and is structured in a free-verse style. The first part of the poem begins with the famous line, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked”. This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is characterized by its raw and unbridled expression of emotion, sexuality, and rebellion against the societal norms of the time. The second part of the poem is a surreal and hallucinatory description of a drug-induced vision of America, while the third part is a plea for the reader to join the poet in his quest for freedom and self-expression.

Themes in Howl

One of the main themes of Howl is the rejection of the conformity and consumerism that characterized American society in the 1950s. Ginsberg was a member of the Beat Generation, a group of poets and writers who rejected the mainstream values of their time and sought to create a counterculture that placed emphasis on individualism, creativity, and non-conformity. In Howl, Ginsberg critiques the “Moloch” of industry and commercialism that he saw as destroying the vitality and creativity of America’s youth.

Another theme in Howl is the exploration of sexuality and desire. Ginsberg was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was still widely stigmatized in America. Howl embodies a celebration of queer sexuality and desire, as well as a critique of the heteronormative values that suppress the expression of queer desire. The poem also explores the tension between the physical and spiritual aspects of sexuality, as well as the connection between sexuality and creativity.

A third theme in Howl is the search for spiritual transcendence. Ginsberg was deeply influenced by Eastern spirituality and the Beat Generation’s rejection of Western materialism and consumerism. In Howl, Ginsberg describes a quest for transcendence that is both spiritual and physical, a search for a deeper understanding of the self and the world that is not constrained by the limitations of mainstream culture.

Literary Techniques in Howl

One of the most striking literary techniques in Howl is the use of repetition. Ginsberg repeats key phrases and images throughout the poem, creating a hypnotic and trance-like effect that emphasizes the intensity and urgency of his message. The repetition of the phrase “I saw the best minds of my generation” emphasizes the sense of loss and tragedy that Ginsberg feels for the youth of America, while the repetition of the phrase “who” creates a sense of urgency and immediacy in the poem.

Another literary technique in Howl is the use of vivid and visceral imagery. Ginsberg’s descriptions of drug-induced hallucinations, sexual desire, and spiritual transcendence are characterized by their raw and unfiltered nature. The images in the poem are often shocking and confrontational, challenging the reader to confront the darker and more taboo aspects of the human experience.

The use of allusion is also prominent in Howl. Ginsberg references a wide range of literary, historical, and cultural figures and events, from William Blake to Jack Kerouac to the persecution of homosexuals by the U.S. government. These allusions serve to deepen the poem’s context and meaning, connecting the personal and the political in a way that is both powerful and provocative.

Cultural Context of Howl

Howl was written in the context of the post-World War II era, a time of social and political upheaval in America. The 1950s were characterized by a sense of conformity and conservatism, as well as by the rise of consumerism and the Cold War. Against this backdrop, the Beat Generation emerged as a countercultural movement that rejected the mainstream values of their time and sought to create a new kind of culture that placed emphasis on individualism, creativity, and non-conformity.

Howl was also a product of the emerging countercultural movement in America that would come to be known as the 1960s. The poem served as a rallying cry for a generation of young people who were disillusioned with the status quo and sought to create a new kind of society that was more just, more inclusive, and more free.

Impact of Howl

Howl was an immediate and controversial success when it was first published in 1956. The poem was initially banned for obscenity, but the ban was later overturned in a landmark First Amendment case. Howl quickly became a touchstone of the countercultural movement in America, influencing a new generation of poets and writers who sought to create a new kind of literature that was more raw, more honest, and more challenging than the mainstream poetry of their time.

Howl also served as a catalyst for the emergence of the Beat Generation as a cultural force in America. The poem helped to define the Beat ethos of rebellion, non-conformity, and spiritual transcendence that would come to define the countercultural movement of the 1960s. Howl’s impact on American poetry and culture cannot be overstated, and the poem remains a powerful and enduring testament to the power of the human spirit to resist oppression and to seek freedom and self-expression.


In conclusion, Howl is a poem that embodies a powerful critique of the societal norms that constrain individual expression and freedom in America. The poem explores themes of non-conformity, sexuality, and spiritual transcendence, and employs literary techniques such as repetition, vivid imagery, and allusion to create a raw and confronting expression of the human experience. Howl’s impact on American poetry and culture cannot be overstated, and the poem remains a vital and enduring work of American literature.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Howl: A Howling Masterpiece of Beat Poetry

Allen Ginsberg’s Howl is a poem that has stood the test of time. Written in 1955, it is a masterpiece of Beat poetry that has inspired generations of poets and readers alike. The poem is a howl of rage and despair, a cry of protest against the conformity and repression of American society in the 1950s. It is a poem that speaks to the heart of the human experience, and its power and relevance have not diminished over the years.

The poem is divided into three parts, each of which is a howl of its own. The first part is a howl of anger and frustration, a cry of protest against the forces of conformity and repression that were stifling the creativity and individuality of the Beat generation. Ginsberg writes:

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.”

This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem. It is a howl of despair, a lament for the lost souls of the Beat generation who were struggling to find their place in a society that did not understand or accept them. The image of the “best minds” being “destroyed by madness” is a powerful one, and it speaks to the sense of alienation and isolation that many young people were feeling at the time.

The second part of the poem is a howl of sexuality and desire, a celebration of the body and its pleasures. Ginsberg writes:

“who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy”

This is a shocking image, but it is also a liberating one. Ginsberg is celebrating the freedom of the body, the ability to express oneself sexually without shame or guilt. This is a radical idea, especially in the context of the 1950s, when sexuality was still largely taboo and repressed. Ginsberg is saying that it is okay to be who you are, to express yourself in whatever way feels right to you.

The third part of the poem is a howl of hope and redemption, a call to action for the Beat generation to rise up and create a new world. Ginsberg writes:

“The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!”

This is a powerful statement of faith in the human spirit. Ginsberg is saying that we are all holy, that we all have the potential to create something beautiful and meaningful in the world. He is calling on the Beat generation to embrace their creativity and use it to change the world for the better.

Overall, Howl is a howl of protest and liberation, a cry of rage and hope that speaks to the heart of the human experience. It is a poem that has inspired generations of poets and readers, and its power and relevance have not diminished over time. If you have not read Howl, I urge you to do so. It is a masterpiece of Beat poetry that will leave you howling for more.

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