Walt Whitman is most certainly the forefather of contemporary American prose and poetry. Whitman’s most celebrated work; Leaves of Grass has left a mark not only on American society but also on the work of Allen Ginsberg who is vastly reminiscent of Walt Whitman. I will begin this essay by paralleling the Leaves of Grass to Ginsberg’s Howl while incorporating the work and ideas of other contemporary Amesrican poets.
To take one Allen Ginsberg poem as an example, we will be able to draw a corollary between Howl and the poetic style developed by Whitman: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…” Whitman released himself from rhyme and measure and focused more fervently on identifying and naming the inhabitants of a specific world. Here we can see that Ginsberg is using the same poetic technique and often an idea is repetitively stressed in order to address the world in which he is speaking of. This idea of repetition is best seen in Whitman’s Song of Myself:
It cannot fall the young man who died and was buried
Nor the young woman who died and was put by his side,
Nor the little child that peep’d in at the door, and then drew back
and was never seen again,
Nor the old man who has lived without purpose, and feels it with
bitterness worse than gall,
Nor him in the poor house tubercled by rum and bad disorder,
Nor the numberless slaughter’d and wreck’d, nor the brutish kobo
call’d the ordure of humanity…
The stylistic similarities between Ginsberg and Whitman are clearly evident upon the first reading. Walt Whitman was able to open American poetry to a much freer subject and form, this is something that Ginsberg strongly took hold of. Whitman was a radical writer during his time and Ginsberg took similar risks in expressing himself through poetic means. Throughout the course, there has been an underlying theme of attempting to describe the world in whole as well as the individual’s relationship to society.
In American society today it feels as though we are pushing individuals to “walk the road less taken.” Ginsberg and Whitman I feel are comparable not only through their stylistic similarities but also through their relationship with societal morals. Ginsberg in the 1950’s was an ultra radical; he essentially was the intellectual basis for the Jack Kerouac “Beat Generation.” Whitman also challenged the “order of humanity” and expressed ideas foreign to society at the time of his writing. Modern day America is much more open to individuality and diversity than it was just forty to fifty years ago. The work of a writer will project much more in a society resistant to outside ideas than it will in a more accessible minded society.
Allen Ginsberg’s poem A Supermarket in Heaven is a romantic homage to the change of ideas from the 1850’s to the 1950’s. Ginsberg has an almost mystical attachment to be incorporated into the moment of the world. Whitman had a passionate desire to love and be apart of the world despite the world at times being unlovable. Nick Flynn in The Captain Asks For a Show of Hands also points to the need for man to have openness towards the world. In the fist poem of the collection, haiku (failed) Flynn writes:
The thin thread that hold us here, tethered/ or maybe tied, together,
What/ do you call it –telephone? horizon? song? Listen/ to yourself
sing, We are all god’s children / we are all gods, we walk the earth
These opening lines establish a connection between humanity or the lack there of, whether it is a telephone wire or song.
Flynn also writes in seven testimonies (redacted) about the horrors, which occurred between the guards and Abu Ghraib detainees. Here again we find that in order for the reader to walk away satisfied the author must take a risk. This specific incident was a moment of great turmoil for America, yet similar to Whitman Flynn still encourages to love and be apart of the world despite it at times...
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