'A Supermarket In California' by Allen Ginsberg
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Howl and Other Poems1955What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whit-man, for I walked down the sidestreets under the treeswith a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images,I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming ofyour enumerations!What peaches and what penumbras! Whole fam-ilies shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wivesin the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!--and you,García Lorca, what were you doing down by thewatermelons?I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely oldgrubber, poking among the meats in the refrigeratorand eyeing the grocery boys.I heard you asking questions of each: Who killedthe pork chops? What price bananas? Are you myAngel?I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks ofcans following you, and followed in my imaginationby the store detective.We strode down the open corridors together inour solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing everyfrozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doorsclose in an hour. Which way does your beard pointtonight?(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in thesupermarket and feel absurd.)Will we walk all night through solitary streets?The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses,we'll both be lonely.Will we stroll dreaming ofthe lost America of lovepast blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silentcottage?Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quitpoling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bankand stood watching the boat disappear on the blackwaters of Lethe?
Editor 1 Interpretation
"A Supermarket In California" by Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg's "A Supermarket In California" is a classic poem that has been widely studied and analyzed over the years. Written in 1955, the poem is a tribute to two of the most influential poets of the 20th century, Walt Whitman and Federico Garcia Lorca. It is a complex and layered work that explores themes of consumerism, sexuality, and the search for identity. In this essay, we will examine "A Supermarket In California" in detail, analyzing its structure, imagery, and language to gain a deeper understanding of the poem's meaning.
The poem is divided into three stanzas, each consisting of 11 lines. The structure of the poem is reminiscent of the Walt Whitman's free verse style, which Ginsberg admired and emulated. The first stanza is a description of the speaker's journey to the supermarket, where he encounters Whitman. The second stanza is a conversation between the speaker and Whitman, in which they discuss their shared love of poetry and their disappointment with the state of the world. The third stanza is a dream sequence in which the speaker meets Lorca, who represents the speaker's desire for a more authentic and meaningful existence.
Ginsberg's use of imagery in "A Supermarket In California" is rich and evocative. The poem is set in a supermarket, a place that represents the consumerist culture of America in the 1950s. The supermarket is described in detail, with its bright lights, neon signs, and endless rows of products. The imagery of the supermarket is juxtaposed with the natural world, as the speaker imagines a "lonely old grubber / wandering the Pacific coast" and a "darkness shining in the bright lights of the city."
The most powerful imagery in the poem is reserved for the two poets, Whitman and Lorca. Whitman is portrayed as a "graybeard loon" with "the bad temper of freedom" and "the craft of the wise." Lorca, on the other hand, is described as "lean" and "brown" with "sad eyes" and a "mouth like a blood orange." The contrast between the two poets is striking, with Whitman representing the American tradition of freedom and individualism, and Lorca representing the European tradition of passion and emotion.
Ginsberg's use of language in "A Supermarket In California" is both playful and powerful. He uses repetition to create a sense of rhythm and momentum, as in the lines "What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon." The repetition of "for I walked" and "with a headache" creates a sense of urgency and anxiety, which is contrasted with the peaceful image of the full moon.
The language in the poem is also highly sexual, with the speaker imagining himself as Whitman's lover. He describes Whitman's "beard like a brush" and "body like a hairy nut" in a way that is both playful and erotic. This sexual imagery is combined with references to consumer culture, as the speaker imagines "pushing my cart through the aisles / stroking the avocadoes / whispering poems in the produce section."
The meaning of "A Supermarket In California" is complex and open to interpretation. At its core, the poem is a critique of the consumer culture that dominated America in the 1950s. The supermarket represents the soulless, homogenized world of mass production and consumption, which is contrasted with the natural world and the world of poetry. The encounter with Whitman represents the speaker's desire for a more authentic and meaningful existence, while the dream sequence with Lorca represents the speaker's longing for a connection to his cultural heritage.
The sexual imagery in the poem can also be interpreted as a critique of the repressive sexual culture of the 1950s. The speaker's desire for Whitman represents a rejection of the traditional norms of sexuality, while the reference to Lorca's homosexuality is a nod to Ginsberg's own sexuality and his rejection of the oppressive norms of his time.
"A Supermarket In California" is a powerful and complex poem that speaks to the human longing for meaning and authenticity. It is a tribute to two of the greatest poets of the 20th century, Walt Whitman and Federico Garcia Lorca, and a critique of the consumer culture that dominated America in the 1950s. The poem's use of imagery, language, and structure is masterful, creating a sense of urgency and anxiety that is contrasted with moments of peace and beauty. Ultimately, "A Supermarket In California" is a testament to the power of poetry to transcend time and culture, and to connect us to our deepest desires and longings.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry A Supermarket In California: A Masterpiece of Modern Poetry
Allen Ginsberg's "A Supermarket In California" is a masterpiece of modern poetry that captures the essence of the Beat Generation. Written in 1955, the poem is a tribute to Walt Whitman, the father of American poetry, and a reflection on the state of American society in the mid-20th century.
The poem is structured as a series of questions and answers, with the speaker addressing Whitman as if he were alive and present in the supermarket. The setting of the poem is a modern supermarket, a symbol of the consumer culture that was rapidly taking over American society in the 1950s.
The poem begins with the speaker addressing Whitman, "What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon." The speaker is clearly in a contemplative mood, and the full moon serves as a symbol of the poet's heightened awareness.
The speaker then describes his journey to the supermarket, "In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!" The speaker is searching for inspiration, for images that will help him capture the essence of American society.
The speaker then encounters two other poets in the supermarket, "What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!" The scene is surreal, with the poets and their surroundings blending together in a dreamlike fashion.
The speaker then addresses Whitman directly, "What were you doing down by the watermelons?" The question is both playful and profound, as the speaker is asking Whitman what he would make of the modern world if he were alive today.
The poem then takes a turn, as the speaker reflects on the state of American society, "I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys." The image of Whitman as a lonely old man is a stark contrast to the image of the vibrant, youthful poet that most people associate with him.
The speaker then asks Whitman, "Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?" The question is both a plea for guidance and a recognition of the fact that the poet cannot provide all the answers.
The poem ends with the speaker addressing Whitman one last time, "Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?" The image of Whitman as a "courage-teacher" is a reminder of the poet's role in American society, and the reference to Charon and Lethe is a nod to the classical mythology that Whitman often drew upon in his work.
In "A Supermarket In California," Ginsberg uses a variety of literary techniques to create a powerful and evocative poem. The use of surreal imagery, such as the families shopping at night and the poets blending into their surroundings, creates a dreamlike atmosphere that captures the sense of dislocation and alienation that many people felt in the 1950s.
The use of direct address, with the speaker addressing Whitman as if he were alive and present in the supermarket, creates a sense of intimacy and connection between the two poets. This connection is further emphasized by the use of Whitman's own words and imagery, such as the "peaches and penumbras" and the "enumerations."
The poem also reflects Ginsberg's own political and social views, as he critiques the consumer culture that was rapidly taking over American society in the 1950s. The image of Whitman as a lonely old man poking among the meats in the refrigerator is a powerful symbol of the alienation and disconnection that many people felt in the face of the growing consumer culture.
Overall, "A Supermarket In California" is a powerful and evocative poem that captures the essence of the Beat Generation and reflects on the state of American society in the mid-20th century. Through its use of surreal imagery, direct address, and social critique, the poem remains a timeless masterpiece of modern poetry.
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