Howl

Howl

Overview

"Howl" is a poem written by Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg
Irwin Allen Ginsberg was an American poet and one of the leading figures of the Beat Generation in the 1950s. He vigorously opposed militarism, materialism and sexual repression...

 in 1955 and published as part of his 1956 collection of poetry titled Howl and Other Poems
Howl and Other Poems
Howl and Other Poems is a collection of poetry by Allen Ginsberg published November 1, 1956. It contains Ginsberg's most famous poem, "Howl", which is considered to be one of the principal works of the Beat Generation as well as "A Supermarket in California", "Transcription of Organ Music",...

. The poem is considered to be one of the great works of the Beat Generation
Beat generation
The Beat Generation refers to a group of American post-WWII writers who came to prominence in the 1950s, as well as the cultural phenomena that they both documented and inspired...

, along with Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac
Jean-Louis "Jack" Lebris de Kerouac was an American novelist and poet. He is considered a literary iconoclast and, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, a pioneer of the Beat Generation. Kerouac is recognized for his spontaneous method of writing, covering topics such as Catholic...

's On the Road
On the Road
On the Road is a novel by American writer Jack Kerouac, written in April 1951, and published by Viking Press in 1957. It is a largely autobiographical work that was based on the spontaneous road trips of Kerouac and his friends across mid-century America. It is often considered a defining work of...

(1957) and William S. Burroughs's
William S. Burroughs
William Seward Burroughs II was an American novelist, poet, essayist and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th...

 Naked Lunch
Naked Lunch
Naked Lunch is a novel by William S. Burroughs originally published in 1959. The book is structured as a series of loosely-connected vignettes. Burroughs stated that the chapters are intended to be read in any order...

(1959). "Howl" was written as a performance piece and later published by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Lawrence Ferlinghetti is an American poet, painter, liberal activist, and the co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers...

 of City Lights Books. Upon its release, Ferlinghetti and the bookstore's manager, Shigeyoshi Murao, were charged with disseminating obscene literature, and both were arrested.
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Encyclopedia

"Howl" is a poem written by Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg
Irwin Allen Ginsberg was an American poet and one of the leading figures of the Beat Generation in the 1950s. He vigorously opposed militarism, materialism and sexual repression...

 in 1955 and published as part of his 1956 collection of poetry titled Howl and Other Poems
Howl and Other Poems
Howl and Other Poems is a collection of poetry by Allen Ginsberg published November 1, 1956. It contains Ginsberg's most famous poem, "Howl", which is considered to be one of the principal works of the Beat Generation as well as "A Supermarket in California", "Transcription of Organ Music",...

. The poem is considered to be one of the great works of the Beat Generation
Beat generation
The Beat Generation refers to a group of American post-WWII writers who came to prominence in the 1950s, as well as the cultural phenomena that they both documented and inspired...

, along with Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac
Jean-Louis "Jack" Lebris de Kerouac was an American novelist and poet. He is considered a literary iconoclast and, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, a pioneer of the Beat Generation. Kerouac is recognized for his spontaneous method of writing, covering topics such as Catholic...

's On the Road
On the Road
On the Road is a novel by American writer Jack Kerouac, written in April 1951, and published by Viking Press in 1957. It is a largely autobiographical work that was based on the spontaneous road trips of Kerouac and his friends across mid-century America. It is often considered a defining work of...

(1957) and William S. Burroughs's
William S. Burroughs
William Seward Burroughs II was an American novelist, poet, essayist and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th...

 Naked Lunch
Naked Lunch
Naked Lunch is a novel by William S. Burroughs originally published in 1959. The book is structured as a series of loosely-connected vignettes. Burroughs stated that the chapters are intended to be read in any order...

(1959). "Howl" was written as a performance piece and later published by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Lawrence Ferlinghetti is an American poet, painter, liberal activist, and the co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers...

 of City Lights Books. Upon its release, Ferlinghetti and the bookstore's manager, Shigeyoshi Murao, were charged with disseminating obscene literature, and both were arrested. On October 3, 1957, Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled that the poem was not obscene, and "Howl" went on to become the most popular poem of the Beat Generation.

Background


Allen Ginsberg wrote the poem "Howl" in mid-1955, purportedly at a coffeehouse known today as the Caffe Mediterraneum
Caffe Mediterraneum
Caffe Mediterraneum, often referred to as Caffe Med or simply the Med, is a famous café located on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California, near the University of California, Berkeley...

 in Berkeley, California
Berkeley, California
Berkeley is a city on the east shore of the San Francisco Bay in Northern California, United States. Its neighbors to the south are the cities of Oakland and Emeryville. To the north is the city of Albany and the unincorporated community of Kensington...

. Many factors went into the creation of the poem. A short time before the composition of "Howl," Ginsberg's therapist, Dr. Philip Hicks, encouraged him to quit his job and pursue poetry full time. He experimented with short simple sentences (parataxis
Parataxis
Parataxis is a literary technique, in writing or speaking, that favors short, simple sentences, with the use of coordinating rather than subordinating conjunctions...

) in the poem "Dream Record: June 8, 1955" about the death of Joan Vollmer
Joan Vollmer
Joan Vollmer was the most prominent female member of the early Beat Generation circle. While a student at Barnard College she became the roommate of Edie Parker and their apartment became a gathering place for the Beats during the 1940s, where Vollmer was often at the center of marathon, all...

, a technique that would become central in "Howl." He showed this poem to Kenneth Rexroth
Kenneth Rexroth
Kenneth Rexroth was an American poet, translator and critical essayist. He is regarded as a central figure in the San Francisco Renaissance, and paved the groundwork for the movement...

, who criticized it as too stilted and academic; Rexroth encouraged Ginsberg to free his voice and write from his heart. Ginsberg took this advice and attempted to write a poem with no restrictions. He was under the immense influence of William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams was an American poet closely associated with modernism and Imagism. He was also a pediatrician and general practitioner of medicine, having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania...

 and Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac
Jean-Louis "Jack" Lebris de Kerouac was an American novelist and poet. He is considered a literary iconoclast and, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, a pioneer of the Beat Generation. Kerouac is recognized for his spontaneous method of writing, covering topics such as Catholic...

 and attempted to speak with his own voice spontaneously. Ginsberg began the poem in the stepped triadic form he took from Williams but, in the middle of typing the poem, his style altered such that his own unique form (a long line based on breath organized by a fixed base) began to emerge. Ginsberg would experiment with this breath-length form in many later poems. The first draft contained what would later become Part I and Part III. It is noted for relating stories and experiences of Ginsberg's friends and contemporaries, its tumbling, hallucinatory style, and the frank address of sexuality, specifically homosexuality
Homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

, which subsequently provoked an obscenity trial. Although Ginsberg referred to many of his friends and acquaintances (including Neal Cassady
Neal Cassady
Neal Leon Cassady was a major figure of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the psychedelic movement of the 1960s. He served as the model for the character Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road....

, Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac
Jean-Louis "Jack" Lebris de Kerouac was an American novelist and poet. He is considered a literary iconoclast and, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, a pioneer of the Beat Generation. Kerouac is recognized for his spontaneous method of writing, covering topics such as Catholic...

, William S. Burroughs
William S. Burroughs
William Seward Burroughs II was an American novelist, poet, essayist and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th...

, Peter Orlovsky
Peter Orlovsky
Peter Anton Orlovsky was an American poet.-Life and work:Orlovsky was born in the Lower East Side of New York City, the son of Katherine and Oleg Orlovsky, a Russian immigrant. He was raised in poverty and was forced to drop out of Newtown High School in his senior year so he could support his...

, Lucien Carr
Lucien Carr
Lucien Carr was a key member of the original New York City circle of the Beat Generation in the 1940s; later he worked for many years as an editor for United Press International.-Early life:...

, and Herbert Huncke
Herbert Huncke
Herbert Edwin Huncke was a writer and poet, and active participant in a number of emerging cultural, social and aesthetic movements of the 20th century in America...

) the primary emotional drive was his sympathy for Carl Solomon
Carl Solomon
Carl Solomon was an American writer.-Biography:Solomon was born in the Bronx of New York City. His father's death in 1939 had a profoundly negative effect on his early life...

, to whom it was dedicated; he met Solomon in a mental institution and became friends with him. Ginsberg admitted later this sympathy for Solomon was connected to bottled-up guilt and sympathy for his mother's schizophrenia
Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by a disintegration of thought processes and of emotional responsiveness. It most commonly manifests itself as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking, and it is accompanied by significant social...

 (she had been lobotomized
Lobotomy
Lobotomy "; τομή – tomē: "cut/slice") is a neurosurgical procedure, a form of psychosurgery, also known as a leukotomy or leucotomy . It consists of cutting the connections to and from the prefrontal cortex, the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain...

), an issue he was not yet ready to address directly. In 2008, Peter Orlovsky told the co-directors of the 2010 film Howl that a short moonlit walk--during which Orlovsky sang a rendition of the Hank William’s song "Howlin’ At the Moon"--may have been the encouragement for the title of Ginsberg’s poem. "I never asked him, and he never offered," Orlovsky told them, "but there were things he would pick up on and use in his verse form some way or another. Poets do it all the time." The Dedication by Ginsberg states he took the title from Kerouac.

The poem was first performed at the Six Gallery
Six Gallery reading
The Six Gallery reading was a poetry-reading which occurred at the Six Gallery on Friday, October 7, 1955, at 3119 Fillmore Street in San Francisco....

 in San Francisco on October 7, 1955. The reading was conceived by Wally Hedrick
Wally Hedrick
Wally Bill Hedrick was a seminal American artist in the 1950s California counterculture, gallerist, and educator who came to prominence in the early 1960s...

 — a painter and co-founder of the Six — who approached Ginsberg in mid-1955 and asked him to organize a poetry reading at the Six Gallery. "At first, Ginsberg refused. But once he'd written a rough draft of Howl, he changed his 'fucking mind,' as he put it." Ginsberg was ultimately responsible for inviting the readers (Gary Snyder
Gary Snyder
Gary Snyder is an American poet , as well as an essayist, lecturer, and environmental activist . Snyder is a winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry...

, Philip Lamantia
Philip Lamantia
Philip Lamantia was an American poet and lecturer. Lamantia's visionary poems were ecstatic, terror-filled, and erotic which explored the subconscious world of dreams and linked it to the experience of daily life.-Biography:...

, and Philip Whalen
Philip Whalen
Philip Glenn Whalen was an American poet, Zen Buddhist, and a key figure in the San Francisco Renaissance and close to the Beat generation.-Biography:...

, Michael McClure
Michael McClure
Michael McClure is an American poet, playwright, songwriter, and novelist. After moving to San Francisco as a young man, he found fame as one of the five poets who read at the famous San Francisco Six Gallery reading in 1955 rendered in barely fictionalized terms in Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums...

 and Kenneth Rexroth
Kenneth Rexroth
Kenneth Rexroth was an American poet, translator and critical essayist. He is regarded as a central figure in the San Francisco Renaissance, and paved the groundwork for the movement...

) and writing the invitation. "Howl" was the second to the last reading (before "A Berry Feast" by Snyder) and was considered by most in attendance the highlight of the reading. Many considered it the beginning of a new movement, and the reputation of Ginsberg and those associated with the Six Gallery reading spread throughout San Francisco. In response to Ginsberg's reading, McClure wrote: "Ginsberg read on to the end of the poem, which left us standing in wonder, or cheering and wondering, but knowing at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America..." Soon afterwards, it was published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Lawrence Ferlinghetti is an American poet, painter, liberal activist, and the co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers...

, who ran City Lights Bookstore
City Lights Bookstore
City Lights is an independent bookstore-publisher combination that specializes in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics. It also houses the nonprofit City Lights Foundation, which publishes selected titles related to San Francisco culture. It was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence...

 and the City Lights Press. Ginsberg completed Part II and the "Footnote" after Ferlinghetti had promised to publish the poem. "Howl" was too short to make an entire book, so Ferlinghetti requested some other poems. Thus the final collection contained several other poems written at that time; with these poems, Ginsberg continued the experimentation with long lines and a fixed base he'd discovered with the composition of "Howl" and these poems have likewise become some of Ginsberg's most famous: "America
America (poem)
"America" is a poem by Allen Ginsberg, written in 1956. It appears in his collection Howl and Other Poems.The poem is in the first person and reads much like a monologue...

", "Sunflower Sutra," "A Supermarket in California
A Supermarket in California
"A Supermarket in California" is a poem by American poet Allen Ginsberg first published in Howl and Other Poems in 1956. The poem describes a narrator's impressions as he walks through a supermarket in California where he finds Federico García Lorca and Walt Whitman among the patrons...

", etc.

The earliest extant recording of "Howl" dates from March 18, 1956. Ginsberg and Snyder, after hitch-hiking from San Francisco, read from their poems in the Anna Mann dormitory at Reed College
Reed College
Reed College is a private, independent, liberal arts college located in southeast Portland, Oregon. Founded in 1908, Reed is a residential college with a campus located in Portland's Eastmoreland neighborhood, featuring architecture based on the Tudor-Gothic style, and a forested canyon wilderness...

, Snyder's alma mater
Alma mater
Alma mater , pronounced ), was used in ancient Rome as a title for various mother goddesses, especially Ceres or Cybele, and in Christianity for the Virgin Mary.-General term:...

