One of the widely known works of Ginsberg is “Howl.” Ginsberg wrote this poem in 1955 which was his first outstanding public work. The titles of most of Ginsberg’s poems tend to prepare the reader for what to expect in the poem. For example, the title “Howl” indicates that the poem is not likely to be a quiet one. The title gives a hint that the poem is likely to be one full of noise, with unsettling themes and images. Ginsberg uses images on several occasions in his poems. For example, in his poem “Howl,” he wanted to express the state of frustration and his artistic potential. He also wanted to explain how a generation could easily destroy itself. He felt that the American culture was suppressing the current generation through its culture. At that time, the American culture valued conformity more than an opportunity. Another theme that comes out from the title of this poem is that of madness. Generally, we usually associate howling with animals. In most cases, these animals usually howl at the moon. It is clear that Ginsberg wanted to convey this image. This is why he chose this word as a topic for the poem. According to the poem, most artists from the generation at that time behaved exactly like animals. In fact, their instincts were as wild as those of animals and that is why they could only get out at night. The cultured communities in America did not accept the majority of the events that they attended. In this poem, the moon symbolizes madness. The source of this belief was from the perception that individuals who were mad or evil would reveal themselves vividly during the period of the full moon. Ginsberg, in most of his poems, used to take sex-centered points of views towards certain events. For example, looking at the poem “Howl,” Ginsberg takes a male point of view towards several issues. In most of his poems, female characters depict themselves as ancillary characters to the male protagonists (Allen and Folsom 76).
In “Howl” at some point, we see the theme of location coming out clearly. The poem traverses throughout the entire United States. This movement trait is one of the characteristics of beat literature. Another theme that most of Ginsberg’s poems depict is the theme of insanity. In his entire life, Ginsberg struggled with insanity for long periods of his life. At one time, his mother went to special institutions for special care. For a better part of his life, he, therefore, lived without a full family, especially his mother. He in fact, admitted that it is separation from his mother and lack of adequate family attention that led to his having a closer relation with people with mental problems. In his book “Howl”, the best minds go insane as a result of their inability to adopt the requirements of normality and conformity, which the modern American culture wanted them to adopt.
The other main theme in Ginsberg’s poems is that of commodification. According to him, commodification was among the greatest problems of the society at that time. We see him at some point in his poem “A supermarket in California” attempting to go into a supermarket to admire and purchase fruits and vegetables. However, what he concludes from the supermarket is that humanity does not recognize the history of a given element anymore. He uses a fruit as an example. He uses a fruit to depict the image of any individual or item. He ascertains that when a one picks a fruit and brings it to the supermarket, no one will bother to trace its origin.
Whitman is another legend in the field of poetry with a unique way of approaching poetry. We can see this through the themes that he depicts in most of his poems, motifs and his use of images or symbols. One of the themes that come out in Whitman’s poems is the theme of democracy as a way of life. According to Whitman, democracy is not just a system in politics. It is also a way of getting life experiences. In the 19th century, not so many people were sure about the capacity of the US to endure the political system of that time. To alleviate those doubts in individuals, Whitman increased his efforts of living a democratic life, both in his poetic works and the day-to-day life (Salem Press 45).
This is one point of diversion between Whitman and Ginsberg. Whereas Ginsberg dwelt a lot on politics in general, Whitman focused on letting people appreciate and embrace democracy in their ways of life. The other theme that came out clearly in Whitman’s poetic works was the growth and death cycle. He attempted to show how vital the growth of the United States was. At some point, the economy of United States grew at a tremendous rate until pundits thought it would be limitless. However, the rise of sectionalism and violence from the Civil War was a threat to this rapid growth. He thus focused on the life cycles of individuals after seeing the deaths the Civil War had left behind it. Whitman employed the use of plants as an image to show growth of individuals or a country. He uses flowers, trees, bushes and other plant species to indicate chances of growing again after death. Death in this case meant a fall in an attempt to achieve something (Allen and Folsom 79).
However, the two poets have some common aspects in terms of how they view poetry. According to both of them, one can use poetry to achieve harmony among enemy communities. This could be in times of war or any other form of misunderstanding.