The End of the Beat Generation: A Reflection of the Past and Looking to the Future

May 20 09:24 2011 Brian J. Smith Print This Article

Ginsberg, Allen. “Memory Gardens”. Collected Poems 1947-1997. New York:      HarperCollins Publishers, 2006. 539-542. Print. 

A common and reoccurring theme of Modernist poetry is reflecting on the past as a period in time that was full of prosper and potential; to Modernists,Guest Posting the past was seen as the “Golden” age of time. A reflection of the past in the Beat’s present day is evident in Allen Ginsberg’s poem, “Memory Gardens”. Ginsberg’s “Memory Gardens” also serves to look into the future – however bleak it may be – and to comment on issues, such as writing, war, and industrialization, that were relevant during the Beat generation; these issues were also very common – most notably, industrialization – during the Modernist period. Allen Ginsberg’s “Memory Gardens” serves to connect the past with the present: Modernism with Post-Modernism. The writings from the Beat generation comment on issues that were relevant  during the generation: post-war relief, pre-Cold War paranoia, as well as the attitude of the people living in the generation. In Allen Ginsberg’s “Memory Gardens”, Ginsberg comments on the heyday of the Beat generation and its movements influential members: Can I go back in time & lay my head on a teenage / belly upstairs on 100th Street? / or step off the iron car with Jack / at the blue-tiled Columbia sign? (ll. 71-74). Furthermore, Ginsberg utilizes the heyday of the Beat generation and its influential members to comment on the death of one of the generation’s more influential members, Jack Kerouac: “Kerouac’s obituary conserves Time’s / Front Paragraphs—“ (ll. 79-80). Ginsberg also uses the death of Jack Kerouac to delve into the past – before the influential Beats became well-known for their works and ideologies: “Jack no more’ll step off at Penn Station / anonymous erranded, eat sandwich / & drink beer near New Yorker Hotel” (ll. 57-59). Moreover, Ginsberg’s emphasis of Jack Kerouac’s death allows for him to comment on issues of industrialization and general beliefs of the Beats. The issue of industrialization reoccurs throughout Ginsberg’s “Memory Gardens”: “Glass buildings rising higher / transparent / aluminium—“ (ll. 46-48) and “artificial trees, robot sofas, Ignorant cars—“ (ll. 49-50). Ginsberg’s thoughts and imagery of industrialization in “Memory Gardens” is commentary on the continuous over-industrialization of the world and its destruction towards natural resources; this issue and concern was also shared by the Modernists, and is evident in their poetry. Ginsberg also comments on the sexual liberation that the Beats were known for promoting during their generation: “Sexual cocked & horny bodied young” (l. 63), as well as the treatment experienced by authoritative figures: “and the rednecked sheriff beat the longhaired / boy on the ass” (ll. 67-68). Ultimately, Ginsberg’s “Memory Gardens” places emphasis on what is important and what is seen as being important: to Ginsberg, the death of Jack Kerouac and the heyday of the Beat generation are events that are quintessential to our history, although in reality the world continues, and events that are less important become priority: “… & Time has a ten-page spread on / Homosexual Fairies” (ll. 114-115). This questioning of what is important and what is seen as being important could perhaps be commentary on the future and to ask ourselves: “is this truly important?” 

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About Article Author

Brian J. Smith
Brian J. Smith

I am a writer of poetry and fiction from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I am an undergraduate from Mount Saint Vincent University with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Writing. You can visit my personal website at: http://www.brianjsmith.ca.

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