Howl by Allen Ginsberg

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 ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in
Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton
treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral
nations! invincible mad houses granite cocks! monstrous
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!

Howl is a seminal explosion of beatnik hedonism, it is eloquently woven expletives plotted out as a performance of the visceral aspects of human nature. This particular part of the poem explores Ginsberg’s ideas about the capitalist driven society in 1950’s New York. The second stanza of this extract explores the idea of a duplicity in human identity, exploring the notion that identity is often split, fragmented and thoroughly ‘wild’.

In this particular part of the poem, Ginsberg focuses on the word and concept ‘Moloch’. Moloch becomes a repetitive and striking symbol for all of the evils of capitalist society which Ginsberg is criticising with Howl. Moloch, a reference to the sacrificial god in Leviticus and Greek mythology, comes to have a multitude of meanings. Moloch is the god of this urban chaos yet it is the chaos in itself. Moloch appears omnipotent, both creator and destroyer. This motif is the foundation of part two of Ginsberg’s poem, it grows to represent a kind of all-consuming capitalist society.
Ginsberg’s first person narrative incites the feeling that it is not only everyone else, but the narrator too who is being consumed by this figure of Moloch (l4). This image of consumption is linked with solitude, sadness and despair and is an extremely harrowing image of this dangerous and divine presence taking over his dreams and psyche. Those holding the poem’s obscenity trail were worried that Ginsberg’s use of profanity would have a corrupting influence on readers and in turn the moral fibre of America.
Being frightened out of ecstasy has birth connotations, which suggests that alongside the notion of light streaming out of the sky, that the Moloch image has the power to grant new life as well as taking it away. The religious connotations encompassing this sacred personal space that is being commandeered suggest a corruption of previous innocence.
Line 9 furthers this belief in challenging the government and capitalist institutions. It is a series of inhuman words describing different institution’s in society. The pairings are radical and effectively catch the attention of the reader and serve as a catalyst for their imagination. They set up an opposition between humans and machines: ‘Robot apartments’, ‘skeleton treasuries’, ‘demonic industries’, these three being particularly provocative. With these pairings Ginsberg is challenging the efficiency and worth of the American infrastructure, suggesting that in reality government systems, and industries are inhuman and broken. He even goes so far as to say they are ‘demonic’ implying that they are pure evil, but also, significantly empty. The suggestion that these places are either robotic, blind, spectral or rock like suggests the idea that they are empty of meaning, or of compassion for individual life. They are ghostlike and ominous, seeming paradoxically both wild and tame. Wild perhaps, in their fearmongering effect yet lame in their bureaucratic lack of passion. Ginsberg focuses on their physicality and in how their enormity is symbolic of a quiet yet monumental looming power. They are huge structures; treasuries, suburbs, apartments, taking up real physical landscapes and it is in this that they hold their disturbing dominion. All of these spaces appear to be places of confinement further exploring the opposition between captivity and freedom.
They are also interestingly all places that can be broken out of. The last two pairings ‘granite cocks! Monstrous bombs!’ then satirise the whole set of structures further, they are explosive in both innuendo and pure linguistic form and perpetuate this promotion of breaking free from norms.
The last two lines of this extract satirise the ‘American Dream’. This suggests that the fantasy of the American Dream is washing away, leaving the harsh reality underneath exposed. This image of the ‘great’ American river, a recurring motif in American Literature, signals the idea of changeability and the cyclical nature of life. Ginsberg explosively lists spiritual, magical terminology ‘visions! omens! […] gone down…’. This is can be read as a criticism of religious institutions, in their militant conservatism which was constantly attacking beatnik art and lifestyle. The use of daring language ‘crazy’ ‘cocksucker’ creates this image of a disturbance of order …which is specifically linked to the human psyche.
This results in the idea that with Howl Ginsberg is highlighting a hope and desire for a more progressive and accepting society.

This extract in particular suggests that ‘wildness’ is inherent in societal structures. In this sense, the ‘wild’ figure of the sacrificial god ‘Moloch’ appears to control society, and represents all of the ills of modern life. The obscenity trial which surrounded Howl highlights the idea that Ginsberg’s way of fighting the institutions of which he was critical was through his explosive expression.
In a sense Howl is a battle between strains of ‘wildness’, that of the capitalist institutions versus that of the beatnik community. This comment on society cemented the poem as a pivotal part of the birth of American counter culture.

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