. This recording, discovered in mid-2007 on a reel-to-reel tape in the Reed College archives, contains only Part I of "Howl." After beginning to read Part II, Ginsberg said to the audience, "I don't really feel like reading anymore. I just sorta haven't got any kind of steam."

Part I


Called by Ginsberg "a lament for the Lamb in America with instances of remarkable lamb-like youths," Part I is perhaps the best known, and communicates scenes, characters, and situations drawn from Ginsberg's personal experience as well as from the community of poets, artists, political radicals
Political radicalism
The term political radicalism denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways...

, jazz
Jazz
Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

 musicians, drug addicts, and psychiatric patients whom he encountered in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Ginsberg refers to these people, who were underrepresented outcasts in what the poet believed to be an oppressively conformist and materialistic era as "the best minds of my generation." He describes their experiences in graphic detailing, openly discussing drug use and homosexual activity at multiple points.

Most lines in this section contain the fixed base "who." In "Notes Written on Finally Recording Howl," Ginsberg writes, "I depended on the word 'who' to keep the beat, a base to keep measure, return to and take off from again onto another streak of invention."

Part II


Ginsberg says that Part II, in relation to Part I, "names the monster of mental consciousness that preys on the Lamb." Part II is about the state of industrial civilization, characterized in the poem as "Moloch
Moloch
Moloch — also rendered as Molech, Molekh, Molok, Molek, Molock, or Moloc — is the name of an ancient Semitic god...

". Ginsberg was inspired to write Part II during a period of peyote
Peyote
Lophophora williamsii , better known by its common name Peyote , is a small, spineless cactus with psychoactive alkaloids, particularly mescaline.It is native to southwestern Texas and Mexico...

-induced visionary consciousness in which he saw a hotel façade as a monstrous and horrible visage which he identified with that of Moloch, the Biblical
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 idol in Leviticus
Leviticus
The Book of Leviticus is the third book of the Hebrew Bible, and the third of five books of the Torah ....

 to whom the Canaanites sacrificed
Human sacrifice
Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more human beings as part of a religious ritual . Its typology closely parallels the various practices of ritual slaughter of animals and of religious sacrifice in general. Human sacrifice has been practised in various cultures throughout history...

 children. Ginsberg intends that the characters he portrays in Part I be understood to have been sacrificed to this idol. Moloch is also the name of an industrial, demon
Demon
call - 1347 531 7769 for more infoIn Ancient Near Eastern religions as well as in the Abrahamic traditions, including ancient and medieval Christian demonology, a demon is considered an "unclean spirit" which may cause demonic possession, to be addressed with an act of exorcism...

ic figure in Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang
Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang was an Austrian-American filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. One of the best known émigrés from Germany's school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute...

's Metropolis
Metropolis (film)
Metropolis is a 1927 German expressionist film in the science-fiction genre directed by Fritz Lang. Produced in Germany during a stable period of the Weimar Republic, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and makes use of this context to explore the social crisis between workers and...

,
a film that Ginsberg credits with influencing "Howl, Part II" in his annotations for the poem (see especially Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions). Most lines in this section contain the fixed base "Moloch". Ginsberg says of Part II, "Here the long line is used as a stanza
Stanza
In poetry, a stanza is a unit within a larger poem. In modern poetry, the term is often equivalent with strophe; in popular vocal music, a stanza is typically referred to as a "verse"...

 form broken into exclamatory units punctuated by a base repetition, Moloch."

Part III


Part III, in relation to Parts I, II, and IV is "a litany of affirmation of the Lamb in its glory," according to Ginsberg. It is directly addressed to Carl Solomon, whom Ginsberg met during a brief stay at a psychiatric hospital in 1949; called "Rockland" in the poem, it was actually Columbia Presbyterian Psychological Institute. This section is notable for its refrain, "I'm with you in Rockland," and represents something of a turning point away from the grim tone of the "Moloch"-section. Of the structure, Ginsberg says Part III is, "pyramidal, with a graduated longer response to the fixed base."

Footnote


The closing section of the poem is the "Footnote", characterized by its repetitive "Holy!" mantra, an ecstatic assertion that everything is holy. Ginsberg says, "I remembered the archetypal rhythm of Holy Holy Holy weeping in a bus on Kearny Street, and wrote most of it down in notebook there ... I set it as 'Footnote to Howl' because it was an extra variation of the form of Part II."

Rhythm


The frequently quoted (and often parodied) opening lines set the theme and rhythm for the poem:
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,
Angel-headed hipster
Hipster (1940s subculture)
Hipster, as used in the 1940s, referred to aficionados of jazz, in particular bebop, which became popular in the early 1940s. The hipster adopted the lifestyle of the jazz musician, including some or all of the following: dress, slang, use of cannabis and other drugs, relaxed attitude, sarcastic...

s burning for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,


Ginsberg's own commentary discusses the work as an experiment with the "long line". For example, Part I is structured as a single run-on sentence with a repetitive refrain dividing it up into breaths. Ginsberg said, "Ideally each line of 'Howl' is a single breath unit. My breath is long — that's the measure, one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of a breath."

On another occasion, he explained: "the line length ... you'll notice that they're all built on bop
Bebop
Bebop differed drastically from the straightforward compositions of the swing era, and was instead characterized by fast tempos, asymmetrical phrasing, intricate melodies, and rhythm sections that expanded on their role as tempo-keepers...

 — you might think of them as a bop refrain —chorus after chorus after chorus — the ideal being, say, Lester Young
Lester Young
Lester Willis Young , nicknamed "Prez", was an American jazz tenor saxophonist and clarinetist. He also played trumpet, violin, and drums....

 in Kansas City
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City, Missouri is the largest city in the U.S. state of Missouri and is the anchor city of the Kansas City Metropolitan Area, the second largest metropolitan area in Missouri. It encompasses in parts of Jackson, Clay, Cass, and Platte counties...

 in 1938, blowing 72 choruses of 'The Man I Love
The Man I Love (song)
"The Man I Love" is a popular standard, with music by George Gershwin and lyrics by his brother Ira. Originally part of the 1924 score for the Gershwin government satire Lady, Be Good as "The Girl I Love", the song was deleted from the show as well as from both the 1927 anti-war satire Strike Up...

' until everyone in the hall was out of his head..."


1957 obscenity trial


"Howl" contains many references to illicit drugs and sexual practices, both heterosexual
Heterosexuality
Heterosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the opposite sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, heterosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, physical or romantic attractions to persons of the opposite sex";...

 and homosexual
Homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

. On the basis of one line in particular
"who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy"


customs officials seized 520 copies of the poem on March 25, 1957, being imported from the printer in London.

