English Literature
The Kaddish

The Kaddish

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Allen Ginsberg's powerful and groundbreaking poem "Kaddish" showcases his poetic brilliance while also sharing a deeply personal story about his mother. The poem explores themes of guilt, death, and remembrance as Ginsberg reflects on his mother's life, death, and their relationship."Kaddish" is divided into five sections, with each section delving into a different aspect of Naomi's life and death.Part IThe poem opens with the narrator, Allen Ginsberg, walking the streets of New York, contemplating the recent death of his mother, Naomi. As he passes through the neighborhoods where she grew up, he ponders the meaning of death and wonders if her life fulfilled her childhood dreams.He acknowledges that in death, she has found peace, along with her sister Elanor who has also passed. Death has freed her from the struggles of life. The section ends with Ginsberg reflecting on the significance of death and its impact on Naomi.Part IIThis section focuses on memories of Naomi's life. Ginsberg recalls a time when they searched for a rest home for Naomi in New York City. During their journey, Naomi expresses her dislike for her mother-in-law, who she believes wishes her harm. Later, she is hospitalized for paranoia and refuses to leave her bed at the rest home. Eventually, she is admitted to Greystone for three years.After her release, Naomi returns home but struggles to remember the details of her own residence. She eventually moves in with her sister in New York City, and her relationship with Ginsberg's father, Louis, ends. Meanwhile, his brother Eugene joins the army and later finishes law school.In this section, Ginsberg also references a "Moloch tower," a nod to his famous poem "Howl" (1956), which brought him fame. Moloch symbolizes the destructive forces of industrialization and modern society.One night, during a paranoid episode, Naomi attacks her sister, and Ginsberg has to call the police. She is once again hospitalized. While in California with his partner Orlovsky, Ginsberg receives the news of Naomi's passing. Two days later, he receives a letter from her with the words, "The key is in the sunlight at the window in the bars the key is in the sunlight."These words from Naomi's letter, "The key is in the sunlight at the window in the bars the key is in the sunlight" (Part III, 11), were a response to "Howl" (1956) and remained a source of inspiration for "Kaddish."A photo of sunlight streaming through a window, similar to how Naomi described in her final letter to Allen, can be seen on pixabay.com.Part III reflects a prayer-like section where Ginsberg recites blessings for Naomi and God, as well as for death. This section also delves into the ways in which Naomi's mental illness affected her and the narrator. Using the phrase "only to" repeatedly, Ginsberg describes her various delusions. The section ends with a quote from a letter Naomi wrote before her death: "The key is in the sunlight at the window in the bars the key is in the sunlight" (Part III, 11).Part IVIn the final section, the narrator mourns the forgotten or overlooked aspects of Naomi's story. Repeatedly referring to her as "O mother" (Part IV, 1, 3, 5), the narrator bids her farewell and reflects on different moments and relationships in Naomi's life, starting with different parts of her body. After mentioning her chin, fingers, belly, mouth, and more, Ginsberg repeats multiple lines beginning with "with your eyes of..." (Part IV, 24-51), each highlighting a significant memory or relationship from Naomi's life.In his poignant poem "Kaddish," Allen Ginsberg offers a deep and introspective reflection on his mother's life and passing. Through his use of language, personal themes, and literary devices, Ginsberg creates a captivating and emotionally charged work of literature.Before delving into the analysis of the text, it is important to understand the context and background of "Kaddish." Ginsberg wrote this poem five years after his mother's death, as apparent in its alternate title, "Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956)." In the Jewish faith, the mourner's Kaddish is a prayer recited during funerals to honor the holiness and greatness of God.Naomi Ginsberg's life was marked by turmoil and hardship, leading to her passing without the traditional Kaddish prayer being said for her. She left Russia for the United States and embraced the Communist Party, but her struggles with schizophrenia and paranoid delusions resulted in multiple admissions to mental hospitals. Her son Allen, a renowned poet, drew upon his mother's experiences in his acclaimed poem "Kaddish," using repetition and refrain to create a prayer-like tone and delve into their complicated relationship.The use of repetition and refrain is a common prayer technique that Ginsberg employs to great effect in "Kaddish." Each section of the poem features its own refrain, adding a musical component and emphasizing its spiritual nature. The first part highlights key lines through repetition, while the second reads like a stream-of-consciousness narrative. The third part, titled "Hymmnn," takes on a more explicit prayer form, with the phrase "Blessed be" repeated to bless both his mother and aspects of God connected to her struggles, such as paranoia and homosexuality.As the poem progresses, the use of refrain becomes even more profound. In part three, most lines begin with "only to have," describing the manifestations of Naomi's mental illness. Part four begins with a prayer-like address to his mother but transforms into a chant-like repetition of "with her eyes of," describing the various medical procedures she underwent. Finally, in part five, at Naomi's gravesite, the sounds of crows ("Caw caw caw") and the name of the Lord ("Lord Lord Lord") are repeated, emphasizing the ritualistic nature of the poem.In essence, "Kaddish" is a poignant and multi-layered poem that offers insight into the troubled life of Naomi Ginsberg and its impact on her son Allen. Through the use of repetition and refrain, Ginsberg creates a powerful prayer-like atmosphere, underscoring the sacredness and ritualistic qualities of the poem. It serves as a moving tribute to a mother-son relationship shaped by adversity, and a reminder of the power of memory in the face of loss.

