AskDefine | Define howl

Dictionary Definition



1 a long loud emotional utterance; "he gave a howl of pain"; "howls of laughter"; "their howling had no effect" [syn: howling, ululation]
2 the long plaintive cry of a hound or a wolf
3 a loud sustained noise resembling the cry of a hound; "the howl of the wind made him restless"


1 emit long loud cries; "wail in self-pity"; "howl with sorrow" [syn: ululate, wail, roar, yawl]
2 cry loudly, as of animals; "The coyotes were howling in the desert" [syn: wrawl, yammer, yowl]
3 make a loud noise, as of wind, water, or vehicles; "The wind was howling in the trees"; "The water roared down the chute" [syn: roar]
4 laugh unrestrainedly and heartily [syn: roar]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • , /haʊl/, /haUl/


  1. The protracted, mournful cry of a dog or a wolf, or other like sound.
  2. A prolonged cry of distress or anguish; a wail.


The protracted, mournful cry of a dog or a wolf, or other like sound
  • Kurdish:
  • Portuguese: uivo
A prolonged cry of distress or anguish; a wail


  1. To utter a loud, protraced, mournful sound or cry, as dogs and wolves often do.
  2. To utter a sound expressive of distress; to cry aloud and mournfully; to lament; to wail.
  3. To make a noise resembling the cry of a wild beast.
  4. To utter with outcry.


To utter a loud, protracted, mournful sound or cry, as dogs and wolves often do



Extensive Definition

This article is about the poem by Allen Ginsberg. For other meanings see Howl (disambiguation).
Howl and Other Poems is a collection of poetry by Allen Ginsberg. It contains Ginsberg's most famous poem, "Howl", which is considered to be one of the principal works of the Beat Generation along with Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957) and William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch (1959).


The poem "Howl" was written in Ginsberg's cottage in Berkeley in the summer of 1955. Many factors went into the creation of the poem. A short time before the composition of "Howl", Ginsberg's therapist encouraged him to quit his job and pursue poetry full time. That summer he experimented with parataxis in the poem "Dream Record: June 8, 1955" about the death of Joan Vollmer. He showed this poem to Kenneth Rexroth who criticized it as too stilted and academic; Rexroth encouraged Ginsberg to free his voice and write from his heart. Ginsberg took this advice and attempted to write a poem with no restrictions. He was under the immense influence of William Carlos Williams and Jack Kerouac and attempted to speak with his own voice spontaneously. Ginsberg began the poem in the stepped triadic form he took from Williams, but in the middle of typing the poem his style altered such that his own unique form (a long line based on breath organized by a fixed base) began to emerge. Ginsberg would experiment with this breath-length form in many later poems. The first draft contained what would later become Part I and Part III. It is noted for relating stories and experiences of Ginsberg's friends and contemporaries, its tumbling hallucinatory style, and the frank address of sexuality, specifically homosexuality, which subsequently provoked an obscenity trial. Though Ginsberg referred to many of his friends and acquaintances (including Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Peter Orlovsky, Lucien Carr, and Herbert Huncke) the primary emotional drive was his sympathy for Carl Solomon to whom it was dedicated (1928-1993); he met Solomon in a mental institution and became friends with him. Ginsberg admitted later this sympathy for Solomon was connected to bottled up guilt and sympathy for his mother's condition (she suffered from schizophrenia and had been lobotomized), an issue he was not yet ready to address directly.
The poem was first performed at the famous Six Gallery in San Francisco. The reading was conceived by Wally Hedrick – a painter and co-founder of the Six – who approached Ginsberg in the summer of 1955 and asked him to organize a poetry reading at the Six Gallery. "At first, Ginsberg refused. But once he’d written a rough draft of Howl, he changed his 'fucking mind,' as he put it". Ginsberg was ultimately responsible for inviting the readers (Gary Snyder, Philip Lamantia, and Philip Whalen -- Michael McClure and Kenneth Rexroth were involved early in the process) and writing the invitation. "Howl" was the second to the last reading (before "A Berry Feast" by Snyder) and was considered by most in attendance the highlight of the reading. Many considered it the beginning of a new movement, and the reputation of Ginsberg and those associated with the Six Gallery reading spread throughout San Francisco. Soon afterwards, it was published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore and the City Lights Press. Ginsberg completed Part II and the "Footnote" after Ferlinghetti had promised to publish the poem. "Howl" was too short to make an entire book, so Ferlinghetti requested some other poems. Thus the final collection contained several other poems written at that time; with these poems, Ginsberg continued the experimentation with long lines and a fixed base he'd discovered with the composition of "Howl" and these poems have likewise become some of Ginsberg's most famous: "America", "Sunflower Sutra", "A Supermarket in California", etc.
The earliest extant recording of "Howl" dates from February 14, 1956. Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, after hitch-hiking from San Francisco, read from their poems in the Anna Mann dormitory at Reed College, Snyder's alma mater. This recording, discovered in summer 2007 on a reel-to-reel tape in the Reed College archives, contains only Part I of "Howl." After beginning to read Part II, Ginsberg said to the audience, "I don't really feel like reading any more. I just sorta haven't got any kind of steam."