On June 3 Shig Murao
Shig Murao
Shigeyoshi "Shig" Murao is mainly remembered as the City Lights clerk who was arrested on June 3, 1957, for selling Allen Ginsberg's Howl to an undercover San Francisco police officer. In the trial that followed, Murao was charged with selling the book and Lawrence Ferlinghetti with publishing it...

, the bookstore manager, was arrested and jailed for selling Howl and Other Poems to an undercover San Francisco police officer. City Lights Publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Lawrence Ferlinghetti is an American poet, painter, liberal activist, and the co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers...

 was subsequently booked for publishing the book. At the obscenity trial, nine literary experts testified on the poem's behalf. Supported by the American Civil Liberties Union
American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union is a U.S. non-profit organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." It works through litigation, legislation, and...

, Ferlinghetti won the case when Judge Clayton Horn decided that the poem was of "redeeming social importance". The case was widely publicized (articles appeared in both Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

and Life
Life (magazine)
Life generally refers to three American magazines:*A humor and general interest magazine published from 1883 to 1936. Time founder Henry Luce bought the magazine in 1936 solely so that he could acquire the rights to its name....

magazines). The trial was published by Ferlinghetti's lead defense attorney Jake Ehrlich
Jake Ehrlich
- Biography :Born near Rockville, Montgomery County, Maryland. Known as "the Master," Jake Ehrlich had a fifty year career as a defense and divorce attorney in San Francisco. He authored a dozen books on the law, the Bible, and his own life story...

 in a book called Howl of the Censor. The 2010 film Howl
Howl (2010 film)
Howl is a 2010 American experimental film which explores both the Six Gallery debut and the 1957 obscenity trial of 20th century American poet Allen Ginsberg's noted poem Howl. The film is written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman and stars James Franco as Ginsberg.-Plot:Howl...

depicts the events of the trial. James Franco
James Franco
James Edward Franco is an American actor, film director, producer, screenwriter, author, painter, performance artist and instructor at New York University. He left college in order to pursue acting and started off his career by making guest appearances on television series in the 1990s...

 stars as the young Allen Ginsberg and Andrew Rogers portrays Ferlinghetti.

1969 broadcast controversy in Finland


Part one of Howl was broadcast in Finland on September 30, 1969, on Yleisradio
Yleisradio
The Finnish Broadcasting Company , abbreviated to YLE , is Finland's national broadcasting company, founded in 1926. YLE is a public-broadcasting organization which shares many of its characteristics with its British counterpart, the BBC, on which it was largely modelled...

's "parallel programme" at 10:30 p.m. The poem was read by three actors with jazz music specially composed for the broadcast by Henrik Otto Donner. The poem was preceded by an eight-minute introduction. The Finnish translation was made by Anselm Hollo
Anselm Hollo
Anselm Paul Alexis Hollo is a Finnish poet and translator. He has lived in the United States since 1967.-Life and work:...

. The translation was published already in 1961 in Parnasso literary magazine, and caused no turmoil then.

A Liberal-Party member of the Finnish Parliament, Arne Berner, happened to hear the broadcast, and started an interpellation
Interpellation (politics)
Interpellation is the formal right of a parliament to submit formal questions to the government. In many parliaments, each individual member of parliament has the right to formally submit questions to a member of government. The respective minister or secretary is then required to respond and to...

, addressed to the Minister of Transport and Public Works. It was signed by him and 82 other members of the 200. It is unclear how many of the other signatories actually had heard the broadcast. The interpellation text only contained a short extract of six lines (considered to be offending, and representative of the poem) of over seventy from the poem, and the debate was mainly based upon them.

Also, a report of an offence was filed to the criminal investigation department of Helsinki
Helsinki
Helsinki is the capital and largest city in Finland. It is in the region of Uusimaa, located in southern Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic Sea. The population of the city of Helsinki is , making it by far the most populous municipality in Finland. Helsinki is...

 police district because the obscenity
Obscenity
An obscenity is any statement or act which strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time, is a profanity, or is otherwise taboo, indecent, abhorrent, or disgusting, or is especially inauspicious...

 of the poem allegedly offended modesty and delicacy. The report was filed by Suomen kotien radio- ja televisioliitto (The radio and television association of Finnish homes), a Christian and patriotic organization, and it was only based on the six-line fragment. In connection with that, Yleisradio was — without grounds — accused of copyright violation as well. No charges ever followed.

In that time, homosexual acts were still illicit in Finland, as was the encouragement to homosexual practices.

Yleisradio is formally the parliament's radio station, and at that time, it was considered a bastion of left-minded editors and "radicalists", especially because of Eino S. Repo
Eino S. Repo
Eino Sakari Repo was the president of Finnish state broadcaster Yleisradio from 1965 to 1969 and head of the radio from 1969 to 1974. His time as president was known as Repo era or Repo's Radio.Eino S...

. So the Howl broadcast provided the right-wing politicians a good reason to question the operations of Yleisradio in general, especially in the light of the parliamentary election next year. There was a heated debate in the parliament and in the press in late 1969 concerning the educational role of the public service radio station that Yleisradio is, and the artistic value of Ginsberg's poem, whether it is art or mere pornography
Pornography
Pornography or porn is the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual arousal and erotic satisfaction.Pornography may use any of a variety of media, ranging from books, magazines, postcards, photos, sculpture, drawing, painting, animation, sound recording, film, video,...

. The debate seemed to boil down to the question of which words can be allowed in public service radio.

Finally, the Ministry of Transport and Public Works considered in December 1969 that the broadcast of Howl was against the licence of operation of Yleisradio: it was uneducational and unuseful. Yleisradio received a reprimand
Reprimand
A reprimand is a severe, formal or official reproof. Reprimanding takes in different forms in different legal systems, such as in UK law.- UK :...

, and was instructed to be more careful when monitoring that such programs shall no more be broadcast.

Part I


Line Reference
“who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated.” This is a direct reference told to Ginsberg by Kerouac about poet Philip Lamantia
Philip Lamantia
Philip Lamantia was an American poet and lecturer. Lamantia's visionary poems were ecstatic, terror-filled, and erotic which explored the subconscious world of dreams and linked it to the experience of daily life.-Biography:...

’s “celestial adventure” after reading the Qur'an
Qur'an
The Quran , also transliterated Qur'an, Koran, Alcoran, Qur’ān, Coran, Kuran, and al-Qur’ān, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God . It is regarded widely as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language...

.
"Who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas
Arkansas
Arkansas is a state located in the southern region of the United States. Its name is an Algonquian name of the Quapaw Indians. Arkansas shares borders with six states , and its eastern border is largely defined by the Mississippi River...

 and Blake
William Blake
William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age...