The Recurring Theme of Death in Ginsberg's "Kaddish"

"Kaddish" by Allen Ginsberg is a poem that deeply reflects on themes of death and remembrance. Influenced by the works of Emily Dickinson, Ginsberg uses his personal experiences to create a powerful and emotional tribute to his late mother.

Notable Quotes from "Kaddish"

"Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village...listening to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phonograph" (1-4). These lines set the tone for the rest of the poem, addressing Ginsberg's mother and the vibrant setting of New York City. He also incorporates elements of pop culture, a signature style in his work.

"Dreaming back thru life, Your time—and mine accelerating toward Apocalypse" (10). These lines show Ginsberg's contemplation of his mother's life and death, as well as his own mortality. The mention of "Apocalypse" adds an air of impending doom and finality.

In Conclusion

Written in 1961, "Kaddish" is a deeply personal and powerful poem by Allen Ginsberg. As a key figure in the Beat Generation, his work is characterized by its lack of structure, use of repetition, and personal subject matter. In this particular piece, he candidly reflects on his relationship with his mother, her passing, and his own thoughts on death and mortality.

The Reflection of a Son: Allen Ginsberg's "Kaddish"

"Kaddish" is not only a tribute to Ginsberg's mother but also a way for him to come to terms with her death. Through the use of repetition, refrain, and anecdotes, he explores themes of guilt, death, and remembrance in this emotional poem.

The Inspiration Behind "Kaddish"

The motivation for writing "Kaddish" came from Ginsberg's desire to honor his mother's memory. When she passed away, there weren't enough men to say the traditional Hebrew prayer, Kaddish, at her funeral. This poem served as his way of making up for that and reflecting on her life and passing.

Themes in "Kaddish" by Allen Ginsberg

The central themes in "Kaddish" revolve around guilt, remembrance, and death. These themes are intertwined as Ginsberg recounts his mother's life and his own feelings towards her. He struggles with guilt over the way she was treated and the complexities of remembering someone who has passed away.

Timeline of "Kaddish"

Ginsberg spent two years writing "Kaddish," beginning in 1957 and ultimately publishing it in 1959 as part of his collection, Kaddish and Other Poems. This reflective piece showcases his raw emotions and serves as a form of catharsis for his grief.

The Tone of "Kaddish"

In "Kaddish," Ginsberg adopts a tone of forgiveness and remembrance. Despite touching on difficult themes, his overall tone is one of acceptance and peace. The use of repetition and refrain throughout the poem gives it a prayer-like quality.

The Length of "Kaddish"

"Kaddish" is divided into five sections and spans 19 pages in its original publication. The first two sections are longer, while the remaining three are shorter. This structure and length further highlight the emotional journey of the poem, culminating in a powerful and poignant ending.

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