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How to Read a Poem
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Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay
MadnessHowl shows madness to be a kind of elevated state filled with hallucinations and visions. But it can also be simply terrifying, as when Carl Solomon thinks he is losing "the game of the actu...
Form and Meter
Long Lines in Free VerseHowl has three sections and 112 lines. These lines are very long and look almost like prose paragraphs. Ginsberg borrowed the technique of writing with long lines from Walt...
As wild as some of the events of the poem are, Howl is really about "the morning after." The first two lines of the poem are "I saw," not "I see." Our speaker has woken up from a month-long bender,...
In Howl, every line seems to move to a new setting. We're constantly on the move. However, the place that gets mentioned more than any other is New York City. We're not talking about Wall Street, f...
Howl sounds like a mix between a Zen-like chant and (quoting a line from Walt Whitman) a "barbaric yawp." Although it has no regular meter, the poem repeats the same words and phrases over and over...
What's Up With the Title?
There's a phrase, "truth in advertising." That's what we've got here. The title informs us that we're about to get 112 lines of anger and pain. It suggests sheer, animalistic emotion, like a wolf h...
Echoes of WhitmanThe endless lists, the use of long lines and free verse, the exclamation marks, the repetition, the expressions of brotherly solidarity: it's Walt Whitman, resurrected from the gra...
(6) Tree LineHowl is about madness: it's supposed to be confusing. That's the point. Also, Ginsberg never thought it would be so widely read (source), so it contains a lot of references to people a...
How did Ginsberg end up in the psychiatric hospital where he met Carl Solomon? By pleading insanity to criminal charges related to storing stolen items in his college dorm room. (Ginsberg himself d...
NC-17Let's put it this way: the government thought this poem was "obscene" and that all copies of it needed to be confiscated and kept out of the hands of the impressionable youths of America. It p...
Literature, Philosophy, and Mythology Mohammed (line 5)William Blake (line 6) Plato (line 17)Plotinus (line 24)Edgar Allan Poe (line 24)St. John and the Cross (line 24)The Three Fates (line 40)Budd...
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