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The Poem

HOWL was 29-year-old Allen Ginsberg’s first published poem—but it instantly established him as a vital new voice for rapidly changing times. At once gritty and tender, rife with sex and drugs, driven by equal parts alienation and ecstasy, haunted by memories of childhood, oppression, and boyish love, and erupting in a rush of language with the rhythmic urgency of a jazz riff, the poem was a shock to the system in the midst of the grey flannel, Eisenhower ‘50s. In an instant, HOWL forecast the heat and fury of the ‘60s and helped to usher in cultural shifts that are still reverberating.

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Highlight a portion of Ginsberg’s HOWL below to share it and show your friends and followers how you howl.

HOWL
For Carl Solomon
Part I

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
      madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
      looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
      connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-
      ery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
      up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
      cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
      contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and
      saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tene-
      ment roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
      hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy
      among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy &
      publishing obscene odes on the windows of the
      skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burn-
      ing their money in wastebaskets and listening
      to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through
      Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in
      Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their
      torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, al-
      cohol and cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind; streets of shuddering cloud and
      lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of
      Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the mo-
      tionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery
      dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops,
      storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon
      blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree
      vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brook-
      lyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless
      ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine
      until the noise of wheels and children brought
      them down shuddering mouth-wracked and
      battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance
      in the drear light of Zoo,
who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's
      floated out and sat through the stale beer after
      noon in desolate Fugazzi's, listening to the crack
      of doom on the hydrogen jukebox,
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to
      pad to bar to Bellevue to museum to the Brook-
      lyn Bridge,
lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping
      down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills
      off Empire State out of the moon,
yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts
      and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks
      and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days
      and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the
      Synagogue cast on the pavement,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a
      trail of ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic
      City Hall,
suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grind-
      ings and migraines of China under junk-with-
      drawal in Newark's bleak furnished room,
who wandered around and around at midnight in the
      railroad yard wondering where to go, and went,
      leaving no broken hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing
      through snow toward lonesome farms in grand-
      father night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telep-
      athy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos in-
      stinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,
who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking vis-
      ionary indian angels who were visionary indian
      angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore
      gleamed in supernatural ecstasy,
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Okla-
      homa on the impulse of winter midnight street
      light smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston
      seeking jazz or sex or soup, and followed the
      brilliant Spaniard to converse about America
      and Eternity, a hopeless task, and so took ship
      to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving
      behind nothing but the shadow of dungarees
      and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fire
      place Chicago,
who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the
      F.B.I. in beards and shorts with big pacifist
      eyes sexy in their dark skin passing out incom-
      prehensible leaflets,
who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting
      the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,
who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union
      Square weeping and undressing while the sirens
      of Los Alamos wailed them down, and wailed
      down Wall, and the Staten Island ferry also
      wailed,
who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked
      and trembling before the machinery of other
      skeletons,
who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight
      in policecars for committing no crime but their
      own wild cooking pederasty and intoxication,
who howled on their knees in the subway and were
      dragged off the roof waving genitals and manu-
      scripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly
      motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim,
      the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean
      love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rose
      gardens and the grass of public parks and
      cemeteries scattering their semen freely to
      whomever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up
      with a sob behind a partition in a Turkish Bath
      when the blond & naked angel came to pierce
      them with a sword,
who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate
      the one eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar
      the one eyed shrew that winks out of the womb
      and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but
      sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden
      threads of the craftsman's loom,
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of
      beer a sweetheart a package of cigarettes a can-
      dle and fell off the bed, and continued along
      the floor and down the hall and ended fainting
      on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt and
      come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,
who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling
      in the sunset, and were red eyed in the morning
      but prepared to sweeten the snatch of the sun
      rise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked
      in the lake,
who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad
      stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these
      poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver-joy
      to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls
      in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses'
      rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with
      gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely pet-
      ticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-station
      solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too,
who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in
      dreams, woke on a sudden Manhattan, and
      picked themselves up out of basements hung
      over with heartless Tokay and horrors of Third
      Avenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemploy-
      ment offices,
who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on
      the snowbank docks waiting for a door in the
      East River to open to a room full of steamheat
      and opium,
who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment
      cliff-banks of the Hudson under the wartime
      blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall
      be crowned with laurel in oblivion,
who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested
      the crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers of
      Bowery,
who wept at the romance of the streets with their
      pushcarts full of onions and bad music,
who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the
      bridge, and rose up to build harpsichords in
      their lofts,
who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned
      with flame under the tubercular sky surrounded
      by orange crates of theology,
who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty
      incantations which in the yellow morning were
      stanzas of gibberish,
who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht
      & tortillas dreaming of the pure vegetable
      kingdom,
who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for
      an egg,
who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot
      for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks
      fell on their heads every day for the next decade,
who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccess-
      fully, gave up and were forced to open antique
      stores where they thought they were growing
      old and cried,
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 sinis-
      ter intelligent editors, or were run down by the
      drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,
who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually hap-
      pened and walked away unknown and forgotten
      into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alley
      ways & firetrucks, not even one free beer,
who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of
      the subway window, jumped in the filthy Pas-
      saic, leaped on negroes, 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,
who barreled down the highways of the past journeying
      to each other's hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude
      watch or Birmingham jazz incarnation,
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,
who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who
      came back to Denver & waited in vain, who
      watched over Denver & brooded & loned in
      Denver and finally went away to find out the
      Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes,
who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying
      for each other's salvation and light and breasts,
      until the soul illuminated its hair for a second,
who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for
      impossible criminals with golden heads and the
      charm of reality in their hearts who sang sweet
      blues to Alcatraz,
who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky
      Mount to tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys
      or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or
      Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the
      daisychain or grave,
who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hyp
      notism & were left with their insanity & their
      hands & a hung jury,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism
      and subsequently presented themselves on the
      granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads
      and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding in-
      stantaneous lobotomy,
and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin
      Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy psycho-
      therapy occupational therapy pingpong &
      amnesia,
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic
      pingpong table, resting briefly in catatonia,
returning years later truly bald except for a wig of
      blood, and tears and fingers, to the visible mad
      man doom of the wards of the madtowns of the
      East,
Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid
      halls, bickering with the echoes of the soul, rock-
      ing and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench
      dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a night-
      mare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the
      moon,
with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book
      flung out of the tenement window, and the last
      door closed at 4. A.M. and the last telephone
      slammed at the wall in reply and the last fur-
      nished room emptied down to the last piece of
      mental furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted
      on a wire hanger in the closet, and even that
      imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little bit of
      hallucination
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and
      now you're really in the total animal soup of
      time
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed
      with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use
      of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrat-
      ing plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space
      through images juxtaposed, and trapped the
      archangel of the soul between 2 visual images
      and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun
      and dash of consciousness together jumping
      with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna
      Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human
      prose and stand before you speechless and intel-
      ligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet con-
      fessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm
      of thought in his naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown,
      yet putting down here what might be left to say
      in time come after death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in
      the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the
      suffering of America's naked mind for love into
      an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone
      cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered
      out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand
      years.

“Howl” by Allen Ginsberg, currently collected in Collected Poems 1947-1997 by Allen Ginsberg.

Copyright © 1956 Allen Ginsberg LLC, used with permission of The Wylie Agency.

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