HOWL Embracing Spirituality Religion has always played a significant role in the way societies and cultural groups shape themselves. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism – clearly, the diversity of religious belief systems co-exist all around the world. Many people practice a religion because it brings them a sense of peace and salvation. It helps an individual identify who they are and what their purpose is here on Earth. Over time, our societies religious commitment has developed immensely. In his poem Howl, Allen Ginsberg applies various forms of religious traditions that underlines the cultural atmosphere of the 1950’s.
Many people assume that religion has always been vibrant throughout history. If one evaluates this belief, they will discover that religious commitment has always fluctuated over the past decades. According to Tobin Grant, “[World War II] had put a halt on many of the things that increase religiosity” (Grant para 3). Grant says that, “Churches, just like organizations, were slowed by drain on resources and volunteers during the war [but as the] economy improved the baby boom ensued and religion grew (Grant para 3). A significant event that helped to govern this rise was the Beat movement.
The Beats essentially offset order in ociety because they followed their own set of rules and went against social norms. Additionally, the Beats were also curious about religion and as reported by Miles Mullin, “Over 97% of Americans associated [themselves] with some religious tradition and close to 65% claimed membership in a particular group [by 1957]” (Mullin para 3). Allen Ginsberg was one of the many rebels that contributed to this group. Howl made a very large commotion during his time due to the explicit nature of the poem.
In the piece Allen Ginsberg, Howl and the Voice of the Beat, Hermione Hoby shares that “Ginsberg’s poem was an ncantatory epic – emotionally and sexually explicit and intent on exploding the anxieties of the atomic age [which] it helped jump-start the counter-cultural revolution of the next decade and its author was hailed as the voice of the Beat Generation” (Hobby para 1). Throughout the poem Howl, the audience will find that Ginsberg uses different themes that help stimulate the message he is trying to get across. One of the main themes of the poem is religion.
Those who analyze Howl will find that there is a great collection of religious traditions that helped Ginsberg to better express himself. The poem is sectioned off into three parts. Part I primarily highlights the madness of the 1940’s and 1950’s and how “the best minds of [Ginsberg’s] generation” were destroyed by such an environment (1). Additionally, Part I expresses the conflict that these “best minds” felt against the universities and other social forces. The poem also walks the audience through a radical journey of sex and drugs while traveling to various locations around the world.
In Part I, Ginsberg emphasizes the radical behavior of the Beats, “whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement” (19). Here, Ginsberg ccentuates the total recall of memories that vomited out of their mouths for an entire week. As we take a closer look, the audience finds that Ginsberg makes a reference to Christianity and the seven days that God took to create the universe. The symbolism used in this line is expressing how the Beats went into deep detail, similarly of how God did with each of the days.
Additionally, these memories were so appealing that they were “meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement” (19). Howl also combines religious language with blunt descriptions of sexuality. The irony of religion and sex implies the importance of such ehavior. In one line, Ginsberg details their sexual nature by stating, “Who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love” (37). The act of oral sex is being conveyed here. Ginsberg refers these sex addicts to “human seraphim,” which is a type of angelic being in Christianity and Judaism.
Essentially, the purpose of angels is is to offer guidance and protection for humans but more importantly they accompany the lonely. Here, Ginsberg reveals that sex helped to accompany these “best minds” in a world in which they felt secluded. This simile in this lines serves to mphasize the significance of sex. In addition to Part I, Part II of Howl gives a name for these social forces who have caused such madness and disorder. The speaker calls them Moloch. “Moloch was one of the false gods that Israel would worship during its periods of apostasy.. and] one of the practices of the cult that worshipped Moloch was to sacrifice their children” (Moloch para 1).
In order to fully express his resentment of these forces, Ginsberg signals our audience that modern American society is a misleading and untrue and that their intentions have killed the future of the younger generation. In Part II, Ginsberg illustrates this demons’ deceitful characteristics by saying, “Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovah!
Moloch whose factories dream and stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the cities! ” (84). Here, Ginsberg shows the dominance of Moloch through its money. This line makes reference to “Jehovah,” which is the name of the God of Israel in Hebrew. Again, Ginsberg uses the irony of relating a fake god to a real god in rder to emphasize the deceptive nature of his time. The tone and expression in Part Il indicate the speakers rage against Moloch.
As the poem continues, every line ends with a shriek and the audience. Essentially, readers begin to naturally levitate their feelings by joining the war being portrayed in the poem. In Part III, the last section of Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl, the audience discovers the speaker’s significant relationship with Carl Solomon. Prior to being expelled from the academies, “Ginsberg’s professors… arranged with the Columbia dean for a plea of psychological disability, on the condition that Ginsberg as admitted to the Columbia Presbyterian Psychiatric Institute… where he later] became close friends with the young writer Carl Solomon, who was treated there for depression with insulin shock” (Charters para 7). In Part III, the speaker establishes his commitment and support for Carl Solomon, “I’m with you in the Rockland where you’ve murdered your twelve secretaries” (97).
Additionally, this line not only addresses Carl Solomon’s insanity and hallucination but it also makes reference to the divine number 12. In the article What is the Meaning of the Number 12 in the Bible? , “The Old Testament Book of Genesis states.. signifies the divine [and] earthly” (Number 12 para 2). In this line, Ginsberg is giving us an example of Solomon’s insanity but he in a sense ensures the audience that this absurdity is indeed perfect. Throughout his poem Howl, Allen Ginsberg brings the audience through madness of the 1950’s. Ginsberg utilizes all sorts of religious traditions into this poem in such a clever manner, that readers fully embrace the protest, pain, and cry of his generation. Each line of the poem is indeed compelling. Insanity, sex, drugs, and religion – the madness of the poem creates a similar reflection to the Beat movement.