Analysis of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl"

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Rachel Weston
English 125
November 30, 2009

Time, Terror, Heaven and Eternity

Allen Ginsberg’s revolutionary poem, Howl, is a powerful portrayal of life degraded. It represents the harsh life of the beat generation and chronicles the struggles of the repressed. Howl is a poem of destruction. Destruction of mind, body, and soul through the oppression of the individual. Using powerful diction, Allen Ginsberg describes this abolition of life and its implications through our human understanding of abstractions like Time, Eternity, and self. The poem’s jumbled phrasing and drastic emotion seems to correspond with the minds of the people it describes. Ginsberg uses surprisingly precise and purposeful writing to weave the complex themes of religion, destruction, and eternity into his masterpiece. One of the most fascinating features of Howl is the poem’s allusions to religion and spirituality. Ginsberg describes the Beats and their struggles using words like holy, incarnate, heavenly, salvation, soul, eternity, seraphim, and saintly. The religious diction in Howl eerily contrasts with it’s disturbing and raw content. The author juxtaposes these spiritual words with very lowly and humanistic states. He describes “saintly motorcyclists,” a “pure vegetable kingdom,” “Zen New Jersey” and “Birmingham jazz incarnations.” These strange pairings underline Ginsberg’s view of the human condition as holy. The poem seems to define every life as holy and therefore the oppression of life a terrible sin. This idea is further expressed in Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl” where he writes, “ Everything is holy! Everybody’s holy! Everywhere is holy! Everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!” Ginsberg’s use of religious allusions contribute to the poem’s overall surreal tone and dramatic content. While Howl is filled with religious undertones, its overall tone is created by the fast-paced structure of the narration. Howl is a poem of human action and emotion....
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