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Literature / Howl

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I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...

Allen Ginsberg's epic poem, his ode to The Beat Generation and the most lauded poem from that school.

Howl was written in 1955, and first published in 1956 as part of the collection Howl and Other Poems. The original publisher was actually arrested for publishing it, as it was originally ruled as "obscene."

The poem is structured in three parts and a "footnote" which resembles the second part.


The poem is featured in the 2010 film, Howl. The film has three major sections interspersed through the film: James Franco as Ginsberg talking about his life and how he created the poem with some scenes of him reading it for a beatnik audience, a dramatization of the obscenity trial and an animated illustration of a reading of the poem for the film audience.

This poem provides examples of:

  • Arc Words: "Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!"
    • "I'm with you in Rockland..."
      • "Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!"
  • The Beat Generation: Yup.
  • Censorship Bureau: Howl originally fell prey to one of these.
  • Country Matters: "...a vision of ultimate cunt..."
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "visionary indian angels who were visionary indian angels"
  • Advertisement:
  • One-Word Title
  • Precision F-Strike: "who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy"
  • Refuge in Audacity
  • San Francisco: Written and performed for the first time in SF.
  • Shout-Out: Part I, in particular, contains a lot of these to Ginsberg's fellow Beat poets and different people he knew during this time in his life.
  • Take That!: Almost as many of these as Shout Outs.
  • Watch It Stoned: Ginsberg and his pals were well-known users of a variety of drugs, and it shows. Parts of the poem were actually written while tripping on psychedelics (mescaline, to be exact). Even the parts written sober are loaded with trippy imagery, rambling lines and explosive language that simulates the psychedelic experience.


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