Beginning Postmodern Poetry

AFTER you listen the (rather long) Mini Lecture 6, and read the linked notes, explore these questions as we begin postmodern American poetry.

 

How is mental illness represented in Ginsberg’s Howl, Lowell’s “Waking in the Blue” and/or “Home After Three Months Away,” and Plath’s “Lady Lazarus”? How does the speaker of each poem, and his or her sense of crisis, compare to the multiple speakers and sense of crisis in The Waste Land? Do you notice any other significant similarities and differences? Discuss Howl AND your choice of a poem by Plath OR Lowell. Analyze specific lines (NOT those from Howl that I discuss in my mini lecture notes), paying attention to the speaker, word choice, and any figurative language.

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64 Comments

  1. In Howl, mental illness is a prominent discussion, but I think the most interesting appearance of mental illnesses is the use of ampersands (&). Sometimes Ginsberg uses just a simple “and” while others he uses an ampersand, and my theory is he does this to show the romanticism of mental illness instead of the reality. For example, when discusses his mother, the narrator states, “with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out the tenement window,” but in earlier lines, he writes “who demanded sanity trails accusing the radio of hypnotism & were left with their insanity” (li. 71, 65). In the Mini Lecture, Professor MacArthur mentions Ginsberg’s regret from approved a lobotomy for his delusional mother, so this quotation from Howl seems to reference that, making the reader assume at this portion he is referencing repercussions of real mental illness. In the other line, he almost does seem to be making fun of these people who went to trial for radio hypnotism.

    In Home After Three Months Away, Lowell seems to be referencing at least depression, especially in the line “Three stories down below,/ a choreman tends our coffin’s length of soil,/ and seven horizontal tulips blow.” Other portions off the poem seem to suggest the narrator spent time in an asylum or jail cell with “Though I am forty-one,/ not forty now, the time I put away/ was child’s play.” This could mean the narrator had a mental breakdown or suicide attempt and was sent to live in a mental hospital for three months.

    The chaotic nature of Ginsberg’s poem resonates themes of Eliot for me. Howl also jumped around a lot, possibly having multiple narrators, similar to Eliot. I did not see a lot of similarity between Lowell and Eliot, except maybe in tone and longing for the past. In all three poems, there is a desolate, hopeless tone with the narrator.

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    1. I agree with you that it was interesting the way Ginsberg used ampersands to reflect mental illness. I think that does depict him talking about mental illness. I also agree that in Lowell’s poem that narrator does seem to have spent sometime in an asylum.

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    2. I agree on “Home After three Month Away,” the speaker did have a mid-life crisis because his mental illness was not cured from the treatments he had. His mental state have gotten worse making him incapable to interact well to his daughter. He had a fragile mental state.

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    3. Ginsberg’s chaotic nature also reminds of Eliot’s The Waste Land as well. But rather than the world-is-ending chaos that Eliot writes about, Ginsberg is most likely referring to a chaos within a society. I believe that also comes from the fact that Ginsberg focuses more on the people and not the world itself.

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    4. Your discussion of Ginsberg’s use of ampersands is quite intriguing. I’d read the poem multiple times and had not considered that the use of ampersands could represent anything quite like that. It definitely gave me a new insight into a poem that I was struggling to analyze fully, which is why I think discussions like these are highly valuable.

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    5. I had not considered Ginsberg’s use of ampersands. I actually didn’t notice that he switched between that and the use of the word “and” in Howl until I read your response. Going back and looking at the poem with that in mind, I also think it is possible that he does so to romanticize mental illness.

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    6. Ginsberg’s decision to selectively use the ampersand is something I hadn’t even noticed prior to reading this analysis. The theory is very interesting and the tying it in to perhaps a romantisizing of mental illness is one I would absolutely agree with.

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  2. In “Home After Three Months Away” and “Lady Lazarus” mental illness is represented by the way each speaker speaks of his/her own experiences. In Lowell’s poem the speaker tells of a time when he was put in a mental hospital and was away from his daughter. However, even though the speaker was suppose to be getting help it actually did not help him at all which is shown in this line, “I keep no rank nor station. / Cured, I am frizzled, stale and small.” Even though the speaker has gone through all this it has actually made him worse. This represents how mental illness was not effectively treated at this time. In Plath’s poem the speaker seems to speaking of the times the tried to kill themselves and how it never worked. It gives a look into the mind of someone who is suffering from a mental illness, “You poke and stir. / Flesh, bone, there is nothing there–“. That line seems to be describing how someone can physically be somewhere but in there mind that are not there at all. It is describing a feeling of emptiness, which gives a look into how someone with a mental illness feels. I think these poems are different from the “Wasteland” because each poem only have one point of view instead of multiple.

    I thought “Howl” was interesting. I especially thought the first part was interesting because he kept using the word “who.” Ginsberg started almost every line with “who” in the first part of the poem. I thought that helped to keep the rhythm of the poem but it also seem to show a stream of thought. It conveyed the speakers on going thoughts about drugs addiction, political radicals, and so on.

    Plath’s poem “Metaphors” is short but is a very deep poem. From the outside it really seems like a bunch of metaphors strung together, but it is really telling how the speaker feels about being pregnant. It starts by describing the pregnancy, “I’m a riddle in nine syllables, / An elephant, a ponderous house,” and then goes on to describe how the speaker feels about being pregnant, “I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf. / I’ve eaten a bag of green apples, / Boarded the train there’s no getting off.” The speaker feels like she is being used, like her only job is to make and hold this baby that is growing inside her.

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    1. I thought found it interesting that the speakers in each of the poems addressed mental illness in their own way. For example, the speakers in Plath’s and Lowell’s poems were open about their constant battle with illness. The speaker in Plath’s poem addressed her intent to end her life; while the speaker in Lowell’s focuses on how he still does not feel cured.

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    2. “Home After Three Months Away” was cool to read. I think it was interesting how it went from him giving his daughter a bath to questioning his own mentality. I thought it was interesting how Ginsberg started each of line in the first part of Howl with “who” as well.

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    3. I like your analysis on Plath’s poem. It does show the point of view of the person suffering from a mental illness. It also shows the reader how a suicidal person thinks and feels. I also thought it was interesting how Ginsberg would start off with the word “who” in almost every line. It did help show the speaker’s stream of thought.

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    4. I also thought it was interesting how the speaker in part I of Howl began every sentence with “who”. It did help the reader keep the rhythm of the poem, just as some of the past poems we have looked at for this class. I also thought it conveyed a train of thought.

