Allen Ginsberg

Allan Ginsberg coms of age during the Eisenhower administration (1953-1961). There are dark cars and dark suits during this time of the Red Scare. Ginsberg is an outcast. He is part of the beat movement. The beat movement is a counter-culture movement that are the predecessor of the hippies, with even less acceptance. Ginsberg is an extreme left. In his poem to his aunt, he talks about singing Communist songs.

The communists are not popula in the 50ís. Senator Joe McCarthy was famous for indicting people whom he believed to be Communists. One such famous couple was Alan and Ethel Rosenburg who were indicted by Senator McCarthy for not only being a Communist, but also, for giving the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Russians.Communism had its heyday in the 30ís-40ís during the depression, when the economic analysis seemed like a reasonable alternative to capitalism. In the 40ís, the United States' relationship to the Communists was that of an ally and friend. The Germans were the enemy. However, after W.W.II, things began to change.

Ginsberg is also Jewish, and was interested in Buddhism. In the 50ís, there were still laws on the books saying that Jews need not apply for certain positions. He was also homosexual in an era which was uptight about sexuality, and he liked to take drugs, as did the beat people of that day. He was an outsider in everyway possible which is reflected in his poetry. In the 50ís, America is like Ozzie and Harriet: middle class, white, hard-working, etc. America was all about conforming, while Ginsberg was all about diversity.

Ginsberg chose Walt Whitman as a hero and guide because he is a poet of everything; Whitman loves diversity. Whitman believed American citizens should not worry about making money, but instead, they should worry about being themselves. "Supermarket in California" looks like Whitmanís poetry due to its long lines. Ginsberg picks a supermarket because it is common American institution invented by Americans. The Supermarket replaces the Open Market. The Open Market made it more expensive to shop. Supermarkets are more sanitary, and more inexpensive.



This is an apostrophe to America.  As in Millay, apostrophe means a direct address to someone or something rather than punctuation. ("I'm addressing you.")

Although we can still see the influence of Whitman, Ginsberg is much less optimistic and positive.  He sees the irony in American life.  Like cummings, he uses typical statements and truisms of the time but twists them to show the irony and self-contradictions.  For example, we are accustomed to people "putting their shoulder to the wheel," but Ginsberg's addition of "queen" (meaning homosexual) makes the saying striking rather than trite.

"Supermarket in California"

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket dreaming of your enumerations.

Ginsberg is hungry, but he is actually shopping for images for his poems. He dreams of the "enumerations" or numbering or listing of things. Whitman used them all the time.

What peaches and what penumbras!  Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes?-and you Garcia Lorca, what are you doing down by the watermelons?

Penumbras are half shadows caused by neon lights.

Garcia Lorca is a Latin American poet. Whitman is very popular in Latin America. Like Ginsberg, Lorca also writes in the Whitman tradition, and is homosexual. It is speculated, but not known whether Whitman is a homosexual.

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.

I heard you asking questions of each? Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my angel?

The last line indicates that Whitman (like Ginsberg, no doubt) is trying to pick up the grocery boys.

I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.

The store detective is the security guard.

We strode down the open corridors in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy and never passing a cashier.

This part of the supermarket is an imaginary place where we do not have to pay. It can be called the Garden of Eden.
Where are you going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?

(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd).

Ginsberg is writing the poem in his room, and he feels ridiculous for writing it.

Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, light out in the houses, weíll both be lonely.

Ginsberg has twice used the word lonely. This is a reflection of how Ginsberg himself felt in a world he didn't fit into.

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love, past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?

Everyone else lives in a house, but Americans live in a cottage. There is a lost America, the America of Whitman. An America of celebrating differences and diversity. We have lost it. Ginsberg is stating that there is too much conformity and not enough indivduality. This is indicated by the blue automobiles. The original Fords were all black.

Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what ?America did you have when Charon quit polling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

The last line means, "What America did you have when you died?" Charon is the old man that carries people across the river of forgetfulness. This was published one hundred years after the first edition of Leaves of Grass was published.