 — light tragedies among the scholars of war" and “who thought they were only mad when Baltimore
Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...

 gleamed in supernatural ecstasy”
Ginsberg had an important auditory hallucination in 1948 of William Blake reading his poems "Ah, Sunflower", "The Sick Rose", and "Little Girl Lost". Ginsberg said it revealed to him the interconnectedness of all existence. He said his drug experimentation in many ways was an attempt to recapture that feeling.
"Who were expelled from the academy for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull" Part of the reason Ginsberg was expelled from Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 was because he wrote obscenities in his dirty dorm window. He suspected the cleaning woman of being an anti-Semite because she never cleaned his window, and he expressed this feeling in explicit terms on his window, by writing "Fuck the Jews", and drawing a swastika
Swastika
The swastika is an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles, in either right-facing form in counter clock motion or its mirrored left-facing form in clock motion. Earliest archaeological evidence of swastika-shaped ornaments dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization of Ancient...

. He also wrote a phrase on the window implying that the president of the university had no testicle
Testicle
The testicle is the male gonad in animals. Like the ovaries to which they are homologous, testes are components of both the reproductive system and the endocrine system...

s.
"who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall" Lucien Carr
Lucien Carr
Lucien Carr was a key member of the original New York City circle of the Beat Generation in the 1940s; later he worked for many years as an editor for United Press International.-Early life:...

 burned his insanity record, along with $20, at his mother's insistence.
"... poles of Canada and Paterson
Paterson, New Jersey
Paterson is a city serving as the county seat of Passaic County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, its population was 146,199, rendering it New Jersey's third largest city and one of the largest cities in the New York City Metropolitan Area, despite a decrease of 3,023...

..."
Kerouac was French-Canadian from Lowell, Massachusetts
Lowell, Massachusetts
Lowell is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA. According to the 2010 census, the city's population was 106,519. It is the fourth largest city in the state. Lowell and Cambridge are the county seats of Middlesex County...

; Ginsberg grew up in Paterson, New Jersey.
"who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out and sat through the stale beer afternoons in desolate Fugazzi's..." Bickford's and Fugazzi's were New York spots where the Beats hung out. Ginsberg worked briefly at Fugazzi's.
"... Tangerian bone-grindings..." "... Tangiers to boys ..." and “Holy Tangiers!” William S. Burroughs lived in Tangier, Morocco at the time Ginsberg wrote "Howl". He also experienced withdrawal from heroin, which he wrote about in several letters to Ginsberg.
"who studied Plotinus
Plotinus
Plotinus was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition...

 Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...

 St. John of the Cross telepathy
Telepathy
Telepathy , is the induction of mental states from one mind to another. The term was coined in 1882 by the classical scholar Fredric W. H. Myers, a founder of the Society for Psychical Research, and has remained more popular than the more-correct expression thought-transference...

 and bop
Bebop
Bebop differed drastically from the straightforward compositions of the swing era, and was instead characterized by fast tempos, asymmetrical phrasing, intricate melodies, and rhythm sections that expanded on their role as tempo-keepers...

 kabbalah
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

 because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas
Kansas
Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

"
Mystics and forms of mysticism in which Ginsberg at one time had an interest.
“who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico.” Both a reference to John Hoffman, a friend of Philip Lamantia and Carl Solomon, who died in Mexico, and a reference to Under the Volcano
Under the Volcano
Under the Volcano is a 1947 semi-autobiographical novel by English writer Malcolm Lowry . The novel tells the story of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic British consul in the small Mexican town of Quauhnahuac , on the Day of the Dead.Surrounded by the helpless presences of his ex-wife, his...

by Malcolm Lowry
Malcolm Lowry
Clarence Malcolm Lowry was an English poet and novelist who was best known for his novel Under the Volcano, which was voted No. 11 in the Modern Library 100 Best Novels list.-Biography:...

.
“weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down.” A reference to a protest staged by Judith Malina
Judith Malina
Judith Malina is an American theater and film actress, writer, and director, who was one of the founders of The Living Theatre.-Early life:...

, Julian Beck
Julian Beck
Julian Beck was an American actor, director, poet, and painter.-Early life:Beck was born in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan in New York City, the son of Mabel Lucille , a teacher, and Irving Beck, a businessman. He briefly attended Yale University, but dropped out to pursue writing and...

, and other members of The Living Theater.
“who bit detectives in the neck ... dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts.” Also, from “who sang out of their windows in despair” to “the blast of colossal steam whistles.” A specific reference to Bill Cannastra
Bill Cannastra
William "Bill" Cannastra was a member of the early Beat Generation scene in New York. He was a "wild man" figure that the writers in the group found interesting, similar to their fascination with Neal Cassady...

, who actually did most of these things and died when he "fell out of the subway window."
”Saintly motorcyclists” A reference to Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando, Jr. was an American movie star and political activist. "Unchallenged as the most important actor in modern American Cinema" according to the St...

 and his biker persona in The Wild One
The Wild One
The Wild One is a 1953 outlaw biker film directed by László Benedek and produced by Stanley Kramer. It is famed for Marlon Brando's iconic portrayal of the gang leader Johnny Strabler.-Basis:...

.
From “Who copulated ecstatic and insatiate” to "Who went out whoring through Colorado
Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

 in myriad stolen night-cars, N. C. secret hero of these poems." Also, from "who barreled down the highways of the past" to "& now Denver
Denver, Colorado
The City and County of Denver is the capital and the most populous city of the U.S. state of Colorado. Denver is a consolidated city-county, located in the South Platte River Valley on the western edge of the High Plains just east of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains...

 is lonesome for her heroes"
A reference to Neal Cassady
Neal Cassady
Neal Leon Cassady was a major figure of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the psychedelic movement of the 1960s. He served as the model for the character Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road....

 (N.C.) who lived in Denver, Colorado, and had a reputation for being sexually voracious, as well as stealing cars.
"who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the showbank docks waiting for a door in the East River
East River
The East River is a tidal strait in New York City. It connects Upper New York Bay on its south end to Long Island Sound on its north end. It separates Long Island from the island of Manhattan and the Bronx on the North American mainland...

 to open to a room full of steamheat and opium
Opium
Opium is the dried latex obtained from the opium poppy . Opium contains up to 12% morphine, an alkaloid, which is frequently processed chemically to produce heroin for the illegal drug trade. The latex also includes codeine and non-narcotic alkaloids such as papaverine, thebaine and noscapine...

"
A specific reference to Herbert Huncke
Herbert Huncke
Herbert Edwin Huncke was a writer and poet, and active participant in a number of emerging cultural, social and aesthetic movements of the 20th century in America...