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  3. Ginsberg begins his poem with mental illness, (“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness”) peppers it into the poem consistently and finishes with a section specifically dedicated to fellow writer and institutionalized figure Carl Solomon, whose mental journey he follows. The use of electroshock therapy, specifically, is found in Plath’s, Ginsberg’s, and Lowell’s poems. Ginsberg writes, “I’m with you in Rockland/ where fifty more shocks will never return your soul to its body again from its pilgrimage to a cross in the void,” in reference to the shock treatment Solomon had to receive while institutionalized. From Ginsberg’s perspective, Solomon’s creative genius is so beyond the normal sphere of medically sanctioned sanity that even repeated exposure to this treatment cannot alter his mental state. Ginsberg’s ending to Howl (second to last stanza) is reminiscent of Eliot’s ending of The Waste Land, as Ginsberg writes, “I’m with you in Rockland/ where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes roaring over the roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the hospital illuminates itself imaginary walls collapse O skinny legions run outside O starry-spangled shock of mercy the eternal war is here O victory forget your underwear we’re free.” Here the falling walls and freeing destruction echo Eliot’s destruction of his Unreal City: “What is the city over the mountains / Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air / Falling towers / Jerusalem Athens Alexandria / Vienna London / Unreal.” (Ginsberg’s invocation of Moloch in Howl II in reference to “robot apartments,” “blind capitals,” and other societal evils also mirrors Eliot’s Unreal City.) The rebirth in destruction is similar to the freedom of destruction; the deadened city that held the people of The Waste Land captive becomes the institution that contained Ginsberg and Solomon in Howl.
    Plath similarly evokes the idea of regeneration after death in “Lady Lazarus,” although from a biographical perspective we can determine that this ending held a different meaning for the author. After describing her various attempts at suicide, placing her doctor as her enemy, and affirming her cat-like immortality, Plath ends the poem with the lines, “Out of the ash/ I rise with my red hair/ And I eat men like air.” Comparing herself to the phoenix, Plath erupts from her death with fiery determination and devours her enemies (here, both her doctors and her spectators). She also discusses electroshock therapy, describing the experience as such: “‘A miracle!’/ That knocks me out./ There is a charge”. Here the “charge” is both the bolt of electricity shocking her system and the cost of her treatment, both financially and emotionally/physically. Earlier comparing her medical viewing to a circus show, (“peanut-crunching crowd”) the charge also becomes the cost that the “brutes” and enemies of the speaker must pay to witness her madness.

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    1. I agree that “Lady Lazarus” did attempt to do suicide and that she viewed her own doctor as her enemy.She viewed the death as a work of art and this shows how mentally ill she was because she would try attempt suicide and that was easy for her to do. She had really bad experiences in mental hospital and her mentality got worse afterwards. I really like the detail description of your response.

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    2. Your reading of the final lines of Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” as a form of regeneration after death is something I hadn’t considered in my own reading, but is definitely an interesting thing to consider. I had considered her mention of having nine lives similar to a cat to be a sort of lamentation of how she is unable to successfully commit suicide, but the idea that she has this sort of stubborn immortality is also a very intriguing analysis.

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    3. This was a beautiful comparison with both Howl and Lady Lazarus. For some reason, I didn’t see the connection between the line in Howl to The Waste Land, though it seems so obvious when you point it out. I agree with what you argued as well. It is a little strange that Plath seems to compare herself to the rising phoenix but later succeeds in committing suicide.

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    4. I really enjoyed your connections to the poem “The Waste Land”. I didn’t think of those connections and it makes those poems a bit more clear. Well done.

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  4. In Ginsberg’s Howl, mental illness is represented by the people he is talking about throughout the poem. “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness” (Ginsberg, 9) refers to the musicians and radical artists that became psychiatric patients because of drugs. Ginsberg doesn’t see the people who are labeled “mentally ill” and sees someone to shun, but rather people who are under appreciated in their time and need to be celebrated. All in all, this poem was very different compared to the poems we have read so far, but I think it is a good different. The mentioning of homosexuals “who, [apparently],let themselves be f**ked in the a** by saintly / motorcyclists, and screamed with joy” (Ginsberg, 13) threw me for a loop, but I guess that is something to expect from postmodern poetry.

    Mental illness in Robert Lowell’s “Waking in the Blue,” is represented by the speaker’s own experience with being mentally ill. Lowell doesn’t go into detail about HOW he ended up at a special hospital but focuses more on what goes on in the hospital. I believe Lowell doesn’t think fondly of his fellow patients because of his, “in the pinched, indigenous faces / of these thoroughbred mental cases,” (Lowell) comment. Lowell poem sounds sad and bitter because as he and the men become older, he and the others are slowly becoming unaware of who they once were. In Lowell’s other poem titled “Home After Three Months Away” as he is giving his daughter a bath, he begins to think about his fragile mental state. The line at the end of the poem which says, “Cured, I am frizzled, stale and small” (Lowell) refers to even if he technically “cured” he still feels horrible. Both poems were interesting to read compared to the previous poems so far. It interesting that these postmodern poems touch on such delicate topics.

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    1. I thought the homosexual comments were interesting as well and am curious as to whether this poem was written before or after he came out as gay. Lowell’s “Waking in the Blue” seems almost hypocritical since he too is in a asylum. It doesn’t make sense for him to judge the others in the same hospital just because he wants to feel better than them.

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    2. I like your views on Lowell’s “Waking in the Blue”, I also agree with your idea of the poem’s tone being bitter. I loved the imagery of his last line describing the man in the hospital as “frizzled, stale and small”. Nice work.

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    3. I thought it was good to make clear that the narrator of “Howl” is not actually mad himself, but the people he interacts with are. The narrator is telling the story from an outside perspective, relaying the reader his OWN experience. The audience is unable to interpret how these people personally feel, because the story does not include their first-person accounts and feelings.

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  5. Mental illness is a prominent topic in Binsberg’s Howl and Plath’s “Lady Lazarus”. In Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”, the speaker of the poem how he has seen mental illness affect those around him; these observations are based on Ginsberg’s own experiences with mental illness. The speaker recalls seeing people “screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and anecdotes”; this seems to describe people with schizophrenia or something similar. Ginsberg uses repetition which is also a technique many Modernist authors used, including Eliot. The speakers of The Waste Land seemed to speak about their sense of crisis in a calmer matter. They seemed to want to take time to consider all the best solutions to their problems. In Howl, the speaker is looking for a solution to his crisis with a sense of urgency. As was pointed out in the mini lecture, Ginsberg uses very little punctuation which gives the poem a sense of urgency. The speaker of part three of Howl is declaring his solidarity with Carl Solomon and proclaims that he is with him “where fifty more shocks will never return your soul to its body again from its pilgrimage to a cross the void”. The line then immediately starts into the next line without pause. This make the speaker sound desperate for a solution to the cruelties the mental ill had to endure during this time.
    Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus”, like Howl, is based on the author’s experience with mental illness. The speaker describes her three suicide attempts and believes that “like a cat she [I] has [have] nine times to die”. This shows that the speaker believes that she will come back again if she does die. Unlike the speaker in Howl, the speaker here does not seem to be desperately looking for a cure for her crisis. In fact, she believes that if she is successful in her suicide attempt she will be reborn a more powerful being. The speaker believes that after she dies she will return “out of the ash I rise with my red hair and I eat men like air”. The phoenix reference shows that the speaker believes she will come back strong and powerful enough to destroy her enemies. The speaker of Lady Lazarus is different from the multiple speakers in The Waste Land. She knows how to end her crisis and is trying to get to that point; whereas, the speakers of The Waste Land were all contemplating how to find a solution to their crisis.

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    1. I agree that “Lady Lazarus” is based on the author’s own experience. I think she does believe she will come back again if she dies. I also agree that she does not seem to be looking for a cure and that death will make her come back as something else.

