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Rimbaud and Ginsberg
Rimbaud and Ginsberg as Modern Poets
Anyone who has read a fair sampling of modernist poetry or studied some representative visionary poets has found the experience something of a revelation. Immediately exhilarating for some, initially intimidating for others and, for all of us, a profound departure from traditional literature. According to Rimbaud, for a poet to be absolutely modern he must become a visionary and "a poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless and systematized disorganization of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness, he searches himself, he exhausts within himself all poisons and preserves their quintessences." Rimbaud’s most notable work, "A Season in Hell" is the perfect example of how his choice of lifestyle lent the necessary experiences to be closer to God and ultimately creative poetry. Through the use drugs and other devices, Rimbaud was able to unearth the core of his soul while still being able to capture divine inspiration on paper before delirium set in.
Allen Ginsberg’s greatest work "Howl" is similar to "A Season in Hell" in that it ultimately captures Ginsberg’s life experiences as the reader can but only grasp the means by which such a seemingly chaotic life is conducive to ingenious literature. Among the many similarities between these two poets, the first would be that there was an absent father and a domineering mother. For most, this situation would lead to a child trying to attain control over his surroundings. For Ginsberg and Rimbaud, however, this family life helped create the starting point for their need to understand their world around them.
Both Ginsberg and Rimbaud had many mentors in their early years. Rimbaud’s relationship with Verlaine allowed him to express himself sexually and poetically thus giving him the necessary material to fuel his disorganization of the senses. Among Ginsberg’s many mentors, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burrows and Neil Cassidy, who were equally obsessed with poetry, sex and drugs, helped him to develop his literary voice. The similarities between Rimbaud’s use of absinthe and Ginsberg’s experimentations with Benzedrine, marijuana and homosexually, believed that he, like Rimbaud, was ultimately working toward a great poetic vision which Kerouac called "The New Vision."
In literary terms, Ginsberg follows in Rimbaud’s footsteps with the use of symbolism and free verse. From what we’ve studied in class, the bulk of these poets’ works resemble a colorfully adventurous diary documenting the adventures of two of literatures greatest visionary poets. In William Carlos William’s introduction to "Howl" he writes "Allen Ginsberg, who has gone in his own body through the horrifying experiences described from life in these pages. The wonder of the thing is not that he has survived but that he, from the very depths, has found a fellow whom he can love." And, in a statement, that could adequately describe Rimbaud’s work he writes "hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell."
After a "Season in Hell" and "Howl," both poets mellowed out considerably and began to travel the world. Rimbaud, finding his love of gunrunning in Africa and Ginsberg finding his physical love, Peter Orlovsky. What can we, as the readers, conceptualize about these poets’ life’s works? Why did Rimbaud give up writing? Did he, perhaps, get so close to God that the light was too bright and he decided to be content in a more mundane career. Did Ginsberg attain his own level of expectations in his life’s work or did the events that led up to the creation of "Howl" alter his future work? What we are left with in these poets’ great works is merely a glimpse, however haunting and beautiful, into two human beings attempt to view life in the most spiritual light attainable.
"I high on laughing gas
I’ve been here before
The odd vibration of
The same old universe
The universe is a void
In which there is a dream hole
The dream disappears
The hole closes
It’s the instant of going
Into or coming out of
Existence that is
Important-to catch on
To the secret of the magic
When I was fifteen years old, I discovered the book of Rimbaud’s work in my high school library and was discouraged from reading it by a poet friend of mine twelve years my senior. He, knowing that I took much of my reading to heart, thought that
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Counterculture of the 1960s, Beat poetry, Arthur Rimbaud, North Beach, San Francisco, Allen Ginsberg, Howl, A Season in Hell, Jack Kerouac, Symbolism, Penny Rimbaud, Beat Generation
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