Howl (and Formalism)

This first blog response to the reading (Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”) requires that you think like a Formalist critic.  What literary devices does the author use in order to create unity in the first two parts of the poem?  Respond in 100 words after consulting all of the course materials we’ve covered.  the deadline is Tuesday, September 11 by 9:00 am.

29 thoughts on “Howl (and Formalism)

  1. The poem- Howl- itself is split into 3 parts. The first section repeats “Who-”, in every line, going over how the “greatest minds of our generations” descended into madness and how. The second section covers the cause of said madness. The name is repeated in almost every line, just like “Who” from the first section “Moloch!” a Hebrew god known for child sacrifices and discourse. The way the first section goes on for so long, while the second is so short creates contrast that keeps it interesting. Throughout the piece the religious symbolism and quick spurts of anger, insanity, and repetition come together to create the final piece: Howl.

  2. “Howl” is an interesting work to apply formalist criticism to, as it highlights both the strong and weak points of the school of criticism. Because the poem clearly utilizes many of the Formalists’ favorite techniques of poetic writing, such as repetition, contrast, and unique diction to convey certain emotions and set the tone of its story, it is not difficult to analyze the poem in the ways a Formalist would. Simultaneously, however, “Howl” has such a storyline that it made me want to examine its historical and social contexts to further understand its potential meaning–which is clearly not a traditional formalist method to deriving meaning from literature.

  3. Howl is divided into three parts. The first part struck me as a metaphor for madness; madness that he felt in his own life or even the madness he saw around him. I think he is referring to mankind as a whole when he repeats the word “who.” When he talks about all the drugs that are taken to help curve the madness of the mind, I think he is using it as a metaphor for people trying to escape reality. The word Moloch is also repeated constantly. I think Moloch is a representation of chaos and mayhem. He talks about the military and politics and how those things devastated the people and left them in a state of vulnerability and instability. Ginsberg uses a great deal of imagery in the first two parts. For example, “Who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway window, jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the street, danced on broken wine glasses barefoot smashed phonographs records of nostalgic European 1930’s German jazz finished the whiskey and threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans in their ears and the blast of colossal and steam whistles” (Ginsberg, 17). The idea of madness, chaos, and catastrophe exists throughout the poem, and directly flows into the quote. When looking at the words, and saying them out loud, you’re presented with a picture of humanity that is both chaotic and lost.

  4. Allen Ginsberg strongly utilizes repetition in both parts. I believe he uses the word “who” in the first part to try to connect to the audience. Without naming anyone specific, he lets the reader get wrapped up in the chaos, as if it’s swirling around them in real life. In the second part, he adds to the chaos by constantly naming Moloch, a god that children were sacrificed to. Howl is showing how insane the world, and how some people just indulge and enjoy it, while others are just lost in insanity. The second part also ends nearly every sentence with an exclamation point, as if Ginsberg is shouting at the surrounding chaos. I believe this shows how lost humanity can become. The poem didn’t make much sense to me, I didn’t know what Moloch meant, but I think that’s kind of the point. The reader has nonsense being shouted at them, and can really only make sense of the negative insanity.

  5. Analyzing Ginsberg’s “Howl” from his collection Howl through formalist lenses should be a simple enough task, but when one considers that anything said about it [the poem] is already well documented—there is the worry of becoming an analytical mimic. Dictation of assignment wins in this case, though.
    The structure of the poem is simple enough with it split into three parts and a footnote.
    The first part reiterates (through contemptuous repetition) the apparent downfall of the voice’s nearest and dearest peers and companions, and the overall calm he (and they) once felt. It seems concern placed more on those he lost rather than losing himself is the true purpose of part one. Or, by losing them he has somehow lost himself.
    The second part feels to be the explanation for part one’s chaos. The tirade placed onto one name, Moloch. Whether Moloch represents one person, or ideal, is purely peripheral, it is what Moloch has destroyed or corrupted (everyone/thing in part one) that is relevant.
    Part three, while not part of this blog assignment, almost needs addressing for my own sake, but it feels like submission to a lost cause. The repetition stands but the energy (whether from anger or chaos or both) feels to have drained out which kind of makes reading it feel the same way—which structurally means the entirety of the poem does what it set out to do I suppose.

  6. The poem “Howl” is composed of three parts, all of which similar in format but different in length. In the first section, an early line stood out to me, “angleheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection” due to the words “hipsters” and “ancient”. The two words allude to periods of time very distant from each other creating a polarizing image. That line also incorporates the motif of religion that is used throughout all three parts of the poem. Certain nouns are capitalized throughout the piece such as “Terror”, “Time”, and “Eternity” which gives life and multiple meanings to words that would otherwise have only one.