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  6. Mental illness is evident in Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” throughout the poem and even in the biblical reference of Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ. The speaker tells of her failed suicide attempts that happens once every ten years, and speaks of how her thoughts of killing her self do not take away from who she is as a person. “Gentlemen, ladies these are my hands my knees. I may be skin and bone, nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.” In Lowell’s “Home After Three Months Away”, the speaker recounts his own battles with mental illness and his three month stint in a mental institution. He regrets the time he had to spend away from his young daughter, and explains that he doesn’t necessarily feel cured: “I keep no rank nor station. Cured, I am frizzled, stale and small”.

    In Howl, Ginsberg references mental illness specifically related to his mother in real life. Ginsberg knows mental illness up close and personally as he had his mother committed and lobotomized. The speaker references sanity here: “who demanded sanity trails…” and later “with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy”.

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    1. I really loved that you pointed out Plath recognizing her mental illness while simultaneously making note that it does not make her a “lesser” being. I completely agree and think her piece was not only a mode of self expression but perhaps a way to start a conversation about depression and suicide which are typically topics most people squirm away from

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  7. Ginsberg’s Howl, poems represents mental illness by showing that people common notion of sanity in their head. He shows that people in society that see mental illness are usually misunderstood. Howl uses his past and present experience to write his poetry. He is inspired by the madness mentally ill people to write his poetry. You get the perspective when Howl is describing about someone’s insanity and the delusion they may have. On A Supermarket in California, an example that describes the glimpse of the world “Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?” also shows the imagery of someone’s sexuality and society is not always welcoming. Like what Professor MacArthur mentions on the mini lecture, “Howl’s regrets the approval of lobotomy for his sick delusional mother,” because the operation of his mother worsens and she died from the complications she had from the surgery. His mother mental illness was an inspiration and influential to write his poetry. The similarity between Howl and the Wasteland is the both poets express the view of society; also the human condition of what people suffer around their environment.
    Robert Lowell, “Hone after Three Months Away” and Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus” can give you the sense of their own experiences on depression and the mental illness. On the beginning of Lady Lazarus, “I have done it again. One year in every ten I manage it—“you can already feel the sense of crisis the speaker had. I began to visual the mentally depress the speaker is and that she attempted to commit suicide. “Dying Is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well,” the speaker is describing that she it is easy for her to attempt suicide and how she views death as a performance. She views people as their enemy and even her doctor. On “Home After three Months Away,” is about the speakers life after returning home from a mental hospital and being away from his baby daughter. He has interactions with his daughter bathing her, his mind would go elsewhere.The speaker has gone to the hospital to cure his mental illness; however, his depression gotten worse. The speaker says, “Though I am forty-one, not forty now, the time I put away was child’s play,” describes that the speaker is going through a mid-life crisis and he doesn’t know what to do. The speaker also explains that his treatment from the hospital had gotten worse after he return home and making him depress. Both poets do have similarity to the Wasteland because they express the mentality they have around their environment and the crisis they have in life.

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  8. In Ginsberg’s “Howl”, mental illness is represented throughouth the whole poem from beginning to end, from inderectly addressing Carlos to actually addressing him in the last poem. Ginsberg takes his readers on a psychological trip, his last poem drawing me in completely. in lines 21-22 of part III, he speaks to Carlos saying, “I’m with you in Rockland where you scream in a straightjacket that you’re losing the game of the actual pingpong of the abyss” directly indicating that his friend is not in a real world comprehensive state. Later throughout the rest of part III, Ginsberg also states that his friend should not die in an “armed madhouse”. In Plath’s ” Lady Lazarus,” we see mental illness in the character as we see characteristics of what seems to be schizophrenia as it seems the character is seeing shadows and demons. In lines 49-50, Plath states, ” It’s easy enough to do it in a cell. It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.” I believe she says this because she mentions a little further up how she has tried to kill herself twice. In Lowell’s, “Waking in the Blue” the whole poem from beginning to end is a memory of being in the mental hospital stating in lines 22-24, “he thinks only of his figure, of slimming on sherbet and ginger ale– more cut off from words than a seal” which to me shows that he is talking about anorexia. All thre of these poems hint at different mental disorders in which I’m not completely sure if my assumptions were correct, but nontheless they do. Just like Elliots’ poem, Ginsberg’s poems also posses characters who take on multiple conversations and see the world differently then the rest. All of the speakers have this quality of not having hope because each sintuation is complicated.

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  9. In Ginsberg’s Howl, maladjustment is spoken to by the general population he is discussing all through the lyric.He also alludes to the artists and radical specialists that got to be distinctly psychiatric patients in view of medications. an example is “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness” (Ginsberg, 9). Ginsberg doesn’t see the general population who are marked “rationally sick” and sees somebody to disregard, yet rather individuals who are overlooked in their time and should be praised. With everything taken into account, this sonnet was altogether different contrasted with the ballads we have perused up until this point, however I think it is a decent unique.Plath comparably brings out the possibility of recovery after death in “Woman Lazarus,” in spite of the fact that from a historical point of view we can verify that this completion held an alternate importance for the creator. Subsequent to portraying her different endeavors at suicide, putting her specialist as her adversary, and confirming her feline like everlasting status, Plath closes the lyric with the lines, “Out of the cinder/I ascend with my red hair/And I eat men like air.” Comparing herself to the phoenix, Plath emits from her demise with blazing assurance and eats up her foes (here, both her specialists and her observers). She additionally examines electroshock treatment, depicting the experience accordingly: “‘A supernatural occurrence!’/That thumps me out./There is a charge”. Here the “charge” is both the electrical discharge stunning her framework and the cost of her treatment, both fiscally and inwardly/physically. Prior contrasting her medicinal review with a bazaar appear, (“shelled nut crunching swarm”) the charge likewise turns into the cost that the “beasts” and foes of the speaker must pay to witness her fractiousness.

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  10. In Ginsberg’s Howl, mental illness is evident throughout the three parts of the poem, particularly that of Carl Solomon, whom this poem is dedicated to. Suggesting that others like Carl were helplessly looking for a cure to their sickness but always ended up losing the battle represents mental illness. It is supported by stating “a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops of fire escapes off windowsills of Empire State out of the moon”. Therefore the escape they were looking for was never found which were all the more heartbreaking. The speaker of this poem shares some similarities from some of the speakers in The Waste Land. For example in of the sections of The Waste Land it talks about how naked the land was left, and this is stated in Howl as well by stating “naked and trembling before the machinery of other skeletons” meaning how exposed they were and in this cased their illness being done so.

    In Lowell’s Waking in the Blue, mental illness is also evident in this poem. This poem takes place in a hospital wherein the speaker is not very fond of the other patients. The speaker states “see the shaky future grow familiar in the pinched, indigenous faces of these thoroughbreds mental cases” meaning that although he isn’t happy to be around the people, they including himself all resembled the same terrible sickness they wish to find a cure for. The speaker in this poem also shares some similarities of some the speakers in The Waste Land, where the section of women arguing about one of their husbands coming back from the army though the other isn’t too fond of the conversation they’re having just as the speaker in Waking in the Blue feels.

    In Plath’s Lazarus, mental illness is evident as well, but in this poem it is represented differently than the others. The speaker suggests that she attempted suicide many times but she ends up coming back and will keep doing so and stating “like the cat I have nine times to dies, This is Number three”. The speaker illness doesn’t feel as much as sickness as is does in the other poems, wherein this poem it makes her stronger and having a beauty to having it. This suggested by stating, “Dying is and art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well”. In The Waste Land some of the speakers share similar aspects as the speaker in Lazarus, because they reminisce about the idea of death but contrast by finding a positive effect in Plath’s poem.