’s condition after being released from Riker’s Island.
"... and rose to build harpsichords in their lofts..." Friend Bill Keck actually built harpsichords. Ginsberg had a conversation with Keck's wife shortly before writing "Howl".
"who coughed on the six floor of Harlem
Harlem
Harlem is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, which since the 1920s has been a major African-American residential, cultural and business center. Originally a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands...

 crowned with flame under the tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of theology"
This is a reference to the apartment in which Ginsberg lived when he had his Blake vision. His roommate, Russell Durgin, was a theology student and kept his books in orange crates.
"who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot with eternity outside of time..." A reference to Ginsberg's Columbia classmate Louis Simpson
Louis Simpson
Louis Aston Marantz Simpson is an American poet. He won the 1964 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his work At The End Of The Open Road.-Life:...

, an incident that happened during a brief stay in a mental institution for post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Posttraumaticstress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity,...

.
"who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue... the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising" Ginsberg worked as a market researcher for Towne-Oller Associates in San Francisco, on Montgomery Street, not Madison Avenue.
"who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. Completed in 1883, it connects the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River...

..."
A specific reference to Tuli Kupferberg
Tuli Kupferberg
Naphtali "Tuli" Kupferberg was an American counterculture poet, author, cartoonist, pacifist anarchist, publisher and co-founder of the band The Fugs.-Biography:...

.
”who crashed through their minds in jail...” A reference to Jean Genet
Jean Genet
Jean Genet was a prominent and controversial French novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and political activist. Early in his life he was a vagabond and petty criminal, but later took to writing...

’s Le Condamne a Mort.
"who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky Mount to tender Buddha
Buddha
In Buddhism, buddhahood is the state of perfect enlightenment attained by a buddha .In Buddhism, the term buddha usually refers to one who has become enlightened...

 or Tangiers to boys or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or Harvard to Narcissus
Narcissus (mythology)
Narcissus or Narkissos , possibly derived from ναρκη meaning "sleep, numbness," in Greek mythology was a hunter from the territory of Thespiae in Boeotia who was renowned for his beauty. He was exceptionally proud, in that he disdained those who loved him...

 to Woodlawn to the daisychain or grave"
Many of the Beats went to Mexico City to “cultivate” a drug “habit,” but Ginsberg claims this is a direct reference to Burroughs and Bill Garver, though Burroughs lived in Tangiers at the time (as Ginsberg says in "America" "Burroughs is in Tangiers I don't think he'll come back it's sinister"). Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Rocky Mount is an All-America City Award-winning city in Edgecombe and Nash counties in the coastal plains of the state of North Carolina. Although it was not formally incorporated until February 28, 1867, the North Carolina community that became the city of Rocky Mount dates from the beginning of...

, is where Jack Kerouac’s sister lived (as recounted in Dharma Bums). Also, Neal Cassady was a brakeman for the Southern Pacific. John Hollander
John Hollander
John Hollander is a Jewish-American poet and literary critic. As of 2007, he is Sterling Professor Emeritus of English at Yale University...

 was an alumnus of Harvard. Ginsberg’s mother Naomi lived near Woodlawn Cemetery.
“Accusing the radio of hypnotism...” A reference to Ginsberg’s mother Naomi, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. It also refers to Antonin Artaud
Antonin Artaud
Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud, more well-known as Antonin Artaud was a French playwright, poet, actor and theatre director...

’s reaction to shock therapy
Electroconvulsive therapy
Electroconvulsive therapy , formerly known as electroshock, is a psychiatric treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in anesthetized patients for therapeutic effect. Its mode of action is unknown...

 and his “To Have Done with the Judgement of God”, which Solomon introduced to Ginsberg at Columbia Presbyterian Psychological Institute.
From "who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism..." to "resting briefly in catatonia
Catatonia
Catatonia is a state of neurogenic motor immobility, and behavioral abnormality manifested by stupor. It was first described in 1874: Die Katatonie oder das Spannungsirresein ....

"
A specific reference to Carl Solomon. Initially this final section went straight into what is now Part III, which is entirely about Carl Solomon. An art movement emphasizing nonsense and irrationality. In the poem, it is the subject of a lecture that is interrupted by students throwing potato salad at the professors. This ironically mirrored the playfulness of the movement but in a darker context. A Post WW1 cultural movement, Dada stood for 'anti-art', it was against everything that art stood for. Founded in Zurich, Switzerland. The meaning of the word means two different definitions; "hobby horse" and "father", chosen randomly. The Dada movement spread rapidly.
"Pilgrim's State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid halls ..." and “I’m with you in Rockland” These are mental institutions associated with either Ginsberg’s mother Naomi or Carl Solomon: Pilgrim State Hospital and Rockland State Hospital in New York and Greystone State Hospital in New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

. Ginsberg met Solomon at Columbia Presbyterian Psychological Institute, but “Rockland” was frequently substituted for “rhythmic euphony”.
"with mother finally ******" Ginsberg admitted that the deletion here was an expletive. He left it purposefully elliptical “to introduce appropriate element of uncertainty.” In later readings, many years after he was able to distance himself from his difficult history with his mother, he reinserted the expletive.
"obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy
Alchemy
Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose early practitioners’ claims to profound powers were known from antiquity. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone possessing powers including the capability of turning base...

 of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter (alt: variable measure) & the vibrating plane.” Also, from "who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space" to "what might be left to say in time come after death."
This is a recounting of Ginsberg's discovery of his own style and the debt he owed to his strongest influences. He discovered the use of the ellipse from haiku
Haiku
' , plural haiku, is a very short form of Japanese poetry typically characterised by three qualities:* The essence of haiku is "cutting"...

 and the shorter poetry of Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound
Ezra Weston Loomis Pound was an American expatriate poet and critic and a major figure in the early modernist movement in poetry...

 and William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams was an American poet closely associated with modernism and Imagism. He was also a pediatrician and general practitioner of medicine, having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania...

. "The catalog" is a reference to Walt Whitman's long line style which Ginsberg adapted. "The meter"/"variable measure" is a reference to Williams’ insistence on the necessity of measure. Though "Howl" may seem formless, Ginsberg claimed it was written in a concept of measure adapted from Williams’ idea of breath, the measure of lines in a poem being based on the breath in reading. Ginsberg's breath in reading, he said, happened to be longer than Williams’. "The vibrating plane" is a reference to Ginsberg's discovery of the "eyeball kick" in his study of Cézanne.
"Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus"/"omnipotent, eternal father God" This was taken directly from Cézanne.
”to recreate the measure and syntax of poor human prose...” A reference to the tremendous influence Kerouac and his ideas of “Spontaneous Prose” had on Ginsberg’s work and specifically this poem.
“what might be left to say in time come after death” A reference to Louis Zukofsky
Louis Zukofsky
Louis Zukofsky was an American poet. He was one of the founders and the primary theorist of the Objectivist group of poets and thus an important influence on subsequent generations of poets in America and abroad.-Life:...

