So the whole Bukowski plan of action fell through, new topic!!!
In my paper I will be discussing the connection the importance of the body in the works of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg. I want to depict the important influence that Whitman had on the works of Ginsberg in refection of the human body and the many connotations that it holds for both poets. There are several ways the body peers into each of the poets works. There is how it appears in a sexual context, the subjective body, and views on the body as a sanctuary.
Whitman opened the door for many homosexual poets to explore the realm of homosexual sensuality, something that Ginsberg runs with and illustrates very openly. In his poems, such as “Love Poem on a Theme by Whitman” and “Please Master”, he approaches sex in an almost pornographically explicit way. He feels this exposure is necessary for liberating inter fantasies and exposing the readers mind I will discuss how this is an extension of Whitman’s work and also how it contrasts it.
There is also the role in which the body take on a more political and metaphoric role. Whitman’s body seems to transcend itself and represent a certain sense of democracy. He believes we are all connected and all belong to the body of America, which is stressed in “Song of Myself”, who title hints to personal refection but the content is largely revolved around other people. The body also provided for Whitman a chance to critic the civil war, largely by portraying a physical form that it wounded or sick as we see in several of his “Drum Tap” poems. Ginsberg also carries with him varied array of political messages through his descriptions of the physical form which I will discuss more thoroughly in my paper.
Both poets feel strongly about the physical body being a spiritual thing. Ginsberg’s feelings of nakedness seem like an almost religious and sublime cleansing process. He felt the frankness and honesty in a naked body helped purify the mind and soul. This openness and extreme honesty is seen again and again in his works. Whitman’s feelings on the physical body as being a sacred and deeply religious thing that he celebrates. He also felt that the hygiene and the health were very important, for if your cathedral is not healthy, your soul will not be healthy—so there is a great stress on hygiene and fitness in his works.
Since I am also writing on Whitman and Ginsberg, I thought I might share an interesting quote I found that relates to both of our topics. The quote comes from Robert K. Martin’s book, The Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry.
“In Ginsberg the desire for religious vision is transformed into a desire to be fucked, whereas in Whitman the experience of sexual pleasure leads to greater understanding of the world… Ginsberg links his (Whitman’s) passive sexuality to his poetics.” (Martin 167)
Martin is discussing Whitman’s influence on Ginsberg and how both men understand and express their sexuality differently. You mentioned times in Ginsberg’s poetry where he speaks of sex so explicitly that it is almost pornographic, and I agree that this is an attempt at liberating the homosexual from his place of marginalization and exclusion from mainstream society. You talked about how his use of explicit language is a way of purifying the body and soul, but I think it was also a way to purify the country of its inane beliefs about homosexuality.
Martin also talks about how much critics have chosen to overlook the aspects of Whitman’s poetry that can be read in a homosexual context, or have simply analyzed them in a different context. The Calamus poems are often left off a Whitmanian syllabus entirely. I believe much of Ginsberg’s frustration with Whitman comes from the fact that he is trumpeted as this forefather for queer poets, and yet much of his poetry is intentionally ambiguous. Ginsberg wanted to say it how he saw it, he did not want there to be any ambiguity in his message.
Sex is not something that can be compartmentalized, and this belief is apparent in both Whitman and Ginsberg’s poetry. For better of for worse, one’s sexual orientation is impacted both by ones religious and political orientation as well. Just as these aspects of our lives are interconnected, so are we all as human beings. If we continue to persecute and marginalize homosexuals in both the religious and political sphere we will never be able to recognize the Whitmanian vision of a unified, glorious America.
I love your focus on the body and the many different forms the body takes because Whitman and Ginsberg are so uniquely similar in this manner. It’s amazing that the two poets compare the body in much the same way despite living in two completely different religious, cultural, and political times. Whitman and Ginsberg’s connection in terms of representing the “body” proves that times may change, yet something such as the “body” remains ever present- an idea I think each poet would treasure.