Study Guide

Howl Section I, Lines 56-60

By Allen Ginsberg

Section I, Lines 56-60

Line 56

who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,

  • We've seen how Ginsberg associates universities with warfare, and here he also associates warfare with advertisers.
  • The "best minds" got trapped in advertising jobs on Madison Avenue in New York, where they were "burned alive," figuratively speaking. The speaker contrasts tools of warfare like mustard gas and nitroglycerine with figures from the advertising industry like "intelligent editors" and "verse," like the jingle that Ginsberg wrote for Ipana toothpaste when he worked on Madison Avenue.
  • They also get run down by a "drunken taxicab" representing "Absolute Reality," or the true nature of things.

Line 57

who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alley ways & firetrucks, not even one free beer,

  • After so many unbelievable disasters, the speaker lets us know that this one "actually happened." They jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge (which is really high) and somehow survived to swim ashore at Chinatown. And they didn't even get a free beer for their troubles.

Line 58

who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway window, jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on n****es, cried all over the street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashed phonograph records of nostalgic European 1930s German jazz finished the whiskey and threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans in their ears and the blast of colossal steam whistles,

  • It sounds like they were drunk during these escapades, when they did things like jump in the Passaic River in New Jersey and "danced on broken wineglasses."
  • They also broke German jazz records from the 1930s, probably because it reminded them of the rise of Nazism.

Line 59

who barreled down the highways of the past journeying to each other's hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude watch or Birmingham jazz incarnation,

  • Let's get things clear: the Beats loved road trips. (Think of Kerouac's On the Road.) This was back when gas was cheap.
  • They drove at breakneck speeds down old highways to reach "hotrod-Golgotha," to meet a friend who had been released from prison, or to go listen to jazz in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • "Golgotha" is the name of the hill where Jesus Christ was crucified, so "hotrod-Golgotha" would be…where racecars were crucified? You can come up with your own explanation for that one.

Line 60

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,

  • They drove for three straight days, or 72 hours, in the hope that someone in the car would have a spiritual vision about Eternity.