ComparativeAnalysis: "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" by Walt Whitman and "ASupermarket in California" by Allen Ginsberg.
WaltWhitman’s influenceon American poetics cannot bestressedenough.Whitman’s make useof freeverseandlonglinesin his literalworkthat serveas a meansof emancipationfrom theconstraintsof societyacceptedpatternsof thoughtsandsexuality(Miller 1). Through poetry,Whitman founda wayof embodyingthedemocraticspiritof theUnited States of America. AcenturylaterGinsberg Allen adoptsa similarpoeticformto exemplifythesalienteventsin thesocietyin 20th century.Through usinga similarpoeticapproachto Whitman, Ginsberg foundhimself with a wayof emancipatinghimself fortheconstraintof thecapitalist driveeconomyandconsumerfueledconformityof 1950s. Nonetheless,as one examines “A Supermarket in California,"itbecomesvisiblethatGinsberg adoptsWhitman’s formas a wayof decryingthedemiseof Whitman’s visionof futureAmerica anddemocracy(Miller 2).
Conceivablythemostovertconnectionbetween Ginsberg andWhitman is evidentin theopeninglinesof thepoem‘’ A Supermarket in California’’. Ginsberg openlyaddressesWhitman, ostensiblybringingto mindtheelderpoetpresence.Justlike Whitman’s ‘’Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’’, Ginsberg useslonglinesin “A Supermarket in California."Allthrough “A Supermarket in California” thewriterbarrages thereaderwith a longlistof itemsthat hecomesacross in thesupermarket. Ginsberg declares“whatpeaches! Whatpenumbras?Wholefamiliesshoppingat night!Aisles fullof husbands!Wivesin theavocados, babiesin tomatoes!”(Miller6-7). ‘’ Ginsberg useof listsis similarto Whitman’s poetictechnique.Throughout Whitman’s poeticwork,especiallythe‘’Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’’, hetendedto enumerateitems,places,namesandpeoplein a longlist.Forinstance,hestates,‘’Flood-tide belowme! I seeyoufaceto face!,Clouds of thewest—sun therehalf an hourhigh—I seeyoualsofaceto face,Crowds of menandwomenattired in theusualcostumes,howcuriousyouare to me! On theferry-boats thehundredsandhundredsthatcross,returninghome,are morecuriousto me than yousuppose’’(Whitman 1).
Thetwo poemsdonot containanydescribable structure,andbothbearfeaturesof randominternalpatterning builtby theuseof repetitionof phrasesandwords.In “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” and“A Supermarket in California” repetitionandrevisiting areemployedto reinforcethethematic content of thepoemsthat lookat theprospectsof continuitywithin humanitypeggedon commonexperiences.Ginsberg continuously repeatsthefollowingwords,Dreaming, America, Walt Whitman, lonely,walk,followedfollowingandsolitary.Whitman on theotherhandsrepeatsphraseslike ‘’I seeyoufaceto face,thefloodtide…theebbtide,andhowcuriousyouare to me’’(Whitman 1 Miller 1).
BothWhitman andGinsberg workdiscusses everydayeventandexperience. Whitman observes, “Crowdsof menandwomenattired in usualcostumes!How curiousyouare to me!”(Whitman 1). In ‘’Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’’ Whitman expresseseverydayideasandsubjects.Ginsberg usesimageryto expressdailyoccurrencein his surroundings. Whitman createsa wholenewworldin his mindthrough his work,through capturingeventsthat are takingplace.Whitman makestheexperienceslastlonger than him, thoughhetranscendsdeath.Imagesforman integralpartin theworkof bothWhitman andGinsberg, “Intheday,among crowdsof people,sometimestheycameupon me, / in my walkshomelateat night,oras I layin my bed,theycame upon me”(Whitman 1). Theimagesthat are salientin his ordinaryenvironmentformthebasisof his work.Similarly,Ginsbergis alsoinfluencedby theimagesin his immediateenvironmentto writehis work.In his work,“A Supermarket in California,” Ginsberg talksof walkinga supermarket in theurbancityof California and‘’shoppingforimages’’(Ginsberg 1). While,in the supermarket, heis not searchingforordinaryimages,Ginsberg is lookingforimagesof differentliteralworkthat haveinfluencedhim, themainpoetbeingWhitman.
Theviewof Ginsberg in “A Supermarket in California,"is extensively shapedby theworkof Whitman. Heconsidershimself as one of thedisciplesof Whitman andotherpoetsthat camebefore himandthatsetthewayforhim. Justlike in ‘’Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’’ whereWhitman considershimself as havingthepowerto overcomedeath,particularlywhenWhitmanstates,“CloseryetI approachyou/What thoughtyouhaveof me, I hadas muchof you,I laidmystoresin advance”(Whitman 1).Whentheauthorsaysthathealreadyknowsallpoetsthat would comebefore him, heis givinghimself thegodfigure.Whitman furthers statesthat,hemight be watchingallof us as welistento hiswork,andassertsthatweare allconnectedin somewayby a strange"necessaryfilm."Invariably,Ginsberg accordshim thesamepositionandconsidershimself as his ardentfollowers(Whitman 1). Whitman andGinsberg are charactersin their poemandtheyattachthemselves to immortalitems.
Perhapsthemostsalientsimilaritybetween Whitman’s ’’Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’’ andGinsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” are thethemesexemplified.Sexualityis a themethat featuresin bothworks,thoughWhitman’s espouse thetopicas itwasviewedin the19th centurywhileGinsberg exemplifiesthesexualityas it wasin themid20th century(Casale 122-123). Sexualrepressionin the19th centurywasa commonthing.Whitman workwascraftedat a timewhenhomosexuality wasregardedas an unacceptable topicforliteralwork.In ‘’ A Supermarket in California’’, Ginsberg statesthatwhilein thesupermarket Whitman could be “pokingamong themeats,"which a politewayof referringto malesexualintercourseand“eyeing thegroceryboys”which acknowledgesthatWhitman allegedsexualaffectionforyoungboys( Ginsberg 1).
