I cannot help myself but to find the image of the sunflower scepter in Ginsberg’s Sunflower Sutra to be of great interest to me. To begin my literary ramblings it may help to delve deeper into the title of the poem. In addition to being considered a collection of short statements that make up a larger work, a sutra is also defined as a few pieces of string that hold a much larger object together. In the case of this short poem, it appears that the Sunflower is the ‘sutra’ that is holding Ginsberg’s reality together. He seems frightened and disillusioned with the advancements of modern humanity rushing at him like a speeding train.
As he transfers his visions of Whitman into the sunflower that he sees gazing over the ‘box house hills’, he sees that the natural beauty of man has lessened in the world. It is replaced with the presence of man-made creations that have been forced onto nature (railroad skin, smog of cheek, eyelid of black mis’ry, sooty hand). These things have certainly taken the place of the natural beauty that his beloved Whitman saw in the world. No longer do we have ‘man root’, instead we are faced with ‘milky breasts of cars’.Ginsberg’s poem gives the feel that his Whitman-esque sunflower is the last vestige of a time when truer beauty existed: “A perfect beauty of a sunflower!”
It is at this point that I return to the specific image of the Sunflower scepter. In my reading of this particular passage it immediately struck me as being of similar circumstance to Don Quixote’s famous charge towards the windmills. Both Ginsberg and Quixote have become blind to their reality and see an imaginary foe just beyond the next hill. Both take up their respective weapon and charge forth against the vision that has so displeased them.
While Quixote fights the giants, Ginsberg fights off the oppressive machines and “Deliver(s) my sermon to my soul”, determined to not release the grasp of appreciation of natural beauty that Whitman’s work has given him. While I realize that the scepter is not the most used of weapons, it does symbolize the authority with which Ginsberg carries on his fight.