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    1. I personally disagree with your statement that in “Lady Lazarus” the narrator is stronger by contemplating suicide. Obviously, this is a red flag all in itself, but we can also tell that she is deeply disturbed by her fascination of it. Lady Lazarus sees it as a type of release, a way to alleviate her depression. In actuality, suicide is never the answer, and death isn’t beautiful, even if she thinks it is. To put things short, she has a twisted way of viewing things, and her sickness is responsible for it; this prevents her from being sane.

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  11. In Ginsberg’s Howl mental illness is represented in a graphic and disjunctive way. Ginsberg mentions lobotomies and the use of insulin as treatment for mental illness in long phrases that sort of ramble on. I don’t mean ramble in a negative way. His style of writing reminds me of a person who might not be mentally healthy might speak. It’s as if all of his thoughts and feelings are coming out at once because that’s how he processes things. On page 18 Ginsberg writes, “Who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding in-stantaneous lobotomy, / and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin” (Lines 16-21). In Lowell’s “Walking in the Blue” there seems to be a more descriptive image of a man in an asylum bathtub. The tone seems more sad and sympathetic towards the man rather than distant and disjunct. Lowell writes of the man looking in the mirror and realizing where he is and that he is no different than the old men he mentioned earlier, “we are all old-timers, each of us hold a locked razor.” In Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” the tone is much more personal. It is a personal account of her suicide attempts. It is also a look into her mind and what she feels and thinks during such a dark episode, “Dying/ Is and art, like everything else. / I do it exceptionally well.” Plath’s poem is incredibly blunt and dark in comparison to the other poems. I think Howl and “Lady Lazarus” remind me the most of The Waste Land. The style of writing is disjunct and holds a deep meaning in Ginsberg’s and Plath’s poems that remind me of the first and last stanza of The Waste Land. “Walking in the Blue” reminds me most of stanza II “A Game of Chess.” These writings are more descriptive and follow a more traditional poetic form.
    In Ginsberg’s Howl mental illness is represented in a graphic and disjunctive way. Ginsberg mentions lobotomies and the use of insulin as treatment for mental illness in long phrases that sort of ramble on. I don’t mean ramble in a negative way. His style of writing reminds me of a person who might not be mentally healthy might speak. It’s as if all of his thoughts and feelings are coming out at once because that’s how he processes things. On page 18 Ginsberg writes, “Who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding in-stantaneous lobotomy, / and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin” (Lines 16-21). In Lowell’s “Walking in the Blue” there seems to be a more descriptive image of a man in an asylum bathtub. The tone seems more sad and sympathetic towards the man rather than distant and disjunct. Lowell writes of the man looking in the mirror and realizing where he is and that he is no different than the old men he mentioned earlier, “we are all old-timers, each of us hold a locked razor.” In Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” the tone is much more personal. It is a personal account of her suicide attempts. It is also a look into her mind and what she feels and thinks during such a dark episode, “Dying/ Is and art, like everything else. / I do it exceptionally well.” Plath’s poem is incredibly blunt and dark in comparison to the other poems. I think Howl and “Lady Lazarus” remind me the most of The Waste Land. The style of writing is disjunct and holds a deep meaning in Ginsberg’s and Plath’s poems that remind me of the first and last stanza of The Waste Land. “Walking in the Blue” reminds me most of stanza II “A Game of Chess.” These writings are more descriptive and follow a more traditional poetic form.

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  12. Mental illness can be manifested in many different ways depending on the person. Not all cases of mental illness are presented in such a depressed and disturbed manner such as in “Lady Lazarus”, but can be much more subtle and peaceful such as in “Home After Three Months Away.” All three poems present psychological illnesses in a variety of ways and each speaker manifested their sense of crisis individually and uniquely. In Ginsberg’s Howl, the poem is structured in three very long and disorganized sentences. In the second section, he brings up the Moloch-an unfriendly god of some sort. “Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!” What is the Moloch that the speaker is referring to? Society, the government, war, mainstream capitalism that has now taken over the minds of those who had so much potential to change the world. It is this mental confinement that is driving the speaker mad-the allowance of all things that do not allow for creativity and individuality is what the speaker is refusing to accept. The third section addresses Carl Solomon, a man whom he befriended during his time at the psych institution or Rockland. “I’m with you in Rockland where you bang on the catatonic piano the soul is innocent and immortal it should never die ungodly in an armed madhouse” is Solomon stating his understanding of the speaker’s grief and frustration of not only the physical confinement that he is living through, but the mental as well. The speaker believes that the people who society deem “normal” are insane, those who choose to follow everyone else are not in their right mind. However, those who are the thinkers and geniuses of the speaker’s time are also the most insane.
    Similar to Howl, in Lowell’s “Home After Three Months Away”, the speaker struggles to adjust back to society and searches for way to reconnect himself with the way he remembers from his past. The speaker is a father who has spent time away in a psych institution, “Three months, three months! Is Richard now himself again”, but he has trouble displaying normalcy back into his life. He attempts to search for a connection with her young daughter, “Our noses rub, each of us pats a stringy lock of hair– they tell me nothing’s gone”. His struggle to reclaim his old self is difficult when he finds no hope. “I keep no rank nor station. Cured, I am frizzled, stale and small.” Even though he is mentally “cured” the loss of self along the way is something that he and the speaker from Howl struggle with.
    Similar to Ginsberg and Lowell, Plath in “Lady Lazarus” displays the speaker to be someone who is struggling with their loss of self. However, the speaker in “Lady Lazarus” takes on a much more disturbed and mentally unstable voice. Her references to the Holocaust, Jews, and the Bible are all connected to her feelings of struggle and her fight between good and evil. Her descriptive language such as, “A sort of walking miracle, my skin bright as a Nazi lampshade, My right foot a paperweight, My face a featureless, fine Jew linen” is quite disturbing and grotesque seeing how she is referring to how Nazis would take the remains of human flesh and make them into “lampshades”. “This is Number Three. What a trash To annihilate each decade” is referencing her possibly dying for the third time and referring to her life as something useless and easily disposable. Plath may be using her character as a direct reference to herself, as someone who is battling inner demons and cannot sort out what is real and what is imaginary. Just like the characters in “Howl” and “Home After Three Months”, the speaker in “Lady Lazarus” is battle issues beyond the concrete issues of her life but the psychological instability of feeling despair and hopeless while searching for her sense of self.

    In comparison to The Wasteland, I do find that there are a few similarities between the speakers in that poem versus the three speakers in the poems mentioned. All of the speakers share one thing in common: the relentless search for a purpose. Although the purpose may not be always directly given, they are all searching for a sense of self-worth and a reason for why they are living and breathing on this Earth. Although Lowell, Plath, and Ginsberg have a much more somber tone and direct their focus to their mental state versus the state of their environment in The Wasteland, the concept of looking for something that is not supposed to be found is prominent in all four poems.

