Allen Ginsberg, born on June 3, 1926 in Newark, New Jersey, was one of the founders of the Beatnik subculture. His mother was a Communist and extremely paranoid, often trusting her son while scared of her family and the rest of society. Ginsberg struggled through family conflicts and homosexuality throughout his adolescence. Upon graduating high school, he moved on to Columbia University where he, during his freshman year was introduced to Beats such as Lucien Carr and Jack Kerouac who helped him to escape his bookworm lifestyle.
After spending years trying to turn publishing companies on to the work of his friends, neglecting his own poetry, Ginsberg gained fame in 1955 when he delivered a public reading of his poem Howl at Six Gallery in San Francisco. Following the release of Howl were the releases of other important poems, and Ginsberg began to spend time travelling the world. It was in these travels that he found Buddhism and met and fell in love with Peter Orlovsky.
Early in the 1960?s, Ginsberg was quick to join the hippie movement. From the beginning, he helped Timothy Leary to publicize the discovery of LSD and was a regular speaker at Vietnam War protests. Continuing to publish poetry, he became a signature of the hippie subculture in addition to that of the Beatniks. Additionally, being a famous American poet, he took advantage of the chances to meet important political figures and express to them his radical left-wing views.
After the end of the Hippie movement, Ginsberg continued to attend poetry readings and multicultural gatherings around New York City. He both retained an active social life and continued writing poetry until his death on April 5, 1997.
Ginsberg?s poem Iron Horse, written in July of 1966, early during the Vietnam War, is an elegant example of his poetry. Touching on many of his favorite topics within it, Ginsberg is able, through this poem, to provide the reader with a wonderful introduction to the rest of his poetry. Throughout Iron Horse, Ginsberg discusses some of his favorite topics, including the American landscape, the Vietnam War, and religion.
Ginsberg, throughout Iron Horse, focuses on a beautiful description of the landscape through his biased eyes. Clouded by his feelings about the war, it is clear that, while the country is described, in numerous ways, as being beautiful, a much darker connotation is being conveyed. References to the presence of car exhaust and fumes, in addition to comments on factory pollution, are repeated throughout descriptions of cities. General feelings of both isolation and loneliness are captured as the narrator sits upon a bus, longing to be able to be one with nature.
Yet another significant factor within Iron Horse are the feelings about the Vietnam War. From his writing on the soldiers, appearing throughout the poem, it is clear that Ginsberg has an overall feeling of disdain for the government due to its military actions in Vietnam. The soldiers that have been sent to war are portrayed as being trapped and left without a choice by the government; those serving at home are shown as having a feeling of being trapped by an obligation to their country. When speaking on the war in general, Ginsberg shows the opinion that there?s no reason for the U.S. military to even be in Vietnam in the first place.
Though it is referred to only slightly before the very end of the poem, religion is also clearly an important factor in Iron Horse. Given Ginsberg?s affiliation with the religion?s of both Buddhism and Judaism, it is clear that he, much like the soldiers he speaks of throughout the poem, also feels rather trapped. Speaking on religious figures, in addition to his own feelings, the message is again conveyed that he sees no reason for the U.S. to be in Vietnam. The aforementioned feeling of being trapped is concreted by the fact that, due to his religious background, he feels that it is not his place to participate, in any way, in the Vietnam War.
In addition to the above-mentioned issues, other things of which Ginsberg likes to write were discussed within Iron Horse. Very strongly conveyed throughout the poem are his general feelings of irritation with the U.S. government, not only in terms of the Vietnam War. Also, scattered throughout are references to the drug culture, in which Ginsberg was deeply involved as a poet, a person, and a Beatnik.
Wales Visitation, another poem of Ginsberg?s, was written in the summer of August 1967, partially while under the influence of LSD. Again, Ginsberg makes a point of depicting a lovely landscape, this time with a more positive outlook. Additionally, he speaks of advancement and technology, phrased in a negative light as he describes a ?thorned tower?.
Ginsberg, overall, has very little appreciation for technology, as he saw that it was destructive to the environment. Early in the poem, there is a rash irritation with London, it?s buildings, and television. This is not stated, but the general feeling of that section of the poem exhibits these attitudes.
Later though, the poet joyously explores various aspects of nature. Outside of the city, statements are made on the beauty of the natural world. Mountains, plants, and animals are described in such a way that one would not only believe them to be living, but also to be aware of themselves as human beings are. Walking through the untouched natural world, Ginsberg, in a seeming state of meditation, explores the world around him.
