Analysis of The Voices of a Generation

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Robert Creeley and Allen Ginsberg were both born in 1926. Both men would become two of the best-known poets of the mid-twentieth century, although Ginsberg has attained greater fame and a larger following than Creeley, his counterpart was still widely admired among his fellow poets. As both poets were born in the same year, it would be fair to assume that both were shaped by the shifting cultural waves of the 1940s and 1950s. According to Christopher Bookman in his analysis of American Culture and Society Since the 1930s, many people became disenchanted with the idea of Communism and Fascism, instead choosing not to dedicate their lives to the Will of the State. [1] This was personified in the anti-war movement of the 1960's after the US government had already launched several pre-emptive campaigns against the spread of Communism in Korea and Viet Nam. At this point in time, the nation was turning away from blind patriotism and embracing the ideals of personal spirituality, peace, and love. Allen Ginsberg one of the primary representatives of the free love movement. In his book Spontaneous Mind, the Ginsberg interviews were put together in one novel. At his first anti-war protest, one reporter asked him if he felt the cause of strife in the world was due to the 'lack of compassion and love.' He answered, 'Yes, Ernie, not enough people make love.' When asked who he would make love to, he responded, 'Anybody I can sleep with, anybody who'll have me.' [2] By contrast, Robert Creeley was raised in a strict, Puritanical family that did not discuss sexual matters. Although shy and taciturn as a child, once he had fallen in love with his wife, he was able to talk to anyone. However, expressing himself via poetry had always eluded him until he started smoking marijuana. [3] In the mid-twentieth century, artistic vision was often equated with exposure to psychoactive substances. However, one cannot argue that these men could fail to be inspired by anything.

Cultural Influences

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In the United States, the post-war generation up through the 1980's were a time of great social and cultural change. The ideological conflict between the Capitalist Americans and the Communist Soviets escalated into the Cold War. The world was waiting with baited breath for the big bomb to drop and annihilate all life on Earth, as we knew it. These times also saw the end of the American Apartheid of the South as African-Americans were granted basic Civil Rights by the government and the gay rights movement was gaining steam during the 1960s and 1970s.

Although the poets we are featuring in this discussion have been active before and after this tumultuous age, our discussion will focus on this time because that is when they exerted the most influence on the local culture. The 1960's were a time of great contradictions. There was the faction in search of spiritual enlightenment through contemplation, meditation, and abandoning the 'rat race' to live a more simple life. On the other hand, others were painfully aware of the transitory nature of life and youth and revelled in the sensory pleasures of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Allan Ginsberg's 'First Party at Ken Kesey's with Hell's Angels' typified the latter whilst 'The Innocence' by Robert Creeley was more representative of the former.

Stylistic Elements

In Ginsberg's 'First Party at Ken Kesey's With Hell's Angels,' the language is quite simple and the punctuation is only used to mark the end of a thought rather than the end of a line. The speaker seems detached from the situation, observing the action around him (or her) without participating. As the omniscient observer, there is the sense that everyone in this scene is exactly where he or she is supposed to be. He observes the groups of separate people and the scene in the style of an Oriental painting where the scene is important and the individual players have an insignificant part. Actually, he fails to focus on any specific individual save the 'muscular smooth skinned man sweating and dancing for hours.' [4] There is also a sense of the cinematic, where the setting is shown in a rather panoramic fashion then groups of people are featured on the outside, then on the inside, coming to rest on a singular character before panning out again to the night where the police cars are waiting to ruin the perfect moment of Bacchaenalen bliss. Although the imagery typifies the chaotic parties of college students and drug addicts, at the same time there is a sense of a surreal as the 'beer cans bent littering the yard' is juxtaposed against the image of 'children sleeping softly in their bedroom bunks and 'the red lights of the police cars revolving in the leaves.' Each person clearly has their part to play in this drama, even though they do not yet know exactly what the outcome of the night would be, except that at some time the music and dancing must stop as the authorities representing the outside world intrudes upon their private party.

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Like Ginsberg, Creeley also takes a detached point of view in his work 'The Innocence.' However, unlike Ginsberg, his speaker enters the poem at the end speaking of 'what I come to do is partial, partially kept." [5] We are not entirely sure what the speaker had come to do at the edge of the ocean, however, there is a profound awareness of nature, from the ocean and mountains to the sky, leaves, and mist and that his actions will have very little impact in the long-run (partially kept). In the 1960s, many were influenced by Eastern art and philosophy. Rather than focussing on a particular individual, group, or space in nature, these artists give the greatest attention to the whole and the least attention to themselves, if they even show up at all in the context of the poem as something other than an observer. Though not explicitly stated or implied, it appears as though the speaker is aware of his own insignificance and relative newness or 'innocence' as compared with the vastness of the ocean, the ancient mountains that have formed over several million years. We live within this context, no a permanent fixture than the mist over the water.

Conclusions

Implicit in Ginsberg's and Creeley's work is the rejection of the materialistic values that typified American society in the Post-war era. These ideas were always powerfully and simply expressed, devoid of the flowery innuendo of poets past. Among scholars, this led to the discussion of what poetry was and what it was not. Luckily, whilst they were still living, Ginsberg, Creeley, and their counterparts were recognised as innovators in lyrical poetry in the twentieth century. According to the critics, 'Whether they were novelists or just intellectual pundits at large, what these writers all had in common was the ascendancy of "modern literature," which has been more destructive of bourgeois standards than Marxism, was naturally international-minded, and in a culture bored with middle-class rhetoric upheld the primacy of intelligence and the freedom of the imagination.' [6] This was quite a fitting tribute to their creative vision.