Critical Analysis of Ginsberg’s Poem: The Howl

First of all I would like to analyze the poem from the school of New Criticism which emphasizes the aesthetic aspect. The focus is on the tropes used in the poem. Ginsberg’s poem focuses on drugs, altered states of consciousness and counter culture. The trope, ‘angel headed hipsters (a person outside mainstream culture) burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night is a metaphor which fuses eastern mysticism with techno-punk and refers to the thirst for the addicted to altered states, and also reveals poet’s heart to be in rapture of a postmodern Gnosticism.

The figure of speech: ‘bared their brains under the EL and saw Mohameddian Angels staggering on the tenement roofs illuminated is a hyperbolic personification and refers to a mind clouded with surreal imagination, a tryst with the music of jazz and techno-Gnosticism. ‘Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war who were expelled from the academics for crazy publishing of obscene odes on the window of the skull is a metaphor, where a politicized protest of the Vietnam and the sit-ins were thwarted out vehemently by the egoistic bureaucracy. ‘Who ate fire paint in hotels’ is a metaphor suggestive of sniffing drugs. ‘Purgatoried their torsos night after night’ refers to an idealism with countless adventures with heterosexuality. ‘Blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning’ is personification. ‘Time between peyote solidities of halls, backyard cemetery dawns’ is a metaphor which reveals a mechanistic surreal hallucination, a dark obsession, a phantasmagoria. ‘Who sank all night in the submarine light of Bickfords’ is a metaphor that suggests a hallucinating mysticism got from a drug induced trip. ‘Listening to the crack doom on the hydrogen box’ is a metaphor that inclines to having a trip with rock music. ‘Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy is personification’. ‘Who disappeared in the volcanoes of Mexico leaving nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava of ash poetry scattered in the fireplace is a metaphor that portrays the subliminal, chthonic, cathartic experience when one goes though the dizzy haze of a drug induced trip. ‘What Sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination’ is a metaphor that shows the mechanization of the soul going through a drug induced trip of narco-neurosis. ‘Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in long streets like Jehovahs’ is a simile which portrays the cold gaze of the city on the human. The city is an inhuman spectacle, warped and distorted all down to drown feelings and passions in it. ‘Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog’ is personification to show a wasteland of dehumanization.

Next I would like to unravel the political consciousness inherent in the poem. The poet laments on the ‘best generation’ of New York being destroyed. The poet is an advocate of counter culture and experimenting with drugs and alcohol to excess is a norm. The poet is in both minds and showing a contradiction. Has America become a ghetto of drug trips and a mental and financial hell for its proletarians? The poet bombards the American bureaucracy for having expelled Vietnam War protesters from the university. The American bureaucracy is put in modern linguistic jargon: Trump Trumpeting. The American bureaucracy is colonially masculine and sexist. The poet is a critique of the legal machinery for having busted marijuana possessors. The pacifism of the counter culture generation is emphasized by the poet as they distributed anti-war pamphlets and organized sit-ins in the university. The poet in a metaphor describes the narcotic haze of capitalism. The poet sympathizes and becomes an advocate of egalitarianism. The poet is excited about the protests and mentions how the counter culture activists encountered screaming police cars. ‘Boys sobbing in armies’ are suggestive of military conscription reveals the wickedness of Capitalism to spread its tentacles of vicious power and to start and get involved in wars worldwide.

The poet in a metaphor compares Moloch, the Capitalist State to an incomprehensible prison. Again the poet in metaphoric language says: Moloch the pure machinery: Moloch whose fingers are ten armies. The poet voices the counter culture of protest against an inhuman government who is globally monstrous and satanically obsessed with the rights of the advocates of the Counter Culture movement. The poet again goes on with invective metaphors: ‘Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows: Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in long streets like endless Jehovahs: Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog’. The poet becomes a prophet of dehumanized, mechanized creation of people whose lives become nihilism of despair. ‘I am with you in Rock Land where you plot the Hebrew Socialist Revolution against the Nationalist Golgotha’. The poet laments for a just society grounded on Socialistic lines. The poet becomes Utopian when he talks of an ultimate kind of mystic freedom.

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