• “What Thoughts I Have of You Tonight, Walt Whitman” Continuity and Innovation in Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”

    Zélia Rafael (see profile)
    American Literature, Poetics and Poetry, Sound Poetry
    19th-century American poetry, 20th-century American poetry, Beat literature
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    In his essay “The Poet,” Emerson called for the poet who would sing the burgeoning nation of the United States of America. The answer to his request far exceeded all his expectations in the form of a ground-breaking volume of poems where Walt Whitman sang not only a nation, but the people who inhabited it as the people incarnated the values, struggles, dreams and disappointments that formed the living tissue of America. In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman also expressed his dream of the birth of a race of poet-priests who, through time and space, would guide their fellow men and women as compassionate and empathetic brethren (Whitman, “Preface” ll. 752-765). In time, this request would be answered, and generations of poets would sing the lives of the men and women that made America, in search of a more human, close and empathetic form of being and living. One of these writers was Allen Ginsberg who, in “Howl,” translated the core of the experience of the men and women of his generation into a heart-felt and wrenching cry for humanity in a society marked by “uncompassionate [...] war rules” (Ginsberg, The Best Minds 29). This essay aims to bring to light a few instances wherein this continuity is patent, while pointing out the profound humanistic desires that moved both Whitman and Ginsberg to place themselves, through their words, by the side of each and every individual who walks this earth.
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