poem index

August 9, 1975 From the Naropa Poetics Audio Archives, made available for non-commercial use under the Creative Commons License.

About this poet

On June 3, 1926, Allen Ginsberg was born in Newark, New Jersey. The son of Louis and Naomi Ginsberg, two Jewish members of the New York literary counterculture of the 1920s, Ginsberg was raised among several progressive political perspectives. A supporter of the Communist party, Ginsberg's mother was a nudist whose mental health was a concern throughout the poet's childhood. According to biographer Barry Miles, "Naomi's illness gave Allen an enormous empathy and tolerance for madness, neurosis, and psychosis."

As an adolescent, Ginsberg savored Walt Whitman, though in 1939, when Ginsberg graduated high school, he considered Edgar Allan Poe his favorite poet. Eager to follow a childhood hero who had received a scholarship to Columbia University, Ginsberg made a vow that if he got into the school he would devote his life to helping the working class, a cause he took seriously over the course of the next several years.

He was admitted to Columbia University, and as a student there in the 1940s, he began close friendships with William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and Jack Kerouac, all of whom later became leading figures of the Beat movement. The group led Ginsberg to a "New Vision," which he defined in his journal: "Since art is merely and ultimately self-expressive, we conclude that the fullest art, the most individual, uninfluenced, unrepressed, uninhibited expression of art is true expression and the true art."

Around this time, Ginsberg also had what he referred to as his "Blake vision," an auditory hallucination of William Blake reading his poems "Ah Sunflower," "The Sick Rose," and "Little Girl Lost." Ginsberg noted the occurrence several times as a pivotal moment for him in his comprehension of the universe, affecting fundamental beliefs about his life and his work. While Ginsberg claimed that no drugs were involved, he later stated that he used various drugs in an attempt to recapture the feelings inspired by the vision.

In 1954, Ginsberg moved to San Francisco. His mentor, William Carlos Williams, introduced him to key figures in the San Francisco poetry scene, including Kenneth Rexroth. He also met Michael McClure, who handed off the duties of curating a reading for the newly established "6" Gallery. With the help of Rexroth, the result was "The '6' Gallery Reading" which took place on October 7, 1955. The event has been hailed as the birth of the Beat Generation, in no small part because it was also the first public reading of Ginsberg's "Howl," a poem that garnered worldwide attention for him and the poets he associated with.

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."

Shortly after Howl and Other Poems was published in 1956 by City Lights Bookstore, it was banned for obscenity. The work overcame censorship trials, however, and "Howl" became one of the most widely read poems of the century, translated into more than twenty-two languages.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Ginsberg studied under gurus and Zen masters. As the leading icon of the Beats, Ginsberg was involved in countless political activities, including protests against the Vietnam War, and he spoke openly about issues that concerned him, such as free speech and gay rights agendas.

Ginsberg went on to publish numerous collections of poetry, including Kaddish and Other Poems (1961), Planet News (1968), and The Fall of America: Poems of These States (1973), which won the National Book Award.

In 1993, Ginsberg received the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (the Order of Arts and Letters) from the French minister of culture. He also co-founded and directed the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Colorado. In his later years, Ginsberg became a distinguished professor at Brooklyn College.

On April 5, 1997, in New York City, he died from complications of hepatitis.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Howl and Other Poems (1956)
Kaddish and Other Poems (1961)
Reality Sandwiches (1963)
The Yage Letters (with William S. Burroughs, 1963)
Planet News (1968)
The Gates of Wrath: Rhymed Poems 1948–1951 (1972)
Iron Horse (1972)
The Fall of America: Poems of These States (1973)
First Blues: Rags, Ballads & Harmonium Songs 1971 - 1974 (1975)
Mind Breaths (1978)
Plutonian Ode: Poems 1977–1980 (1982)
Collected Poems: 1947–1980 (1984)
White Shroud Poems: 1980–1985 (1986)
Cosmopolitan Greetings Poems: 1986–1993 (1994)
Howl Annotated (1995)
Illuminated Poems (1996)
Selected Poems: 1947–1995 (1996)
Death and Fame: Poems 1993–1997 (1999)

Prose

Deliberate Prose 1952–1995 (2000)
The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice: First Journals and Poems 1937-1952 (2006)