  7. The poem “Howl” is broken into two parts and then the footnote. Each of these parts are very similar in structure by the repetition within them. That repetition serves to provide a flow from “those who have sinned” to everything and everyone being “holy”. The author does this by talking about the “Madness” and “Wretchedness” in the first part of the poem. Then “Moloch’s judgement and wrath of those who’ve sinned” in the second part. And lastly, of how “everything is holy” in the foot note. In all, the poem is divided to show a story of the cleansing of the soul.

  8. The author uses a lot of repetition in their words and ideas to get into the minds of the readers. This repetition is not uncommon in poems, but the extent that it was used is what took it a step beyond. Whether or not this is a good thing is debatable though, ultimately the repetition and extensive use of adjectives muddles the poem itself making it an extremely difficult read which disinterests me, and I can only assume other readers from the beginning, but it did invoke a sense of chaos, which works extremely well in this poem. I believe this was what he meant to do, but it’s impact did not make up for the effort it took to get through the poem. He was very obviously dead set on this idea, or he wouldn’t have published it, but this is something where if he would’ve taken those things into account it would’ve come out much better.

  9. The first thing I noticed in Howl was the repetition in parts 1, 2, and 3 of the words who, Moloch, and I’m. The first part is all about the madness and drugs in the world using imagery such as “dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix” (Ginsberg, 9). A fix would be taking enough of whatever drug is being used until that person’s next craving. In part two I came to understand that Moloch is someone or something crazy that holds power and you can see this on page 21 “Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of man!” (Ginsberg, 21). What unties part one and two is all the imagery and metaphors used.

  10. In the poem “Howl”, it is divided between three parts of the same poem, plus a footnote. Overall, it seems that in the first part of the poem that the poet is talking about the greatest minds of his generation slowly submerging into madness and describes to us what that madness entails.
    The second part of the poem sounds like the madness he was talking about was some sort of drug. It is even said, “Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river!” (Ginsberg, 22). He is mentioning all of the cases of what a drug can do to a person; it can cause hallucinations and a feeling of ecstasy.
    Throughout the piece, repetition, metaphors and imagery are used heavily.

  11. Allen Ginsberg does a excellent job creating a dark tone through the repetition of each line. Each sentence creates a atmosphere that slowly, but surely puts the reader in a more uncomfortable situation. The depth to which this poem goes, almost created a feeling as if the author is yelling. While the acts of violence swallows up the reader there is a thought that can’t be helped, but to ask if this is reality. However all the chaos did inspire me through the potential significance of the events. Whether that concerns the people who were burned alive on Madison Avenue or the individuals who jumped off of the Brooklyn Ridge. While I usually feel that when the text pushes the reader to explore the topic more, it disrupts the formalist criticism. Formalism is meant to focus on the text alone, with no historical, religious, or political purposes.

  12. Ginsberg’s Howl poem is one that seems to have to be read more than once to fully understand the structure of the sentence and where it ends. He structured the poem into three parts of a descent that slowly becomes more rapid. The poem uses forms of repetition with a second being called “who” to refer to a wider audience of individuals described. The sentence structure seems to carry an erratic rhythm of beat and melody. This gives the idea that there was a huge emphasis on conveying a strong image to the reader so that they may understand or feel the “Qualia-perceptual” experience being described. This perceptual experience is subjective and carried out through repetitive and rhythmic devices of crossing situations.

  13. Howl by Allen Ginsberg can be examined through a formalist lens. However, this is a work that heavily relies on the author’s personal story and historical context in order to be understood/appreciated thoroughly. The most obvious literary device that Ginsberg uses to create unity between the parts of the poem is repetition. (Example: repeating the phrase “who” or “I am with you in Rockland!”) This repetition also forms a pattern of how the poem is set up. There are also recurrences of topics such as drugs and sex, as well as recurring imagery, (example: phallic imagery/symbols). Some words do not mean what they explicitly state, or suggest another meaning (diction). The primary example of this is Moloch–he is not explicitly referencing an actual devil creature, but instead using the word to perhaps describe society and the capitalist system as a whole. The Moloch image also reflects unity through a sense of ambiguity, as the exact meaning is never explicitly stated.

