My initial reaction to this poem, “Howl,” was confusion. This seemed like another impossible poem to understand, much like “The Wasteland” by Eliot. I thought to myself, “This guy is drunk, high, or just plain crazy.” I must not have been very far off, since the preface by William Carlos Williams describes Ginsberg as “mentally much disturbed.” However, somehow in this seemingly rambling and confusing poem (at least it appeared that way to me), there were style and eloquence. I could sort of understand the pain and despair, confusion and chaos he must have seen and felt through the poem. I could almost hear the desperate, tortured voice of the poet himself. The world that he knows is “destroyed” and the only escape from the reality seems to be the mindless pursuit of pleasure and destruction.
The first part of “Howl” is essentially only one very, very long sentence. The lack of period and the excessively long sentence creates a sense of panic and madness. He describes the “best minds of [his] generation” roaming around the street in hopelessness or otherwise engaging in useless or Hedonistic activities. The image that Ginsberg creates is a world of madness. It is a hopeless, brutal, and chaotic world, where no single event stands out or connects to another, but everything is a fragmented piece of individual misery. You get lost in Ginsberg’s sentence, wondering where this poem is heading to, and realize that it’s not heading anywhere. The parts 2, 3, and the footnote of “Howl” is strikingly different in syntax from the part 1 of the poem. They all repeat a single word or a phrase over and over again, as if saying a prayer or incantation. In part 2, Ginsberg repeats “Moloch” over and over, Moloch being the god of all things ugly in his life and his generation, such as materialism, filth, poverty, war, destruction, etc. In the footnote, he repeats “Holy” over and over; “everything is Holy” according to him. This reveals his disillusionment and deep disappointment with the world. Everything is “Holy” because everything around him is connected to Moloch, the god of all things ugly in life.