In“A Supermarket in California” Ginsberg is seekinginsightanddirectionfrom Whitman, a poetheconsidershis rolemodel.Ginsberg triesto getto Whitman becausehedoesnot seeanychangein thesociety(America) thatWhitman hadsaidwould occurafter manyyears.In “Crossing theBrooklyn Ferry” Whitman talksabout thetransformationthathebelievedwould transpirein America andGinsberg is frantically tryingto redress.Ginsberg believesheis thefutureAmerica that Whitman hadtalkedabout.Beinga homosexualin America in 1950s, Ginsberg feltmoreat easeto bringa famouspoetwhowasalsoa homosexual(Casale 122-123). In ‘’A California Supermarket ‘’ theunityof familiesthat Ginsberg observesmakehim feellike heis not partof thismodernAmerica. Althoughmanyyearshavepassed,andthecountryhas undergonethrough manychanges,Ginsberg observesthatWhitman’s ideasandpromiseswhichhetrustedwould cometo passhavefailedto takeplace.In “Crossing theBrooklyn Ferry’’ Whitman noticespeoplegoingabout their dailyactivities,ridingtheferrygoingto workandcomingfrom work.Ginsberg findshimself in thesamesituationmanyyearslater,Observing peopleas theygoabout their dailyactivities,gettingin andout of thesupermarket, andobserves‘’ husbandsin theaisleswith their wivesandchildren’’andthismakeshim feelhedoesnot belong.Ginsberg statesthat,“Itouchyour bookanddreamof our odyssey in thesupermarket andfeelabsurd”(Ginsberg 1). Ginsberg alsoallegesthatwhilein thesupermarket Whitman enquired’’ “Who killedthepork chops? Andwhatpricebananas? Areyoumy Angel?” (Ginsberg 1). Thesewordsemploysupermarket imageryto symbolizea primal kindofsexuality.
Throughthesewords,itis apparentthatGinsberg his sexualityis alienatinghim from thesocietyandhewisheshecould fitmoreappropriately.Ginsberg wisheshecould be ableto walkcomfortablywith his lover,like otherheterosexualcoupleswithout causingan alarm.Heneedsencouragementfrom Whitman to getinspirationthatperhapsin thefuturethingsmight changeandhomosexuality willbe acceptablein thesociety.
In’’Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’’ Whitman describestheNew York waterfrontanddoesnot distinguishbetween whatis man-made andnatural.Buildingandshipsare illustratedusingsimilarterms,justas wavesandseagulls. Thisappearsto his consentto historicalspecificity that can upsetcontinuityof experience.Whitman seemsveryoptimisticthatchangeswilloccurin thefuturethat willmakebringhappinessto everyone evenhomosexuals.Thisshred of optimismisnot sharedby Ginsberg whofeelsdisappointedby lackof anymeaningfulprogressin America, andthatalienateshim from thesociety.Akeyaspectin thepoem‘’ A supermarket in California’’ is thedistinctivesettingof thework.Additionally thefactthatGinsberg summonsthespiritof Whitman at thesupermarket is a featurein theworkthat is of particularimportance.Whitman’s settingis verydifferentfrom thatof his successor.Whitman poetryhappensin a populousurbansetting,Manhattan, at theoceansidethat is bustlingin activities.Ginsbergworkisdonein a settingthat is meeker (Miller 5-7).
Thesupermarket settingusedby Ginsberg has shovedthespaciouspoetryof theoutdoorthatis thekeycharacteristicof Whitman’s work,indoors(Pagnattaro 7).Itappearstheuseof a supermarket settingis deliberatebearingin mindthetimein American historywhenthispieceof writingwasmade(Miller 7). In themid20th century,itwasdifficultto separateconsumerbehavior,capitalismandtheAmerican dream.Thissetting,therefore, servesas a signof theillsthatcapitalismhadbroughtto thesociety.Thisis a phenomenonthat is not sharedby Whitman in his work,whoseemto believethatthein duecoursethere willbe changesthat willfavoreveryone. Ginsberg’s imageryof Whitman throughout his work,remindthereaderabout thevisionabout America that Whitman harbored.Itappearsthathis visionabout America hasbeenreducedto packaged meatandtelevisiondinersas highlighted by Ginsberg.
Ginsbergendeavored to advance Whitman’s legacy thematically andstylistically. Whitman work has influenced Ginsberg especially theuse of varying lengths of lines. He also continues with Whitmanattack on industrialized societies by writing the effects ofindustrial and corporate development that Whitman envisioned. The‘supermarket in California’ depicts domesticated life, which issymbolized by food stuffs placed (supermarket) outside its naturalenvironment. It also alludes to the veiled sexualized world, hiddenin the language of ordinary things.
Ginsberg,Allen.A Supermarket in California.Harper & Row pub, 1984. Retrieved fromhttp://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/ginsberg/onlinepoems.htm
Casale,Frank D. Bloom`s How to Write About Walt Whitman. New York:Infobase Pub, 2010. Internet resource.file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/machaa/My%20Documents/Crossing%20Brooklyn%20Ferry%20by%20Walt%20Whitman%20%20%20The%20Poetry%20Foundation.htm
Miller,Tyrus. "Critical Essay on "A Supermarket in California"”.Poetryfor Students.Vol. 5. 1999. Web. 13 Jan. 2009.
Pagnattaro,Marisa Anna. “Critical Essay on "A Supermarket inCalifornia"”. Poetryfor Students.Vol. 5. 1999. Web.
WaltWhitman.Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. Poem Foundation.