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

Howl, Parts I & II

Allen Ginsberg, 1926 - 1997

For Carl Solomon

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,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the 
  starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the
  supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of
  cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels
  staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkan-
  sas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes
  on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in
  wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt 
  of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or
  purgatoried their torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and 
  endless balls,
incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind
  leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the mo-
  tionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns, wine drunk-
  enness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon
  blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree vibrations in the roaring
  winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of
  mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy
  Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought 
  them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain
  all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,
who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out and sat
  through the stale beer afternoon in desolate Fugazzi's, listening to the
  crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox, 
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to Bellevue
  to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge,
a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire
  escapes off windowsills of Empire State out of the moon,
yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and
  anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and nights with
  brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of ambiguous
  picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall,
suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and migraines of
  China under junk-withdrawal in Newark's bleak furnished room,
who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wonder-
  ing where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward
  lonesome farms in grandfather night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah
  because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,
who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking visionary indian angels
  who were visionary indian angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural 
  ecstasy,
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma on the impulse 
  of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz or sex or
  soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to converse about America
  and Eternity, a hopeless task, and so took ship to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind nothing but
  the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in
  fireplace Chicago,
who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the FBI in beards and shorts
  with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark skin passing out incompre-
  hensible leaflets,
who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the narcotic tobacco haze 
  of Capitalism,
who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square weeping and 
  undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down, and
  wailed down Wall, and the Staten Island ferry also wailed,
who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and trembling before 
  the machinery of other skeletons,
who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in policecars for 
  committing no crime but their own wild cooking pederasty and 
  intoxication,
who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof
  waving genitals and manuscripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and
  screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of
  Atlantic and Caribbean love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of
  public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whom-
  ever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob behind
  a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked angel came to 
  pierce them with a sword,
who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one eyed shrew
  of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew that winks out of the
  womb and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but sit on her ass
  and snip the intellectual golden threads of the craftsman's loom.
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of beer a sweetheart a
  package of cigarettes a candle and fell off the bed, and continued
  along the floor and down the hall and ended fainting on the wall with
  a vision of ultimate cunt and come eluding the last gyzym of con-
  sciousness,
who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset, and
  were red eyed in the morning but prepared to sweeten the snatch of
  the sunrise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked in the lake,
who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N.C.,
  secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver--joy to
  the memory of his innumerable lays of girls in empty lots & diner
  backyards, moviehouses' rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or
  with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings
  & especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys
  too,
who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in dreams, woke on a 
  sudden Manhattan, and picked themselves up out of basements hung-
  over with heartless Tokay and horrors of Third Avenue iron dreams
  & stumbled to unemployment offices,
who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the snowbank docks
  waiting for a door in the East River to open to a room full of steam-
  heat and opium,
who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of the Hud-
  son under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall 
  be crowned with laurel in oblivion,
who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at the muddy 
  bottom of the rivers of Bowery,
who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full of onions
  and bad music,
who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, and rose up to
  build harpsichords in their lofts,

who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned with flame under the
  tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of theology,
who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in
  the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish,
who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas dreaming
  of the pure vegetable kingdom,
who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg,
who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside 
  of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next 
  decade,
who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave up and
  were forced to open antique stores where they thought they were 
  growing old and cried,
who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue
  amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regi-
  ments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertis-
  ing & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down
  by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,
who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked 
  away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown
  soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free beer,
who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway window,
  jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the 
  street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashed phonograph
  records of nostalgic European 1930s German jazz finished the whis-
  key and threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans in their ears
  and the blast of colossal steamwhistles,
who barreled down the highways of the past journeying to the each other's
  hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude watch or Birmingham jazz incarnation,
who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you
  had a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity,
who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to Denver
  & waited in vain, who watched over Denver & brooded & loned in
  Denver and finally went away to find out the Time, & now Denver
  is lonesome for her heroes,
who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for each other's salva-
  tion and light and breasts, until the soul illuminated its hair for a 
  second, 
who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for impossible criminals 
  with golden heads and the charm of reality in their hearts who sang
  sweet blues to Alcatraz,
who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky Mount to tender Buddha
  or Tangiers to boys or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or 
  Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the daisychain or grave,
who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism & were left with
  their insanity & their hands & a hung jury,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently
  presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with
  shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instanta-
  neous lobotomy,
and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol electricity
  hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy pingpong & am-
  nesia,
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong table,
  resting briefly in catatonia,
returning years later truly bald except for a wig of blood, and tears and 
  fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of the madtowns 
  of the East,
Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid halls, bickering with the
  echoes of the soul, rocking and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench
  dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a nightmare, bodies turned to 
  stone as heavy as the moon,
with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out of the 
  tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 a.m. and the last 
  telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the last furnished room 
  emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture, a yellow paper
  rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closet, and even that imaginary,
  nothing but a hopeful little bit of hallucination--
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you're really in the
  total animal soup of time--
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash 
  of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the
  vibrating plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images
  juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual
  images and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of
  consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens
  Aeterna Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before
  you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet 
  confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his
  naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here
  what might be left to say in time come after death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow
  of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked mind for love
  into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered
  the cities down to the last radio
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies 
  good to eat a thousand years.

 

II

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up
  their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Chil-
  dren screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies!  Old
  men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Mo-
  loch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jail-
  house and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judg-
  ment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned govern-
  ments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running
  money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast 
  is a cannibal dynamo!  Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrap-
  ers 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!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity
  and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch
  whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the
  Mind!
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in
  Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness
  without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ec-
  stasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light stream-
  ing out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries!
  blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible mad houses
  granite cocks! monstrous bombs! 
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios,
  tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us! 
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American
  river! 
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive
  bullshit! 
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood!
  Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years' animal screams and suicides!
  Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells!
  They bade farewell! They jumped off the roofl to solitude! waving! carrying
  flowers! Down to the river! into the street!

From Collected Poems 1947-1980 by Allen Ginsberg, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1984 by Allen Ginsberg. Used with permission.

Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg was one of the leading icons of the Beat movement, and "Howl" became one of the most widely read book of poems of the century, translated into more than twenty-two languages.

by this poet

poem

For Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956

Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on
   the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village.
downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I've been up all night, talking,
   talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues
poem

 

Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.

poem
  What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked 
down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking 
at the full moon.
  In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon
fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
  What peaches and what