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Howl: A Protest Poem

Updated on November 28, 2016

Howl is a definite protest poem written in 1955 by Allen Ginsberg. It has been said that this poem was written as a performance piece, but there is no evidence to back these findings. Howl was written during a time of the Beat generation, and during a time when people began challenging authority. This poem is an excellent poem and can be read during any time period and still stand as a strong and powerful work of literature.

Now for a poem that is considered one of the greatest works of American Literature, Ginsberg sure did ruffle many feathers with his outspoken, unchained language. When the poem was first published and distributed it was not received well by authoritative figures. In March of 1957 about 520 copies of the poem were confiscated because the authorities deemed this poem to be obscene and promiscuous. "An account of the trial was published by Ferlinghetti's lead defense attorney Jake Ehrlich in a book called Howl of the Censor. The 2010 film Howl depicts the events of the trial. James Franco stars as the young Allen Ginsberg and Andrew Rogers portrays Ferlinghetti." ( The poem had only been published for a few years and was already brought under scrutiny.

This obscene title that Howl received didn't stop in the United States, in Finland the poem received a similar reaction. In 1969 the poem was broadcasted on Yleisradio, which was a public broadcasting company in Finland. This company had once been owned by parliament, but during the time of the broadcast "it was considered a bastion of left-minded editors and "radicalists", especially because of Eino S. Repo, the president of Yleisradio. So the Howl broadcast provided the right-wing politicians a good reason to question the operations of Yleisradio in general, especially in the light of the parliamentary election next year. There was a heated debate in the parliament and in the press in late 1969 concerning the educational role of the public service radio station that Yleisradio is, and the artistic value of Ginsberg's poem, whether it is art or mere pornography. The debate seemed to boil down to the question of which words could be allowed in public-service radio." ( The members of parliament were offended by this poem and it's lack of modesty and delicacy. They saw this poem as one that promoted homosexuality and drug use and that was something that was frowned upon in Finland. In fact, during this time homosexuality was still illegal in Finland so this poem raised many questions.

In both of these cases no one suffered any hard time. In the case in the U.S. Ferlinghetti ended up winning and in Finland the station got a slap on the wrist and were told to keep a more watchful eye on the items they choose for broadcasting.


In part 1 of the poem Ginsberg seems to be protesting against conforming to the masses, while doing an analysis on the people being described within the poem. I love the image of druggies strolling down allies in search for an "angry fix", and his bold words and phrases make me come alive when I'm reading the poem. How can one simply put down a poem once they get to a line like, "let themselves be fucked in the ass..." that screams continue to read, it gets better. That's what drew me into the poem because you would never find something so obscene and taboo in Whitman or Frost, everything with them is sugar-coated or written in some sort of beautiful code that no one would suspect.

Ginsberg was a poet who wanted to challenge the world of the written word. He seems to be someone who wants that shock and awe factor and will go to the extremes in order to achieve that type of reading from his work. His political statements hidden within his unlimited pages strikes the reader like a knife and stays with them for hours, or maybe even days.

Part 1 is also a personal part of the poem because the content is taken from the different experiences in Ginsberg's life and also "from the community of poets, artists, political radicals, jazz musicians, drug addicts, and psychiatric patients whom he encountered in the late 1940s and early 1950s."( This section is graphic as Ginsberg describes in great detail all of these experiences, including drug use and homosexual activity; which could be why his poem was considered obscene and held under a microscope for evaluation which led to a trial in more than one country.

Allen Ginsberg


In part 2 I love how Ginsberg opens up with the idea of all of the imagination and intelligence being sucked from the minds of people through cement and aluminum. It's as if in this world of technology and steel, one's mind and imagination is useless. In this part of the poem Ginsberg is concerned about the current state of our world, he fears that the characters from part 1, the free spirits, will be sacrificed to this new world. Ginsberg identifies these industrial characters as Moloch; and Moloch is like an idol who one has to give in to. "Ginsberg was inspired to write Part II during a period of peyote-induced visionary consciousness in which he saw a hotel fa├žade as a monstrous and horrible visage which he identified with that of Moloch, the Biblical idol in Leviticus to whom the Canaanites sacrificed children." ( It seems that Ginsberg is saying that everything is damned because the world is too caught up in this ideal perfect world of suburbia, cities, political and religious hipocracy, to realize the bullshit being placed in front of them.

This part is one of my favorite parts because is show how Ginsberg is concerned about the current state of things and of the current state of creativity itself. It's scary to see technology taking over ones ability to imagine things bigger than them, and I think this part of the poem illustrates that idea.

Movie Trailer Howl

Movie trailer of Howl. It's a movie staring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg and is about his most famous poem Howl and the controversy behind the poems publication.


Which is your favorite part?

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Part 3 is one that always confuses me because it doesn't seem to match the tone of Part 1 or 2. This one seems to be jumping away from the dark place part 2 takes the readers to and to a new place. "Part III, in relation to Parts I, II, and IV is "a litany of affirmation of the Lamb in its glory," according to Ginsberg. It is directly addressed to Carl Solomon, whom Ginsberg met during a brief stay at a psychiatric hospital in 1949; called "Rockland" in the poem, it was actually Columbia Presbyterian Psychological Institute." (

Then there is the Footnote, which seems to be an after thought. It was as if Ginsberg had the whole poem constructed and got an idea, but didn't want to disrupt the structure of his completed work so he added this part at the end.


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