Class Year


Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Spring 2014

Department 1



Walt Whitman was an enormous influence on Allen Ginsberg, which Lawrence Ferlinghetti recognized at the first public reading of “Howl” in 1955. Leaves of Grass, first published in 1855, featured untitled twelve poems without rhyme, meter, or traditional line breaks. However, acknowledging a single influential figure for a countercultural writer is a somewhat uncommon phenomenon. Countercultural movements and countercultural artists tend to define themselves by standing against the dominant culture, an understandable instinct that yields important insights. Still the link between Ginsberg and Whitman is unmistakable. By analyzing the complex ties between an example of Whitman’s and Ginsberg’s major work and by exploring the personal intricacy of both men’s lives within their own cultural periods, I will reveal how each poet absorbed his country only to be sorely disappointed. Using Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and Ginsberg’s “Howl,” I will compare the startlingly modern use of free verse, poetic convention, and thematic unity in each poem. In addition, an analysis of each poet’s lived experience will provide insight into how these men, who lived a century part, recognized the artistic value of their time in American history and utilized this cultural awareness to fuel their unique contributions to American poetry. Both men grappled with their sexuality, which made them outcasts; they both had strong feelings about the politics of their times; they both sought the companionship of unsavory people; and they both yearned to speak directly about American life. Whitman and Ginsburg cut against the grain of their respective literary and cultural backdrops, and my investigation of their similarities will reveal how their willingness to pursue what Ralph Waldo Emerson called “new topics, new powers, and a new spirit” challenged what their dominate cultures called poetry.


This paper was presented at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research, April 16-18, 2015, at Eastern Washington University.