It is Biblical in its repetitive grammatical buildup. It is a howl against everything in our mechanistic civilization which kills the spirit, assuming that the louder and more often you shout the more likely you are to be heard” (Eberhart, Page 25) The repetition of who and with in the first part, Moloch in the second and Im with you in Rockland in the third also give the impression that Ginsberg is impatient, he wants to be heard and he will repeat himself until his ideas get through to the public. Indeed, the ideas did get across, the poem was banned in several cities and states, including San Francisco, home of the Beatniks. After ten years had passed, people began to realize the reality of this poem, and even though it was raw and straightforward, it made them think about themselves.
It certainly did in the case of the author of this paper. “Between “Howl” and “Kaddish” Ginsberg lost his humor and gained a kind of horror which even he cannot accommodate to the necessary reticence of the poetic mode” (Grossman, Page 108) Kaddish is a five pat poem written in 1959. It deals with the life of Naomi Ginsberg, her frequent stays at mental hospitals, her separation with Allens father, further deterioration, and finally her demise. He also touches on the subject of Jewish assimilation in a predominantly Christian world.
Like “Howl” the tone is often one of hopelessness and sometimes rage. It is often considered Ginsbergs best work. Critics have called it “a breakthrough” (Shapiro, Page 86). Different than many of his other causes, Naomi Ginsberg was perhaps the only thing that Allen truly loved in the world. This poem really in fact is a Kaddish (a Jewish prayer recited by mourners).
Even though Ginsberg may portray his mother in very vulgar terms he is still paying homage to her and expressing his sorrow at her death. “He lets the appalling story speak for itself” (Alvarez, Page 92) Her life was indeed a horrible one, and maybe it was better off it she was dead. Allen missed her anyway. The first part of the poem, is basically a meditation-one where Ginsberg asks many rhetorical questions. The subject of an after life comes up, Ginsberg is pondering what his mother is doing after she died. It ends with part of a Jewish plsam.
Their is one line in the first section that sticks out “All the accumulations of life- that wear is out-clocks, bodies, consciousness, shoes, breasts, begotten sons, your communism, “paranoia” into hospitals”. This is a list of all the things that Ginsberg says aided to the death of his mother-time, age, awareness, fatigue, womanhood, childbearing, personal views, and societys beliefs. In saying this, Ginsberg partly blames himself for the death of his mother. This thought ties the first to the second part, which details a trip to the metal hospital and Allen taking his mother to New Jersey where she believes that the spies will not get to her. The second part of the poem is perhaps the hardest to interpret and certainly the longest.
Ginsberg mentions the times of the”gray” depression. He does have a point by saying gray; which is a word that means bleak as opposed to great which is used more often in a positive sense. The name of Franklin Roosevelt is also mentioned- “invisible bugs and Jewish sickness breeze poisoned by Roosevelt”. This alludes to either the poison of the atomic bomb or the poison of the Holocaust- that Roosevelt could have prevented.
As his mother was ill, so was the society she lived in “silent polished desks in the great committee room..Crapp the gangster issuing orders from the john” As his mothers life was failing, so was the innocence of life. Corruption was taking over and poisoning America and Naomi Ginsberg. When Allen mentions his brother Eugene and how he becomes “Gentile like”, the tone is not one of respect or admiration. The Jewish culture was dying as young Jewish men dropped their identity, and so was Naomi Ginsberg. Whatever advice Naomi gave her son he did not follow. She tells him to “get married and dont take drugs” while he went out and did the opposite of both.
The final line in this section is “the key is in the bars, in the sunlight in the window”. Outside the world is a delight, but you will never be able to experience it firsthand. You will always be on the inside looking out, but never be able to touch it. The third section is short and terse; it does what the first and second have already accomplished.
It is a more succinct summary of the life of Naomi Ginsberg. Not many examples of techniques exist in this part of the poem except that Naomis “universe” is one of “gray tables in long wards”. Although Ginsberg loved her, he does not outwardly express it, at least not in these words. Section four is written in a litany like format. It does sound like a Kaddish that Ginsberg may say in the memory of his mother.
The ending with “your death is full of flowers” reaffirms this position that Ginsberg felt that death was the best thing for his mother. The last section of the poem is a continuation of the litany of the fourth part only it has Ginsberg playing the part of a bird. Each other word is followed by an annoying”caw”. The point of this last section can not really be determined, it would have ended better with section four. Although the topics of “Howl” and “Kaddish” are different, the overall tone and writing format are still the same.
“He has said what he wanted to say with all the force of his original impulse, and with nothing left out” (Shapiro, Page 89) The pessimistic and hopeless overtones of both poems may be a little over the top. These were Allen Ginsbergs feelings for the future and for life. They are real worries or a real person. Even if the nuclear arms race may be over, there was at least one time in everyones life that we felt the same way Ginsberg feels. It is with that feeling that we can believe and relate to these two poems.
- Bartlett, Lee (Editor) The Beats:Essays in Criticism McFarland Press London 1981 French, Warren.
- The San Francisco Poetry Renaissance Twayne Publishers Boston 1991 Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and other Poems City Lights Books San Francisco 1956 Ginsberg, Allen Kaddish and other Poems City Lights Books San Francisco 1961 Hyde, Lewis (Editor) On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg The University of Michigan Press Ann Arbor, MI 1984 Merill, Thomas.
- Allen Ginsberg Twayne Publishers Boston 1988 Stephanchev, Stephen. American Poetry Since 1945 Harper and Row Publishers New York 1965 Turco, Lewis. Visions and Revisions of American Poetry The University of Arkansas Press Fayetteville, AK 1986 Footnotes 1) Eberhart, Richard “West Coast Rhythms” from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg 2)
- Rexroth, Kenneth “San Francisco Letter” from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg 3) Eberhart, Richard “West Coast Rhythms” from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg 4) Grossman, Allen “Allen Ginsberg:The Jew as an American Poet” from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg 5) Shapiro, Harvey.
- “Exalted Comfort” from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg 6) Alvarez, A. “Ginsberg and the Herd Instinct” from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg 7) Shaprio, Harvey. “Exalted Comfort” from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg”.