  14. Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” juxtaposes the modern with the ancient, the holy with the profane, and his generation’s creativity with the hopeless world that drove it mad. Juxtaposition runs through the first part: in characterizing the generation he laments the fate of, Ginsberg frequently assigns archaic religious imagery to concepts that are either contemporary, as in “Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs” (9) or taboo, such as the contextual sexuality of “the blond & naked angel came to piece them with a sword” (14). Verbal motifs and recurring symbols (such as angels and jazz) are joined in Part Two by the repetition of the name “Moloch”. Moloch, an ancient Hebrew god, here personifies the impersonal, destructive world to which Ginsberg attributes the madness of his generation, reinforcing the poem’s central idea.

  15. Ginsberg’s uses many literary devices to create unity between the parts of the poems, the most dominant one being his use of anaphora. In the first part of the poem, Ginsberg repeats “who [verbed]” and then in the second part repeats “Moloch!” at the beginning of most stanzas. This in itself creates unity, because the first part is made to be a question, while the second part is the answer or the reason. The first part of Howl can be seen as questioning the madness of the world (since it references and personification of many places in the world- mostly North America), with the repletion of images of drug use and sexual symbols and slurs. Ginsberg also uses a lack of grammatical structure, not only to control the pace of the poem, but also to add to the chaos of the imagery he is portraying. This links to the second part, in which each stanza is seen to be screaming the name “Moloch” which is an allusion to an ancient god associated to child sacrifice. Since this is a poem, Moloch can be taken as a symbol for the greed of men and the government, and also an overall symbol of the evil of the world that has contaminated the souls of men. This allusion thus greatly unifies the poem as being the answer to why men have succumbed to this madness.

  16. In “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg, it is possible to apply a formalist analysis. When using a close-reading approach, you must pay careful attention to word choice and structure. Within these two umbrellas falls repetition (or pattern), which is frequently demonstrated within Howl (specifically in the use of “who”) and other stylistic elements, such as metaphor, syntax, and diction. While it can be done, a formalist analysis may not be the best way to analyze something such as howl, where historical context and author intent appear to be key features. If this were to be looked at without a formalistic perspective, the reader could surely find new (and possibly more interesting) perspectives.

  17. Divided into three distinct sections, Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” is a poem that relishes the formalist critic, as the work seems to revolve around the structural similarities and differences each section contains as a method of conveying meaning to the reader. In each of the sections, repetition can be found in the words “who”, and “Moloch”, as well as the phrase “I’m with you in Rockland”. Interestingly, “who”, repeated in the first section, is never capitalized, unlike the names of streets, buildings, or cities that are spoken of, which leads me to believe when compared to “Moloch” and “I’m with you in Rockland”, to be a specific stylistic choice of Ginsberg to serve the purpose that the “who” in this case could be anyone. The first section is also full of juxtaposition, as seen in the phrase “negro streets at dawn” (Ginsberg, 9) and contains no periods until the very end of the section, with many cases of enjambment that reads similarly to the city that
    Ginsberg is describing, NYC. The second section is a direct contrast to the limited punctuation of the first, with every sentence ending in an exclamation; serving a similar purpose as the format of the first section in a different way, as the second section still reads as one of hurried thought, although more erratic and excited than before. The third section however is where I find the most difference in overall structure, as the way it is written makes it read very matter-of-fact, to the point with the repetition of the entire phrase “I’m with you in Rockland.” The descriptive and at times upsetting language used in this section contrast sharply with the tone of the section, which reads almost like a lament toward the events Ginsberg is describing, looking upon this person unknown to the reader as someone who he holds a great regard for as he endures great psychological pain.

  18. The poem “Howl,” which is itself separated into three distinct sections, uses multiple methods popular in formalist criticisms. The first and most obvious to the reader would be the repetition of words and phrases throughout the three sections. The first is “who” then “Moloch” and finally “I’m with you in Rockland.” The repetition of “who” in the first part, suggests that the madness was made his generation into nameless beings. In part two, it brings balance and closure to the first, as it answers the question of who is causing the madness of his generation. Ginsberg names Moloch as a symbol of the evil affecting his generation to this madness. With this balance it brings unity to the poem as a whole.

  19. In the first two parts of Howl, there is a noticeable pattern with the consistent use of the word “Who” in the first part, and the usage of the word “Moloch” in the second. This can be expressed as a call and response situation; the first part telling us who they are, and the second part explaining what happened to them. The repetition throughout allows the reader to catch onto the rhythm of the poem, as well as seek any underlying tones in the poem. We see a dark undertone with the powerful line, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness”(1-2). One contrast between the first and second section is the use of different punctuation. The first part guided us along and allowed us to read the lines fluidly, whereas the second part uses exclamation points, and makes us pause after each word where it is used. All of these components end up unifying all three parts of this poem.