’s translation of Catullus
Catullus
Gaius Valerius Catullus was a Latin poet of the Republican period. His surviving works are still read widely, and continue to influence poetry and other forms of art.-Biography:...

: “What might be left to say anew in time after death...” Also a reference to a section from the final pages of Visions of Cody
Visions of Cody
Visions of Cody is an experimental novel by Jack Kerouac. It was written in 1951-1952, and though not published in its entirety until 1973, it had by then achieved an underground reputation...

, “I’m writing this book because we’re all going to die,” and so on.
"eli eli lamma lamma sabachthani" One version of the last words of Jesus: "Oh God, why have you forsaken me?" Though Ginsberg grew up in an agnostic household, he was very interested in his Jewish roots and in other concepts of spiritual transcendence. Although later Ginsberg was a devoted Buddhist, at this time he was only beginning to study Buddhism along with other forms of spirituality.


Part II


Line Reference
”Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness!” Fire god of the Canaan
Canaan
Canaan is a historical region roughly corresponding to modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and the western parts of Jordan...

ites referred to in Leviticus 18:21
Leviticus
The Book of Leviticus is the third book of the Hebrew Bible, and the third of five books of the Torah ....

: “And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech.” Worship of Moloch involved the sacrifice of children by fire.
”Moloch whose buildings are judgement!” A reference to Urizen
Urizen
In the complex mythology of William Blake, Urizen is the embodiment of conventional reason and law. He is usually depicted as a bearded old man; he sometimes bears architect's tools, to create and constrain the universe; or nets, with which he ensnares people in webs of law and conventional culture...

, one of William Blake
William Blake
William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age...

’s four Zoas.
“Crossbone soulless jailhouse and congress of sorrows...” and “Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! Holy the cafeterias filled with the millions!” A reference to God's Man, a graphic novel
Graphic novel
A graphic novel is a narrative work in which the story is conveyed to the reader using sequential art in either an experimental design or in a traditional comics format...

 by Lynd Ward
Lynd Ward
Lynd Kendall Ward was an American artist and storyteller, and son of Methodist minister and prominent political organizer Harry F. Ward. He illustrated some 200 juvenile and adult books...

 which was in Ginsberg’s childhood library.
From “Moloch whose breast is a cannibal
Cannibalism
Cannibalism is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh of other human beings. It is also called anthropophagy...

 dynamo!” to “Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jahovahs
Jehovah
Jehovah is an anglicized representation of Hebrew , a vocalization of the Tetragrammaton , the proper name of the God of Israel in the Hebrew Bible....

!”
A reference to several films by Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang
Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang was an Austrian-American filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. One of the best known émigrés from Germany's school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute...

, most notably Metropolis
Metropolis
A metropolis is a very large city or urban area which is a significant economic, political and cultural center for a country or region, and an important hub for regional or international connections and communications...

in which the name “Moloch” is directly related to a monstrous factory. Ginsberg also claimed he was inspired by Lang’s M
M (1931 film)
M is a 1931 German drama-thriller directed by Fritz Lang and written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou. It was Lang's first sound film, although he had directed more than a dozen films previously....

 and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is a 1933 German crime film directed by Fritz Lang. The movie is a sequel to Lang's silent film Dr. Mabuse the Gambler and features many cast and crew members from Lang's previous films. The film features Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Dr. Mabuse who is in an insane asylum...

.
“Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!” Ginsberg claimed Part II of "Howl" was inspired by a peyote-induced vision of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco which appeared to him as a monstrous face.
From “Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks!” to “Moloch whose name is the Mind!” A reference to Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound
Ezra Weston Loomis Pound was an American expatriate poet and critic and a major figure in the early modernist movement in poetry...

’s idea of usury
Usury
Usury Originally, when the charging of interest was still banned by Christian churches, usury simply meant the charging of interest at any rate . In countries where the charging of interest became acceptable, the term came to be used for interest above the rate allowed by law...

 as related in the Canto
Canto
The canto is a principal form of division in a long poem, especially the epic. The word comes from Italian, meaning "song" or singing. Famous examples of epic poetry which employ the canto division are Lord Byron's Don Juan, Valmiki's Ramayana , Dante's The Divine Comedy , and Ezra Pound's The...

s and ideas from Blake, specifically the “Mind forg’d manacles” from “London.” Ginsberg claimed “Moloch whose name is the Mind!” is “a crux of the poem.”
“Lifting the city to Heaven
Heaven
Heaven, the Heavens or Seven Heavens, is a common religious cosmological or metaphysical term for the physical or transcendent place from which heavenly beings originate, are enthroned or inhabit...

 which exists and is everywhere about us”
A reference to “Morning” from Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud
Arthur Rimbaud
Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud was a French poet. Born in Charleville, Ardennes, he produced his best known works while still in his late teens—Victor Hugo described him at the time as "an infant Shakespeare"—and he gave up creative writing altogether before the age of 21. As part of the decadent...

.


Part III


Line Reference
“I’m with you in Rockland/where we are great writers on the same dreadful typewriter...” At Columbia Presbyterian Psychological Institute, Ginsberg and Solomon wrote satirical letters to Malcolm de Chazal
Malcolm de Chazal
Malcolm de Chazal was a Mauritian writer, painter, and visionary, known especially for his Sens-Plastique, a work consisting of several thousand aphorisms and pensées. He was born in Vacoas of a French family long established in Mauritius and wrote all his works in French...

 and T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot OM was a playwright, literary critic, and arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.The poem that made his...

 which they did not ultimately send.
“I’m with you in Rockland/where you drink the tea of the breasts of the spinsters of Utica.” A reference to Mamelles de Tiresias by Guillaume Apollinaire
Guillaume Apollinaire
Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki, known as Guillaume Apollinaire was a French poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, and art critic born in Italy to a Polish mother....

.
From “I’m with you in Rockland/where you scream in a straightjacket” to “fifty more shocks will never return your soul to its body again...” Solomon actually received shock treatment and was put in a straightjacket at Pilgrim State.
“I’m with you in Rockland/where you bang on a catatonic piano...” Ginsberg was actually the one reprimanded for banging on a piano at CPPI.
“I’m with you in Rockland/where you split the heavens of Long Island
Long Island
Long Island is an island located in the southeast part of the U.S. state of New York, just east of Manhattan. Stretching northeast into the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island contains four counties, two of which are boroughs of New York City , and two of which are mainly suburban...

