Whitman’s and Ginsberg’s Poems Comparison

Whitman’s “Song of Myself” expresses many ideas of American transcendentalism. Transcendentalism makes a strong accent on the divinity of nature. Whitman also gives long descriptions of nature which serves to more serious purpose than reflection of author’s mood.

Nature has a very important meaning for Whitman and he uses it to find answers to many important questions of existence. Nature is regarded as wise and harmonious part of Cosmos and he turns to naturalism many times explaining his inner state or important concepts.

Transcendental, general character of experiences described by Whitman in his poem is another peculiar characteristic of this literary trend.

Whitman believes that speaking about personal experience is the best way to get to the hearts of his readers because he describes transcendental feelings which go beyond the limits of one separate human and become common for all people.

Allen Ginsberg expresses ideas of Beat generation in his famous poem “Howl”. He speaks about the people who are treated by the society as outcasts but, in the author’s mind, make the best part of the society. He speaks about his colleagues, musicians, radical politicians, drug addicts and other people who did not live in accordance with social norms and regulations. The author opposes them to people who are considered to be the best part of the society. As he states:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix” (Ginsberg).

The same way as Whitman’s poem, Ginsberg’s “Howl” is deeply personal. He gives a sketch of the epoch from the inside. Readers can get an idea about the time from the person he sharply feels himself as a part of this history. Ginsberg feels the switch in the minds of people. He feels that rational and epoch of the 1950s is changed by people with free spirits and free minds. These people are the main characters of the first chapter of his poem.

Whitman does not count on external sources of wisdom. He believes that he himself is an endless source of wisdom and plunges deep into himself for better understanding of internal and external world. “I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you, And you must not be abased to the other“(Whitman 82-83).

In contrast to Whitman who speaks about his inner world, Ginsberg speaks about an external world but at the same time he gives his personal response to everything he speaks about.

Whitman’s poem is full of symbols and metaphors which help the author to investigate his inner nature and to share this experience with his readers. Transcendentalism  emerged in the nineteenth century in England and later affected many American artists including Walt Whitman. Whitman’s writing does not follow formal logic. His ideas are not put in strict order. “Song of Myself” is rather a stream of consciousness writing which combines autobiographical data, reflections, confession and meditations of the author. This kind of writing is peculiar to transcendentalism. Grass mentioned in the six stanza is used to describe several levels of meaning.  The author speaks about the death using this metaphor. Trying to answer the question of the child Whitman starts thinking about many people who are buried deep in the ground and grow as grass now. He describes pictures of death and speaks about people who are dead now. At the same time he ends stanza stating that dead people  “are alive and well somewhere, The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,  And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it, And ceas’d the moment life appear’d. “ (Whitman 70)  These lines perfectly reflect his idea that there are things which can not be demolished and that though people die, “All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses” and symbolism helps him to fulfill this purpose.


For Whitman the poetry becomes a mean to express himself. He uses a poem as a mean to discover himself and share his experience with other readers. Idealism, which is a peculiar characteristic of transcendentalism can be found in this poem. Despite Whitman does not recognize himself as idealist and even states that he is ready to worship “the spread of my own body,” his poem is filled with spirit of some transcendental power which has influence on everything he writes, does and thinks. The poem speaks about relations between spirit and material world. Whitman does not speak about any supreme power but rich symbolism helps to get Whitman’s vision of many important things.

Ginsberg’s poem is a declaration which gives readers Ginsberg’s vision of his epoch. The author passes all ideas which appear in his mind when he thinks about life and people around him. The poem is a reflection of the epoch in the mind of one person. The author does not only show the decline of the old way of life. He also shows the new path. He describes his friends as representatives of a new epoch, as people who can bring life a new spirit to the stagnation of the 1950s and, thus, show the new way to all people.

Whitman and Ginsberg chose the way of experiment and their effort resulted in new and interesting works which broadened the  horizons of art and literature. Whitman in his poem tries to investigate his inner world and makes an attempt to give readers an access to this world.  Ginsberg uses special rhythm and poem structure trying to describe the spirit of his epoch and great changes which occur in the minds of people around him.



Like other transcendentalists Whitman overcomes the abilities of languages. “Speech is the twin of my vision, it is unequal to measure itself, / It provokes me forever, it says sarcastically, / Walt you contain enough, why don’t you let it out then?”Â  (Whitman 69). He wants to pass his feelings, emotions directly to his audience, to build an invisible bride between hearts of his readers, but he has to look for linguistic means to do so. Like other transcendentalists Whitman looks for the way to overcome means of language, which are not enough for him.

He wants to break limits between himself and other people.

“Howl” is written in a form of free verse. Ginsberg also uses stream of consciousness technique in his poem. His main idea when creating the poem was to pass his toughs and feelings to the readers in a free and spontaneous way without any restrictions. His poem has unusual structure. Long sentences are organized in special order creating clear rhythm and intonation. Ginsberg himself later states that long lines used in the poem became his experiment aiming to create one linguistic unite. The length of the lines in the poem is regulated by the length of the breath. Another peculiar characteristics is the repeated use of “who” in this part of the poem. This word becomes a unite which unites different elements, different people and different notions. It can be compared to one idea which united together the representatives of the Beat Generation. As Ginsberg himself wrote about the use of “who”: “I depended on the word ”˜who’ to keep the beat, a base to keep measure, return to and take off from again onto another streak of invention” (Ginsberg, 2000, 154).

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