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    1. I enjoyed your analysis of Howl and the different perspectives Ginsberg uses to address mental illness. I think it is interesting that Ginsberg would describe “normal” people and geniuses as both insane, as you mentioned, to put everyone on equal footing, as if to say everyone is mad to someone else. I like your point that even though the narrator in “Home After Three Months Away” is cured he is never the same person he was before he went to the psych institution, and I think Lowell is painting a broader picture that no matter how much we yearn for the past, we can never get back to the way things used to be. Nostalgia does not do the narrator any good.
      I agree with you that, of these works, “Lady Lazarus” is the most disturbed, especially due to the not so subtle references to death and the Holocaust. One thing I have not seen mentioned yet, is if there is any significance to the use of the “three” deaths. I know the number has religious significance, such as the Trinity, but I do not know if Plath is being intentional or not. I did not recognize the consistency of “purpose” throughout each poem as you did, either. I think I may need to go back and read them again to fully understand but I think it makes sense that mental illness and madness would be used to describe someone’s longing of belonging or to be important.

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  13. Throughout all of the poems, mental illness seems to be caused by one common element: harm. All of the speakers of the poems have been harmed or wronged in some way. For the case of “Lady Lazarus”, the speaker clearly has their mind in a fog of depression, as it’s suggested that she has tried to commit suicide multiple times. She says that “Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman”, listing out that the first time she tries to commit suicide was at the young age of ten, and the second time, she tried to “not come back at all.” It is suggested she’s tried to do it multiple times as well, as she said that “Dying/ is an art, like everything else./ I do it exceptionally well.” She even seems to do it because “it feels real” to her.

    “Waking in the Blue” seems to be about depression as well, since at the beginning the speaker’s first question to the readers is one of his own self-reflection: “What use is my sense of humor?” There seems to be a number of people within the house of the mentally ill, as the speaker describes it, with a number of mental illnesses we recognize today. King Louis XVI, for example, has a statue dedicated to him, and he’s known historically for being narcassistic and quite flamboyant.

    Howl, on the other hand, is preachy, almost sermon like. It’s well established at the beginning that Ginsberg “saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness”, and he doesn’t describe those who are successful in life, but instead those who’ve yet to reach their potential brought down by society themselves. The poem is dedicated to Carl Solomon, who the third part of Howl is completely dedicated to. He repeatedly says that he “[is] with you in Rockland”, where first line establishes that he was “madder than [he] was”. Throughout Howl, you can tell the speaker is troubled by society, so much that he doesn’t want to seem a part of it anymore. Howl, however, seems the most different of them all. As opposed to depression which both “Lady Lazarus” and “Waking in the Blue” has, this one seems to be about paranoia instead. This is illustrated mostly by the use of repetition throughout the poem. Nonetheless, all of them share the common element of being harmed.

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  14. In Ginsberg’s “Howl,” madness is portrayed as a relative thing. The frenetic, breathless way that Ginsberg composes the poem helps to portray the madness his characters are experiencing, but even then, Ginsberg goes so far as to turn typical notions of sanity on their head. What most people would consider completely normal, Ginsberg’s speaker considers completely insane, and conversely, what society would most usually see as insane, Ginsberg’s speaker sees as misunderstood. The knowledge that “Howl” is dedicated to a man Ginsberg met in a mental institution really makes the opening line, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” that much more heartbreaking. Ginsberg considered Carl Solomon, arguably the subject of this poem, to be a highly talented artist who was held down by the oppressive nature of mental illness as well as the treatment for said illness. The final section of “Howl,” where the phrase “I’m with you in Rockland,” is repeated frantically and constantly drives home the tragic mood of helplessness and oppression he must have felt watching what he considered a great mind be squelched out by shock therapy. It also structurally mimics sections of Eliot’s “Waste Land” where singular lines are repeated for dramatic effect, most notably in the second section where “Hurry up please, it’s time” is repeated while another character tells her story. Both of these repetitious natures convey a sense of foreboding and unease, which in Ginsberg’s poem is one of mental instability, while in Eliot’s is more geared towards instability and chaos on a more grand scale.

    Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” takes a different approach to describing mental illness. The language and tone Plath uses throughout her poem is one of haggard confidence, experience, and ultimately, determination. In the opening stanza alone, Plath’s speaker (presumably Plath, herself) admits that she has attempted suicide multiple times: “One year in every ten,” and from the way she speaks, it seems as though she will attempt it again. Plath conveys the hopeless futility that mental illness can evoke, stating that “The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth? / The sour breath / Will vanish in a day.” This sort of nihilistic view towards life is highly similar to the way in which Eliot portrayed the world of “The Waste Land, where people think of themselves as being “in rats’ alley / Where the dead men lost their bones.” Again, similar to the difference between “Howl” and “The Waste Land,” Plath’s crisis is on a smaller, more singular scale, whereas Eliot conveys the crisis of his world across many speakers and settings.

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  15. Mental illness is evident in Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” when the speaker tells of her failed suicide attempts. They happen once every ten years. Regardless of this consistent act, the speaker seems to think that she is completely normal. One of the signs of mental illness is that they don’t believe that they are ill whatsoever. Plath writes, “Gentlemen, ladies these are my hands my knees. I may be skin and bone, nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.” She seems to not believe that she is ill and that there is no difference in her behavior, yet if something as serious as suicide is occurring consistently every 10 years, there is something in her mind that is triggering that behavior.
    In Lowell’s “Home After Three Months Away”, the speaker battles his own battles he may have developed that resulted in him being admitted in a mental institution. “Though I am forty-one,/ not forty now, the time I put away/ was child’s play.” This line could be interpreted as the speaker stating that his time in there was easy, possibly compared to what he has experienced prior to his admittance. It is clear that he speaks of mental illness as he is admitted to an institution. However, his viewpoint doesn’t seem too negative over all. He claims to regret his time only because he spent time away from his daughter and thinks that the treatment didn’t help. “You poke and stir. / Flesh, bone, there is nothing there–“. This means that he issues he had before, he still has now, and that the time there was worthless to him. While he was in the mental institution, his mind was elsewhere. Unless completely focused and determined to recover, mental illness will not let go of its grasp. Mental illness can be a constant and debilitating, lifelong battle.
    In Howl, Ginsberg speaks of mental illness especially during the Carl Solomon part. The poem is dedicated to Carl. Ginsberg tries to get the point that mental illness is very hard to overcome. Carl was a victim of mental illness. This is proved with the statement “a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops of fire escapes off windowsills of Empire State out of the moon”. This suggest that the battle is lost and that the never found the resolution to their issues that they were initially seeking. One of the biggest comparisons to The Waste Land was the eerie feeling that the poem suggested as the setting. The setting was lonesome and empty and gave a feeling of abandonment, which is where the mental illness eventually leaves its victims; in complete abandonment and isolation.

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  16. In Lady Lazarus, Sylvia Plath employs a straightforward first-person account of her surrealist, poetic experience.  This is in contrast to T.S. Eliot’s utilization of different narrators to drive home a more convoluted and ambiguous point.    With the first-person account, the poets using this style are able to emote a direct and characterized synopsis of life as they see it.  In Howl, Allen Ginsberg dictates as Plath did from an individualized place.  “I’m with you in Rockland,” he repeats; “Where we are great writers on the same dreadful typewriter.”  He dictates over and over again, making clear to the reader his stance on the material.  The utilization of first-person poetic language conveys a characterized account of an emotional perspective of the human condition.  This is similar of both modernist and postmodernist works, however the way in which each is articulated differentiates by the narration.  The first-person perspective is impactful to the reader because as they read it, they are repeating the phrases “I” and “me” and “we,” making them feel as if they were the narrator, originally.  

