Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Note on William Carlos William's Introduction to "Howl"

The introduction to the “Howl” poem by William Carlos Williams sets the overall mood of what is to come. At first, Williams introduces Allen Ginsberg by giving the reader a brief overview of his past. The background that is provided is more personal since it was written by someone who knew Ginsberg. The description is somewhat shocking since the writer himself claims to be surprised by the achievements of Ginsberg. It is said that he was mentally disturbed, with a difficult life and had basically been through hell. Now, with all of these setbacks, it is astonishing for Williams and the audience alike that such a troubled man could have overcome life’s difficulties and succeeded in poetry.

In his roughest years Allen Ginsberg met Carl Solomon, a man with whom he developed a strong bond and came to love. Williams stresses the importance of Solomon in Ginsberg’s life through passionate and emotionally loaded words. He says that it is amazing that even though he has lived through some of the most devastating experiences that life can offer, Ginsberg has used love to persevere. Furthermore, this love is the topic of his poems.

Once again referring to Ginsberg’s life, Williams mentions that Ginsberg described it as a “howl of defeat”(7), but that in reality it was not defeat because he went through it as if it were any other common thing. A very penetrating statement from the introduction is “Everyone in this life is defeated but a man, if he be a man, is not defeated.“(7). I interpret this as saying that everyone in life has difficulties; however, if they use their strengths and everything at their disposal to overcome these challenges, then they are free and will not break under life’s hardships.

In the final paragraph there is a focus on poetry and what it means to write and be a poet. Williams says that poetry has accompanied Ginsberg in his Golgotha (a reference to the biblical place where Jesus was crucified); again emphasizing that this poet has been through the worse. He has been miserable in a place that the readers call home(the US). According to Williams people are blind, but poets are cursed because they see it all. In this paragraph Williams portrays the poet as somewhat of a modern prophet informing the people of the horrible truths of life.

Overall, the introduction gives the readers some background on Ginsberg to better understand the content of the poems. In addition, words such as “disturbed,” “hell,” “horrifying,” and “blindness” set the mood of the poem as perturbing and gruesome.


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