  20. Allen Ginsberg poem “Howl”, was written at time when formalism was at its height. The repetition and metaphor are the two most prominent literary devices showcased in this work. I quite enjoyed the second stanza of the poem with the redundancy of screaming “Moloch!” He is the Canaanite god associated with child sacrifice. I believe Ginsberg uses this to say the innocence and beauty of the arts and, in a sense, our souls are being sacrificed to the advancement rooted in the greed of society, at the helm of the operation, those who only care about money. His repetition is used to desensitize the reader to the word and concept, much like society was becoming desensitized to all the evils that were beginning to be allowed in the name of ‘progress’. However, the use of Moloch could also give the artist and romantic a sense of hope. In the Bible, Canaanites were in the Promised Land of the Israelites, God/Jehovah’s people. Allen may be saying that though these greedy men are big and seem unbeatable now, the artists will one day come and reclaim there Promise Land, driving the Canaanites out and restoring the ‘soul’ to society by toppling over these metaphorical false gods of money, capitalism, cold science, etc. This is the beauty of formalism, it does not matter what Ginsberg intended, I can see these connections and still be considered correct in the school of formalism. I believe it is a neat for of criticism that reveal more about an individual’s psyche while diving into a work of literature.

  21. The graphic and chaotic imagery of social freedom in part one of Howl juxtaposes the chaotic imagery of social conformity in the second part of Howl. Descriptions of sex, drugs, and the violence within cities are taboo topics that Ginsberg does not shy away from. He uses vulgar phrases such as “fucked in the ass” not for shock value but to emphasize the polarizing element that the social freedom of this time frame stood for. These phrases juxtapose the “cloud of sexless hydrogen” that Ginsberg argues is a perpetuating side effect of social conformity in the second part of Howl. The use of the words “demonic” and “spectral” to portray the capitalists that overrun the country because of how they prevent self-expression. This is further emphasized by his use of exclamation points in the second part, highlighting Ginsberg’s frustration with society. These two parts connect through Bakhtin’s carnivalesque theory in how it serves to challenge the traditional power dynamics to put forward a new social order.

  22. Allen Ginsberg poem, “Howl”, was written at a time when the formalism school of criticism was thriving. His use of literary devices such as metaphor and repetition, is reminiscent of the poetic language formalists favor. Stanza two is a particularly enjoyable section in where he repeats “Moloch!”. Moloch is the ancient Canaanite god associate with child sacrifice. Ginsberg implies that the innocence and beauty of the arts are being sacrificed to the greed and progression of capitalism and science. Humanity is losing its soul, in a sense. The way he repeats Moloch is a form of desensitization that mirrors how society is losing what makes it worthwhile in the name of greed and so called progression. The use of Moloch can also signify a type of hope that the romantic soul will reclaim victory in allusion to the Bible. In the old testament, the Canaanites were in a land that were promised to the nation of Israel, God/Jehovah’s people. Though all the odds were stacked against this tiny group, they still stormed the land and reclaimed it for themselves, in a sense, it was madness that such a thing could happen given the uneven odds. One day, art and beauty will reign victorious by reclaiming the land the giants of greed stole from them. That is the beauty of formalism, it does not matter what Ginsberg intended, but what the reader interprets. In a sense, formalism is way for the reader to look deeper into his or her own psyche while analyzing a work of literature. Are formalists analyzing a work or are they looking within and analyzing themselves?

    • Howl, by Allen Ginsberg, can be broken down into 2 primary sections and a foot note. The first section is distinguished by its repetition of “who.” This word appears at the beginning of nearly every line and refers to the “best minds of [the speaker’s] generation”. The second section of “Howl” is distinguished by repetition of yet another word, “Moloch”, and yes, this repetition does tie these two sections together, but there are also other devices that allow Ginsberg to connect the parts, such as word choice, diction, and imagery. In the first section, there is heavy use of biblical word choice such as “angel”, “heavenly”, “starry”, and “radiant”. This biblical word choice continues in part II throughout words like “Jehovahs”, “Judger of men”, and “soulless.” This use of similar word choice continues the theme of religion and gives the poem continuity. The first section is also full of sentence fragments followed by commas as to keep the passage moving quickly, and the second part continues this chaos by using sentence fragments followed by exclamation marks.