Finally, the natural world as a whole is described to be one living being. Blatant statements are made, such as ?vagina-moist ground?, that imply the earth to be a beautiful female. In closing, implications are made that, through his exploration of nature, the poet has found God. Given his beliefs as a Buddhist, this would probably have been accomplished through meditation in the natural world, i.e. away from the city.
As a final note on Wales Visitation, as previously stated, Ginsberg, while writing this poem, was deep in an LSD induced trip. This means that anything he saw or stated could merely be a hallucination, or that the writing could mean almost nothing to anyone whom was not in the same state of mind as he.
James Atlas, upon the 1984 release of Ginsberg?s Collected Poems, wrote the article A Modern Whitman as a review of his poetry. Atlas makes a point of discussing, albeit only for a short time, each of the genres Ginsberg explored throughout his poetry. Touching on Ginsberg?s feelings towards the Vietnam War, the government, drugs, and his own homosexuality, Atlas makes a point of covering all the bases.
Reviewing the article thoroughly though, Atlas seems to consistently contradict himself. He repeatedly refers to the beauty in which Ginsberg portrays his view of the world and the power behind his poetry. But when speaking about specific poems, Atlas?s tone tends to overlook the important aspects of them, especially in terms of their serious tone and their lasting value.
In the opening of A Modern Whitman, Atlas, in a variety of ways, paid a great deal of respect to Ginsberg. The article as a whole, though, would have been both more meaningful and powerful had he chosen to focus on one of the categories of poetry within which Ginsberg wrote. Instead, each of the genres Ginsberg highlighted throughout various pieces was lightly touched on in this article.
Additionally, Atlas makes mention of the fact that much of Ginsberg?s poetry will only be valuable in the future for its statements on the era in which it was written. The argument that these poems are records of past political situations is repeated in numerous ways throughout the article.
In a quote from Ginsberg?s notes in Collected Poems, the message is conveyed that the poet feels that these poems hold great significance to the youth of the 1980?s. Throughout his writing, Ginsberg has conveyed the message that youth, both of yesterday and today, blinded by television and propaganda, must have its eyes opened. This poetry has the intense power of making people, both young and old, aware of the truth about the world around them.
Atlas?s article did, as was intended, accomplish the goal of thoroughly proving that there is a value to Ginsberg?s poetry in terms of recording history. The poems about travel around the U.S. are discussed, and it?s cited that Ginsberg beautifully described what he saw of them as a Beat throughout them. Additionally, Atlas commented on the strength of poems such as War, Profit, Litany in terms of excellently portraying current events in regards to the government and the populace of the era.
Unfortunately though, Atlas doesn?t seem to take Ginsberg?s poetry seriously. When speaking about specific poems, in addition to Ginsberg?s lifestyle, Atlas often seems to take a mocking tone. While writing about Ginsberg?s more abstract poems, such as Put Down Your Cigarette Rag (Don?t Smoke), and specifically in reference to the poem Hum Bom!, Atlas states that, ?You know the poet?s had a few tokes?? On a final note regarding Atlas?s credibility, when referring to the way in which Ginsberg tags his poems (date, time, chemical he was under the influence of at the time), he calls Marijuana (a depressent) a stimulant; though this is a tiny error, after reading it I have very little faith in his knowledge of drugs. In accordance with this statement, I do not accept him as capable of criticizing the work of Ginsberg as there are numerous other things about the poet?s state of mind that he is most likely incapable of comprehending.
Though Atlas seems to appreciate Ginsberg, he doesn?t seem to take seriously his poetry enough to enjoy poems such as Iron Horse. Additionally, he made mention of Iron Horse after speaking of Ginsberg writing of ?post-war America?; this strikes me as odd based on the fact that this poem was about situations in America during the Vietnam war. On his overall statements on Ginsberg, though, Atlas is right on target as the poet touches on nearly every genre which was discussed within the article.
Atlas could have touched more on the vivid descriptions Ginsberg gives of the world around him in Wales Visitation. He discusses Ginsberg?s love of the American landscape in terms of one of the travel poems, he speaks of it as if it has something to do with America itself. Wales Visitation, based, in terms of the city in London and in terms of the countryside on Wales, proves that the aforementioned opinion is inaccurate as Ginsberg merely has a love for nature. Based on his opinion of the government, which he openly pronounces throughout other poems, there is no reason to believe that he, in any way, has a love for America.