“who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,”
The first section of “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg takes us through an adventure that Ginsberg and his friends go through while they attempt to figure out the deeper questions in life. Throughout this section, Ginsberg seems to make it as if his group of intellectuals were using drugs such as peyote and Benzedrine to connect “for the ancient heavenly connection”. (4)
At first I thought that Ginsberg was explaining that these hallucinogenic drugs were an influence to enhance their state of being and connect them more to their spiritual side. Lines 28- 32 seem to be telling a different story of how these “best minds” (1) ended up actually abusing drugs to bring them to a negative state. Ginsberg describes this scenario of him and his friends riding on the subway on Benzedrine. He uses imagery when he writes that they “chained themselves to subways for the endless ride.” (28) When Ginsberg used the word “chained” as the way his group is connected to subway, it made me visualize that his group had very little control over their state of being, similar to how in prison, the officers use chains on their prisoners. The prisoners have a small amount of freedom and chains give it a further negative connotation. This made me believe that Ginsberg recognizes that the drugs aren’t actually an enhancer, but actually a tool that would destroy their intellectual minds. He further proved this point when he said that his group’s brains “all drained of brilliance in the drear light of the Zoo”. (31-32) Ginsberg is saying that the drugs lessened the intelligence, or brilliance, of their brains. He also uses symbolism here when he says that they end up at a zoo. The zoo represents the fact that at the end of the subway ride, him and his friends ends up as mindless as animals.
Furthermore, Ginsberg uses a lot of poetic conventions to prove the case that the drugs his group was using were extremely negative. In lines 28- 32, there is a constant alliteration with the letter B, which is seen with the words Battery, Bronx, Benzedrine, brought, battered, bleak, brain, and brilliance. I think that all these words with the letter B were used to connect to the main drug in these lines: Benzedrine. Ginsberg also uses a clever rhyme with “brain” and “drain”. The rhyme emphasizes that the drug really emptied the brain’s brilliance. Another poetic convention Ginsberg used was assonance from the words “wracked” and “battered”. Not only did the drugs mentally hurt them, but physically as well.
1. Why do you think Ginsberg points out that the subway ends at a “drear light of zoo”? Is it symbolism or it just happened to be that was the last stop?
2. Why does Ginsberg mention that the “noise of wheels and children” bring them down? Why would children be brought up?