  23. Ginsberg’s repetitive use of the word “who” before the description he writes allows the poem to fall into a unified rhythm while he lists the actions and characteristics of the “best minds” of his generation. Also, the use of the word leaves the people he is referring to unnamed, and could imply that there are multiple individuals that fit the description. As the poem progresses, the rhythm alters and although the structure stays the same, the tone and diction become more chaotic. The progression of the poem from repetitive and normal to disorderly could be symbolizing the greatest minds Ginsberg mentioned in the beginning slipping into madness.

  24. Contained within the verses of Howl by Allen Ginsburg are a variety of devices used to describe disenfranchised youth in America. Most notable of these is anaphora, or the repetition of specific words in the beginning of lines. In doing this, he specifies exactly who is the victim of the actions that take place in the later lines of the poem. Another device worth noting is his extensive use of reference throughout his poem, such as the numerous supernatural references throughout the poem, like his references to “Mohammedan Angels” and “kabbalah.” These analogies serve to both mythologize the conflicts, and to present the subjects as having almost divine inspiration. This is in sharp contrast with his use of contemporary drug slang, such as the words “junk” and “teahead,” which create a sense of contrast throughout the poem. Another reference worth noting is his indictment of Moloch, an old Canaanite god associated with sacrifice. This reference serves to further emphasize the damaging effect of the current state of affairs on the youth of America.

  25. In all three parts of the story, I noticed the constant repetition. The first one, you were questioning “Who?”.The second, “What?”. and the Third, “Where?”. But, it doesn’t exactly answers those questions. Therefore, gives us that immediate confusion and defamiliarizes its audience.
    In the very beginning Ginsberg slaps the idea in our head that happiness is dead. Immediately after, we get constant dark imagery that gives a light to that motto.
    Descriptions of poverty, junkies, and sinful actions discomforts its audience but also has a way of bringing us more in depth into the story. Should we have sympathy? Or should we hate on the speaker? In the second portion, “Moloch” is chanted. Sacrifices are being made, and yet the speaker glorifies that all who has wronged, shall disperse.
    In the final portion of the poem, the speaker gives us an insight on who Carl is. We see right through the descriptions of Ginsberg, and start to judge. But then, we come back to the repetition of “I’m with you in Rockland” and start to ponder the relationship between the two men. Almost like there was an obsession between the two?
    To personally summarize, I feel uncertain on what I think about the story entirely. I feel as if this story was hard to formalize and stick the “law is law” rule to it. There’s so much to dissect and pick at. But overall, to formalize and make simple is kind of boring.

  26. Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” is poem in three parts. All three parts are filled with repetition and metaphor, but the first two parts are most similar because of the similarities in their structure. In the first two parts, Ginsberg’s beat poem is at its most beat-like. It’s a series of run on sentences all the way through. Ginsberg strings together more and more sentences for each stanza, separating each one with nothing more than a comma. The entire poem is filled with some extremely graphic imagery and metaphors, which Ginsberg uses to call out the conformity he saw across the United States, and his lack of sentence structure, any sort of use of meter, or any sort of adherence to traditional poetry forms is a big departure from conformity in itself. His poem is a howl (get it?) against conformity, and the poem itself is so against the norm. His graphic language depicting the human body, his language about sex, his language about sexuality, and even just his use of curse words are a huge departure from the norm and help to make his howl even louder.

  27. The poem “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg makes use of multiple literary devices, most notable of which is repetition. This is seen in both Part I – with the repetition of “who” – and Part II – with the repetition of “Moloch”. This repetition – particularly in Part II – serves to desensitize the reader to the repeated word, until it almost seems to lose its meaning and become an object unto itself.
    Both poems have additional similarities in that Ginsberg is constantly placing the mundane in the context of the divine – “Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs”, “human seraphim, the sailors,” and “in whom I dream Angels”, to name a few.
    Another similarity is the use of punctuation, or lack thereof. Part I has quite a few instances where the author foregoes commas, allowing phrases to run together and give the illusion they are happening faster than phrases with commas. Part II has the opposite occurrence, with exclamation points being used after every new object to force the reader to stop and consider the new idea.

  28. The author of the poem “Howl” unifies the first two parts through contrast and repetition. The first part is fluid as if it is one large thought and sentence. Most stanzas begin with “who” and follow with a description of an anonymous individual’s mad, spiritual experience. On the other hand, the second part is rigid, full of repetitious exclamations of “Moloch” and diction reflecting the coldness of industrial society, contrasting the burning, sexual fire of madness shown previously. Although the stark contrast in diction and form separates the two ideas in each part, it unifies them by highlighting the flaws in each way of life.

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