        The glaring difference between Howl and Lady Lazarus is the specificity with which each is constructed.  In Howl, Ginsberg assumes a posture of the long-winded philosopher, speaking in poetic diction (just as Plath does) but constructing a very specific long map to illustrate his point.  Repetition is used exhaustively in the work in order to reiterate the perspective from which he is speaking.  “Who wandered around”” –  “Who lit cigarettes?” – “Who studied Plotinus?”  And so on and so forth, repeating the same grammatical structure in both parts 2 and 3.  This is far different than Plath’s stripping down of language to a degree where her wording is concise and impactful: “I have done it again.  One year in every ten I manage it -” she states.  Simply putting her disposition and not wasting a word more.  Thematically, the two poems are both a cry out from individuals burdened by mental strife.  This constitutes the darkness of the subject matter and also some of the grammatical repetition and abnormalities.  

        These two works stand separate from the modernist movement because they administer a voice from an individual.  They do so in a way that speaks from the heart and is more direct than other, more convoluted modernist works.

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    1. I agree with your analysis on how Howl and Lady Lazarus are very different in structure however they are both able to apply similar themes of darkness and the reality of what living with mental illness is like.

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    2. I do not necessarily agree that T.S. Eliot’s point was ambiguous, but I think that Sylvia Plath’s poem got the message across much more quickly and precisely than his. I think I’m partial to shorter poems but hers felt nicely condensed and each line felt important whereas The Waste Land dragged on at times and I felt lost, which could detract from his message, although maybe this is because I am not an experienced reader. I do agree, however, that the first-person perspective is more impactful, especially if we remember how oddly it could be utilized in The Sound and the Fury. I will disagree with your final point, though. I do not necessarily think there is a huge difference between Modernist and post-modernist works, but maybe I am not noticing subtle differences as others are. I think that differing perspectives can all have “heart” and feel as if they come from an individual, even if it is not in first-person. The use of free indirect discourse in Melanctha’s section of Three Lives, for example, felt very personal, but I do agree that first-person narrative in Lady Lazarus is more impactful because we have not been reading in this perspective in this class that often.

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  17. In Robert Lowell’s “Home after Three Months Away” and Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus,” mental illness is represented in these poems as a crisis each speaker deals with. In the poem “Home after Three Months Away,” the speaker focuses on his return home after being away for three months. The speaker mentions “Three months, three months! Is Richard now himself again?” This lets the reader know that there was something going on with him. He was most likely away in an asylum for three months because he wasn’t acting like himself. In the poem “Lady Lazarus,” the speaker talks about the times she has tried to commit suicide but has failed. The speaker goes through her attempts to commit suicide. She describes the first time as an accident. However, she describes the following attempt as “The second time I meant / to last it out and not come back at all.” Although she continues her attempt to die, she comes back to life. The speakers of each poem deal with their own crisis just like the multiple speakers in The Waste Land. However, they are different from each other because these poems only have one speaker and both poems are focused on mental illness whereas The Waste Land has multiple speakers and focuses more on circumstantial crisis.
    Ginsberg’s Howl begins with the speaker giving a speech about people from his generation. Most of the sentences begin with the word “who.” He mentions suicide when he says “who cut their wrists three times successively” (Ginsberg 16). Throughout the poem he talks about different cities, terror, drugs, and race. The speaker in Lowell’s “Waking in Blue” describes a hospital for patients who are mentally ill. He says “This is the house for the “mentally ill.” The speaker talks about what goes on in the hospital and he also talks about the patients that are there.

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    1. The notion of disappearing is something that is very captivating to me. In this case it says that Richard was gone for three months. Thought it may be that he was actually not present, but occasionally it means that the person was physically there but not mentally present for quite some time. Mental illness can be debilitating to the point on “disappearing” for quite some time.

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  18. In “Howl”, the underlying theme is the author’s accusation that the American government demands conformity. Ginsberg himself believed that the dominant, militaristic cuture of the time reduced people’s ability to express themselves. He strongly valued artistic expression, and he believed that others like him were being suppressed by their culture. Because of this, he admired those that were driven into “madness”, or otherwise didn’t conform to their society’s standards. The characters portrayed in “Howl”, particularly in part I, are reminiscent of people that Ginsberg met in the 40s and 50s. They include political radicals, jazz musicians, artists, poets, drug addicts, and mental patients. Throughout, the narrator’s point of view is told through the author’s first person perspective. He is observing these people, their behaviors, and their interactions with the world. In the first line, the narrator complements the people, declaring them as “the best minds of my generation”. He then goes on to describe these social outcasts, treating them like saviors and calling them “angelheaded hipsters” (Line 7); he examines their mental state and lifestyles, which is fueled by debauchery, sex, and psychedelic drugs. One particular line encapsulates all of these elements: “with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls”(Line 38). These people are clearly “mad” and unstable, inflicted with “waking nightmares”, addiction, and dangerous behavior. Despite all of this, Ginsberg relates to them; respecting their unique personalities and estrangement from society.
    In “Lady Lazarus”, the narrator tells a story from the perspective of “Lady Lazarus”, a mentally unstable woman. Because it is told in this point of view, the poem almost reads like a monologue. Throughout the poem, her location is not given; however, she does make references to a carnival and holocaust concentration camps. Lady Lazarus herself is obsessed with death, and is similar to a cat in that she has nine lives. She dies once every decade, and likens her funeral to a “peanut-crunching crowd shoving in to see her unwrapped hand and foot” (Line 26). She also compares her suffering to that of a holocaust victim, saying “Ash, ash—
    You poke and stir. Flesh, bone, there is nothing there–” (Line 74). She insists that her mental illness is overwhelming, saying that there is “nothing there”, which hints that she is emotionally numb. She admits that alleviation from her pain is provided by self harm and suicide, calling it “art” (Line 44), and saying “I do it cause it feels real” (Line 47). Because she is deeply afflicted, she believes her only option for resolution is to end herself. This further provides an understanding of her mental state.
    In comparison to “The Waste Land”, all three works touch upon the themes of mental stability, death, and depression. They are all, for the most part, told in a first person perspective. This is perhaps done so in order to depict the characters’ thoughts and mental states in a more realistic and personal way. All three stories have characters that are alienated from the rest of society. In “The Waste Land”, the main character prefers the seclusion of winter. In “Lady Lazarus”, Lady Lazarus prefers the darkness of death over the “peanut-crunching crowd”, and in “Howl”, the author shuns the idea of conforming to society. The characters are similar in that they all have depression to some degree; however, the way in which they deal with their mental conditions differ. The characters in “Howl” resort to drugs, alcohol, and sex, whereas Lady Lazarus dramatically attempts to solve her problems through suicide. The narrator in “The Waste Land” deals with his affliction through past-reflection and philosophy. Overall, the similarities between these stories are expected, given that they are all written on the same subject. The differences are present because, like in real life, no two characters deal with their depression in the same manner.