...”
Pilgrim State is located in Long Island.
“I’m with you in Rockland/where there are twenty five thousand mad comrades all together singing the final stanzas of the Internationale...” The population of Pilgrim State was 25,000. The Internationale was a song for the Industrial Workers of the World
Industrial Workers of the World
The Industrial Workers of the World is an international union. At its peak in 1923, the organization claimed some 100,000 members in good standing, and could marshal the support of perhaps 300,000 workers. Its membership declined dramatically after a 1924 split brought on by internal conflict...

 from the “Little Red Songbook
Little Red Songbook
thumb|180px|right|The Little Red SongbookSince the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the IWW, songs have played a big part in spreading the message of the One Big Union...

.”
“... the door of my cottage in the Western night.” A reference to the cottage on Milvia Street in Berkeley California where many of the poems in Howl and Other Poems were composed, including “A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley.”


Footnote to Howl


Line Reference
“Everyday is in eternity!” A reference to “Auguries of Innocence
Auguries of Innocence
Auguries of Innocence is a poem from one of William Blake's notebooks now known as The Pickering Manuscript. It is assumed to have been written in 1803, but was not published until 1863 in the companion volume to Alexander Gilchrist's biography of William Blake. The poem contains a series of...

” by Blake: “Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour.”
“Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cassady...” Peter Orlovsky
Peter Orlovsky
Peter Anton Orlovsky was an American poet.-Life and work:Orlovsky was born in the Lower East Side of New York City, the son of Katherine and Oleg Orlovsky, a Russian immigrant. He was raised in poverty and was forced to drop out of Newtown High School in his senior year so he could support his...

, Carl Solomon
Carl Solomon
Carl Solomon was an American writer.-Biography:Solomon was born in the Bronx of New York City. His father's death in 1939 had a profoundly negative effect on his early life...

, Lucien Carr
Lucien Carr
Lucien Carr was a key member of the original New York City circle of the Beat Generation in the 1940s; later he worked for many years as an editor for United Press International.-Early life:...

, Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac
Jean-Louis "Jack" Lebris de Kerouac was an American novelist and poet. He is considered a literary iconoclast and, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, a pioneer of the Beat Generation. Kerouac is recognized for his spontaneous method of writing, covering topics such as Catholic...

, Herbert Huncke
Herbert Huncke
Herbert Edwin Huncke was a writer and poet, and active participant in a number of emerging cultural, social and aesthetic movements of the 20th century in America...

, William S. Burroughs
William S. Burroughs
William Seward Burroughs II was an American novelist, poet, essayist and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th...

, and Neal Cassady
Neal Cassady
Neal Leon Cassady was a major figure of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the psychedelic movement of the 1960s. He served as the model for the character Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road....

.
“Holy the Fifth International” A reference to four “Internationals,” meetings of Communist, Socialist, and/or Labor groups. The First International was headed by Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

 and Frederick Engels in 1864. The Fourth International was a meeting of Trotskyists in 1938. The Fifth International, Ginsberg would claim, is yet to come.


Critical reception


The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

sent Richard Eberhart
Richard Eberhart
Richard Ghormley Eberhart was an American poet who published more than a dozen books of poetry and approximately twenty works in total...

 to San Francisco in 1956 to report on the poetry scene there. The result of Eberhart's visit was an article published in the September 2, 1956 New York Times Book Review entitled "West Coast Rhythms". Eberhart's piece helped call national attention to "Howl" as "the most remarkable poem of the young group" of poets who were becoming known as the spokespersons of the Beat generation
Beat generation
The Beat Generation refers to a group of American post-WWII writers who came to prominence in the 1950s, as well as the cultural phenomena that they both documented and inspired...

. On October 7, 2005, celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the first reading of the poem were staged in San Francisco, New York City, and in Leeds
Leeds
Leeds is a city and metropolitan borough in West Yorkshire, England. In 2001 Leeds' main urban subdivision had a population of 443,247, while the entire city has a population of 798,800 , making it the 30th-most populous city in the European Union.Leeds is the cultural, financial and commercial...

 in the UK. The British event, Howl for Now, was accompanied by a book of essays of the same name, edited by Simon Warner and published by Route Publishing (Howl for Now ISBN 1-901927-25-3) reflecting on the piece's enduring influence.

2007 broadcasting fears


In late August 2007, Ron Collins, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Nancy Peters, Bill Morgan, Peter Hale, David Skover, Al Bendich (one of LF's 1957 lawyers in the Howl case), and Eliot Katz petitioned Pacifica Radio
Pacifica Radio
Pacifica Radio is the oldest public radio network in the United States. It is a group of five independently operated, non-commercial, listener-supported radio stations that is known for its progressive/liberal political orientation. It is also a program service supplying over 100 affiliated...

 to air Ginsberg's Howl on October 3, 2007 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the verdict declaring the poem to be protected under the First Amendment
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering...

 against charges of obscenity. Fearing fines from the Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commission
The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency of the United States government, created, Congressional statute , and with the majority of its commissioners appointed by the current President. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the...

 (FCC), Pacifica New York radio station WBAI
WBAI
WBAI, a part of the Pacifica Radio Network, is a non-commercial, listener-supported radio station, broadcasting at 99.5 FM in New York City.Its programming is leftist/progressive, and a mixture of political news and opinion from a leftist perspective, tinged with aspects of its complex and varied...

 opted not to broadcast the poem. The station chose instead to play the poem on a special webcast
Webcast
A webcast is a media presentation distributed over the Internet using streaming media technology to distribute a single content source to many simultaneous listeners/viewers. A webcast may either be distributed live or on demand...

 program, replete with commentary (by Bob Holman, Regina Weinreich and Ron Collins, narrated by Janet Coleman), on October 3, 2007.

Further reading

  • Charters, Ann (ed.). The Portable Beat Reader. Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk)
  • Ginsberg, Allen. Howl. 1986 critical edition edited by Barry Miles, Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First Public Reading, Legal Skirmishes, Precursor Texts & Bibliography ISBN 0-06-092611-2 (pbk.)
  • Howl of the Censor. Jake Ehrlich
    Jake Ehrlich
    - Biography :Born near Rockville, Montgomery County, Maryland. Known as "the Master," Jake Ehrlich had a fifty year career as a defense and divorce attorney in San Francisco. He authored a dozen books on the law, the Bible, and his own life story...

    , Editor. ISBN 978-0837186856
  • Lounela, Pekka — Mäntylä, Jyrki: Huuto ja meteli. [Howl and turmoil.] Hämeenlinna, Karisto. 1970.
  • Miles, Barry. Ginsberg: A Biography. London: Virgin Publishing Ltd. (2001), paperback, 628 pages, ISBN 0-7535-0486-3
  • Raskin, Jonah
    Jonah Raskin
    Jonah Raskin is an American writer who left an East Coast university teaching position to participate in the 1970s radical counterculture as a free-lance journalist, then returned to the academy in California in the 1980s to write probing studies of Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsberg and reviews of...

    . American Scream: Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and the Making of the Beat Generation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. ISBN 0-520-24015-4

External links