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  19. Mental illness is represented in Ginsberg’s Howl through the people he or the speaker is talking about. “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.” Then he goes on to describe the “so-called” crazy individuals others define them as. “Who poverty and tatters/ Who were expelled from the academics for crazy/ Who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave up.” In Ginsberg’s Howl the speaker or himself doesn’t seem to be considered about the mental illness itself but instead informing the readers that these are the people that are this or this and do that or that. Which in all, are normal people who struggle every day, have tattoos, smoke or are just stressed from life itself. This compares to, The Waste Land because in that poem the speaker was considered about the actions of the individuals and what they have done to society or the world and here the speaker just seems as an informative narrator. Although it does seem that he is concerned about the treatment of these “mental illnesses” on page 18, “and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy pingpong and amnesia.” I found it interesting that he mentioned all these treatments because it seems that he wants everyone to know that they don’t work and that the pain or problems they go through are still going to occur.

    In Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” the speaker is struggling with self-image and suicide. She mentions in stanza 7 line 3, “And like the cat I have nine times to die.” Then goes to say, “This is Number three” in stanza 8 line 1. Here the unnamed women or Lady Lazarus herself is telling us that she has tried to kill herself on multiple occasions and will try again. The tone of this poem is very strong and depressed. She is determined to do one thing, and that is kill herself. Also, although there isn’t any Lady Lazarus in the bible, Plath’s focuses this character on a man named Lazarus in the bible that died and was resurrected by Jesus Christ. But, instead of Lady Lazarus being resurrected by God’s son it seems as if she was brought back to life by Lucifer. “Out of the ash/ I rise with my red hair/ And I eat men like air” (Stanza 28). The “red hair” being a symbol of darkness or a symbol of hell. I would also like to mention that Lady Lazarus seems very sarcastic in her voice but also serious at the same time. In stanza 16 he mentions, “I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I’ve a call.” Here it seems as if she is showing that she enjoys the pain because it makes her feel something real. She is numb to everything, whether it be life itself or something else, killing herself/hurting herself seems to be the only solution to feel anything.

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    1. The speaker in “Lady Lazarus” does seem suicidal. The speaker does not seem to be scared of death at all when she says “Dying / Is an art, like everything else. / I do it exceptionally well.” I agree with you, the title of the poem does reference Lazarus from the bible. Although the speaker attempts to kill herself she still comes back to life.

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    2. I like your view on the tone of the poem. I also read it as a bit sarcastic but I guess some people tend to be a bit hostile when they are having a hard time. Nice work.

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    3. I actually have no idea how I missed the cat lives line, that’s actually pretty clever. Reading this comment does give me quite a lot more insight to the poem, though, since I’m not familiar at all with biblical characters. Definitely makes the poem more interesting to me now beyond my interpretation of it.

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    4. I completely agree with your perspective of the poem. The biblical connection between Lady Lazarus is something that could also be seen as ironic seeing how Lazarus in the Bible is saved by Jesus. However, Lady Lazarus is someone who is battling a war within herself and seems to feel that she cannot be saved.

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    5. The darkness of the red hair and the rising is very intriguing. I love the overall symbolism and comparison of those elements to “hell” and the relation that that alone has to mental illness. The statement where you say that she enjoys the pain because it makes her feel something real is something that a lot of people experience and falls among the mental illness platter.

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    6. I think that is an element that mental illness can have. It sometimes is comforting because it is the only thing that feels real like you said in your response to “Lady Lazarus.”

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  20. Throughout “Howl” mental illness is brought up again and again, but it is spoken about in a very romanticized way. In the first line where he says “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness”(7) makes it seem as if it is going to talk about the negative effects of mental illness on his generation, but instead, Ginsberg seems to reiterate over and over how brilliant and amazing these people are. It is almost as if the poem is more a of a criticism of mental illness and what constitutes as mental illness and the various treatment for it. He doesn’t seem to deny that the people he speaks of in the poem are a bit off-kilter, but it seems that his conclusion is that the treatment of their “illness” is wrong and like in the last line of part one, “the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years”(20). This also plays back to what was discussed in the mini-lecture about him regretting his mother’s lobotomy. Admittedly, I don’t know much about lobotomies, but from what I understand a person is completely changed after one and the effects can range anywhere from behavioral changes to becoming completely catatonic. I imagine it must have felt like his mother had been ruined in a sense by the treatment and would have made him even more resentful of the artists and poets in his life that he felt were being changed due to treatment of their mental illnesses. I think there is a definite tie in with Eliot and Ginsberg in the sense that the narrator of the story is living this crisis and trying to articulate it to everyone around them while the audience seems to remain idle. Both poems, for me, seem to be a sort of call for action.

    Honestly, on my first reading of “Lady Lazarus” I didn’t particularly notice any glaring references to mental illness and instead imagined it as something out of an old B-movie horror film; my second reading wasn’t nearly as fun. To me, the poem is about multiple suicide attempts that from the sound of it happen quite regularly as “every one year in ten/ I manage it—“. It seems as if the speaker imagines themselves as some sort of creature saying “Do I terrify” and mentioning her “sour breath” and “the flesh The grave cave ate will be At home on me”. This is also coincidentally what reminded me of zombies. It seems as if she views herself as a creature that is horrible and unkillable, but instead of seeming particularly upset about it, the speaker seems to be claiming it as a source of power, of revenge since “out of the ash I rise with my red hair And I eat men like air”. The poem also seems as if it makes some references to the Holocaust with the mentions of gold rings and fillings and speaking German to the doctor. “Lady Lazarus” appears related to Elliot with the sense of bleakness and decay in the imagery. Everything is a mixture of beauty and ugliness all at once, and the ugliness of the story seems to be self-inflicted by man and society much like in “The Waste Land”, and If I was right about the Holocaust references it would also take place in the same time period.

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    1. In Lady Lazarus, it didn’t seem like a poem about suicide at first but after reading it multiple times you start to notice the clues. I also noticed that the speaker wasn’t upset about these several suicide attempts, but instead embraces it with open arms. To me, I thought that she was references a man named Lazarus from the bible who died and Jesus brought him back to life. In this poem however, when she survives her suicide its sort of grotesque in her tone.

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    2. I agree that some aspects of Howl have a romanticized aspect to them. I think Ginsberg taking that approach lures the reader deeper into the reading and also into this mental state that the speaker finds themselves in.

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  21. Mental illness is interestingly addressed in Howl, and I think it is more noticeable listening to Ginsberg read it himself. It is structured such that nearly every other line is indented to give it a symmetry, but this contrasts with his own asymmetrical way of reading the poem, as his voice raises throughout such that the poem reads as one long, run on sentence. As others have noticed, he interchanges “and” and “&” without any indication as to why, so although on the surface, the poem appears structured and symmetric, when you look deeper it becomes more confusing, almost like some mentally ill individuals, who may appear normal on the surface. Although he discusses mental illness through the various people he is describing, towards the end he also says, “while you are not safe I am not safe” as if to argue that we are all mad in someone else’s eyes. Madness is a matter of perspective to Ginsberg as he describes various people that may just be going through a small crisis in their life. When he describes those “who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to Denver & waited in vain” he is not necessarily describing someone that is necessarily mentally ill, but someone struggling in life. Unlike in The Waste Land, in which T.S. Elliot describes the crisis of the world in a calm, fearful manner, Ginsberg sounds mad when reciting his poem, and becomes excited at points, and because some of the events he is describing are rather mundane, they satirize the idea of “madness”.
    Lady Lazarus is different in comparison because Sylvia Plath has a darker take on mental illness, and it more personal than Howl or The Waste Land as Plath is speaking in the first person. There are very strong references to World War II, such as “Nazi lampshade” and “Jew linen” but there are also references to Satan, and at one point she compares herself to a cat that has just lost its third life. With the cat’s lives reference in mind, it is suggested she is speaking about suicide attempts, in which case the poem is significantly more personal in comparison to the others because the others do not address mental illness from the perspective of the narrator, but as other characters. Although she mentions “the second time I meant to last it out” in regards to dying, it ends the most hopeful of these three poems as she says, “Out of the ask I rise with my red hair”, which is a clear phoenix reference to say she has come out of the pain a stronger person. This is a stark contrast to The Waste Land, in which Elliot is not very hopeful of the future and describes a dystopia.

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    1. I agree with you, the final part of Howl is a chillingly emotional message that is starkly different from the first two parts. Here with the “I am with you….” Ginsberg is addressing his lover Carl Solomon directly and attempting to provide a support system emotionally for him. His attempt is also in stark negation of the concepts presented in the first two parts, that is that society is the root of the mental illness of the generation.

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  22. My favorite representation of mental illness in “Howl” are in lines 67 to 70; Ginsberg incorporates a bit of dark humor with the mention of “pingpong” as a legitimate treatment for mental illness as “electricity” and “amnesia” are (Ginsberg 67). These contrasts are further accentuated by his description of the results of these treatments that leave a person “resting briefly in catatonia” (Ginsberg 68) and scarred, emotionally and physically, “years later” by the “tears and fingers” of “madmen” who were “doom[ed] of the wards of the madtowns” (Ginsberg 69). Men with catatonic bodies “as heavy as the moon” (Ginsberg 70). The mentally ill are trapped in their own minds and constrained in their physical realities by treatments that hinder their ability to move or think freely. This idea of oppressed thought and constrained bodies is echoed in Robert Lowell’s poem, “Waking in the Blue”, particularly, when Lowell parallels the members of this mental institution to “old timers, / each of [them] holds a locked razor” (Lowell 49 – 50) giving the reader the image of “locked” or inhibited bodies whose minds wander onto imaginary thoughts of “replica[s] of Louis XVI / without the wig” (Lowell 28-29). These locked bodies but roaming minds give power to the crisis these narrators feel. The crisis of a contrasting mental freedom and prison while being physically locked into a state of being. This crisis is similar to a speaker in “The Waste Land” in section two: A Game of Chess. The speaker is struggling with indecision over a problem many would consider trivial (Eliot pg. 9, li. 131). The speaker is at odds with themselves over “[w]hat shall [they] do […]” in that very moment of the speaker’s life and “[w]hat shall [they] do tomorrow”, while also questioning their uncertain future (Eliot pg. 9, li. 133 – 134). This difficulty to make a decision and to focus on one question follows the crisis of oppression those who battle with mental illness have. Although there is no evidence in “The Waste Land” about the speaker being physically bound, there is certainly the appearance of their mental constriction by cyclical thought and inability to act freely—as shown by their constant questionings.

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    1. I agree, with what you said about the “dark humor” because he does incorporate some cryptic humor in this poem. This poem was dark but sad at the same time. He mentions all these people who do this or that and what they go through with having a mental disorder. It’s sort of sad but it does seem as if he is trying to inform the readers what goes on in there.

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  23. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines mental illness as any disorder generally characterized by the dysregulation of mood, thought, and or behavior; normally approximated for a period of time, no less than 6 months. Within these works we are presented with a postmodern interpretation of several approximations of mental illness. Within Howl by Allen Ginsberg we are presented with a “mentally ill” society, Walking in the Blue by Robert Lowell we are presented with a mentally ill self, and from Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath we are presented with a mentally ill self that is beyond help- suicidal ideation (which we know is achieved by Plath).
    Ginsberg is presenting a mentally ill society, one that is in direct conflict with itself, whilst not recognizing the disruption and destruction that “illness” will insite within society as a whole. Ginsberg’s poem is a literary howl at the current state of society. Recognizing the ever-present tension and fear of the cold war and a decade after WWII. “yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars…” This quote from the first part of Howl exemplifies Ginsberg’s point of a mentally ill society. While the beat generation did spark many intellectual revolution of society, prior to the publication and popularity of the poem there was little enlightenment of moral, social and sexual norms. America was very much engrained in a conservative, anti-scientific mentality.
    Lowell’s Walking in the Blue is an excellent example of the mentally ill self at the beginning of the postmodern era. While the label of mentally ill is subjective, at this time the APA defined homosexuality as a mental disorder along with many other traits that have since been medically declassified, the poem extolls the struggles one faced while being institutionalized in a mental hospital. “before the metal shaving mirrors, and see the shaky future grow familiar in the pinched, indigenous faces of these thoroughbred mental cases, twice my age and half my weight.” Here Lowell is acknowledging the similarities he has psychologically and socioeconomically to the fellow patients he is at Mclean with. While this period of time saw many people institutionalized, again many for disorders that have since been declassified, he recognizes that they are all human still. There is insinuation that these people, trapped in institutions, many of which have since been shut down, that society rather is diagnosing them as mentally ill, rather than genuinely being so.
    Plath’s Lady Lazarus, however, does depict legitimate mental illness. The poem, which was published posthumously, is about suicidal ideation. Plath, who commits suicide, presents such illness in a positive manner. Reading the poem, it is clear that she will eventually be successful in taking her own life. “And I am a smiling woman. / I am only thirty./And like a cat I have nine times to die.” The poem continues to express Plath’s desire to take her own life, as well as a eerie positivity around such action. She describes in almost no detail past suicidal attempts, acknowledging that she has attempted such endeavor every decade. It is clear from reading this piece that Plath as also been institutionalized for mental illness and is obviously beyond any aid or recovery. She has given in to the desire to take her own life, and expresses that it is just a matter of finally making a successful attempt.
    All three works have a common theme of societal influence on the mental state of the authors. Each is affected in some fashion by Post-WWII American and current Cold War American morals and norms. Each is combative in it’s own right of these norms and morals and all are timeless pieces allowing future generations a flash-insight into the mental state of those who would turn out to shape our intellectual future.

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    1. This is a pretty insightful comments for the poems. Notably, I don’t think many people would’ve caught that homosexuality was considered a mental illness before. Even when we do not remember that standard, your point of society labeling them as mentally ill, and mental disorders being largely subjective, is still quite sound.

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  24. In Ginsberg’s Howl, mental illness is something that is seen very prominently. The speaker takes hold of their feelings and is able to express them, at least in the writings. In “Walking in the Blue,” the speaker takes a different view. It seems as if he is looking into another man’s illness. This man resides in a mental institute and can no longer speak for himself, instead the speaker speaks for him. In “Lady Lazarus,” the speaker seems aware of her illness but is not as vocal as the other. Instead, The stanzas are very brief and sometimes vague, implying an internal struggle taking place.
    They all seem to have that awakening aspect that The Waste Land has and long for the past.

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