Overview and structure of "Howl"

The poem consists of three parts, with an additional footnote.

Part I

Called by Ginsberg, "a lament for the Lamb in America with instances of remarkable lamb-like youths," Part I is the best known, and communicates scenes, characters, and situations drawn from Ginsberg's personal experience as well as from the community of poets, artists, political radicals, jazz musicians, drug-addicts, and psychiatric patients whom he encountered in the late 1940s and early 50's. These people represent what he considers "the best minds of his generation", an ironic and shocking declaration since, in what members of the Beat Generation considered the oppressively conformist and materialistic 50's, those Ginsberg called "best minds" were unrepresented outcasts, what the middle class might consider "worst minds". The shocking aspect of the poem was further enhanced by Ginsberg's frank descriptions of sexual, often homosexual, acts. Most lines in this section contain the fixed base "who". Ginsberg says in "Notes Written on Finally Recording Howl", "I depended on the word 'who' to keep the beat, a base to keep measure, return to and take off from again onto another streak of invention".

Part II

Ginsberg says that Part II, in relation to Part I, "names the monster of mental consciousness that preys on the Lamb". Part II is a rant about the state of industrial civilization, characterized in the poem as 'Moloch'. Ginsberg was inspired to write Part II during a period of peyote-induced visionary consciousness in which he saw a hotel façade as a monstrous and horrible visage which he identified with that of Moloch. Moloch is the biblical idol in Leviticus to whom the Canaanites sacrificed children. Ginsberg intends that the characters he portrays in Part I be understood to have been sacrificed to this idol. Moloch is also the name of an industrial, demon-like figure in Fritz Lang's Metropolis, a film which Ginsberg credits with influencing "Howl, Part II" in his annotations for the poem (see especially Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions). Most lines in this section contain the fixed base "Moloch". Ginsberg says of Part II, "Here the long line is used as a stanza form broken into exclamatory units punctuated by a base repetition, Moloch".
From "Footnote to Howl":
"Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cassady"

The "Other Poems"

Though "Howl" was certainly Ginsberg's most famous poem, the collection includes many examples of Ginsberg at his peak, many of which garnered nearly as much attention and praise as "Howl"; these include:
  • "America" -- a poem in a conversation form between the narrator and America. When the narrator says "It Occurs to me that I am America", he follows with "I am talking to myself again." The tone is generally humorous and often sarcastic though the subject is often quite serious. He references several heroes and martyrs of significant movements such as the labor movement. These include: Leon Trotsky, the Scottsboro Boys, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Wobblies/IWW. He includes several events of personal significance including his Uncle Max coming over from Russia, William S. Burroughs living in Tangier, and how his mother, Naomi, would take him to Communist meetings when he was seven. "America" can be seen as a continuation of the experiment he started with the long line and fixed base of "Howl". Ginsberg said, "What happens if you mix long and short lines, single breath remaining the rule of measure? I didn't trust free flight yet, so went back to fixed base to sustain the flow, America." Similarly, "Ideally each line of Howl is a single breath unit. My breath is long -- that's the measure, one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of a breath."

Other interpretations of Howl


Writing in the magazine The New Republic in 1986, Christopher Buckley and Paul Slansky published a 1980s re-interpretation of "Howl", entitled "Yowl". The poem was published to commemorate the 30th anniversary of "Howl"'s publication, and was a parody, both of the Ginsberg original and of the Yuppie lifestyle which their version portrayed.

In 2000, at the height of the dot com boom, Thomas Scoville wrote a parody of Howl, called, that was widely circulated via email and the web. It focused on internet technology, the new media business world and the emerging social structures that had accompanied the Internet's rising popularity, such as open source development and technology celebrities.

Penny Rimbaud's How?

In January 2003 Penny Rimbaud, founder of the anarchist band Crass, performed Ginsberg's "Howl" as part of the first Crass Agenda event at the Vortex Jazz Club in London's Stoke Newington. After the gig, Oliver Weindling, of the jazz-label Babel suggested releasing a recording of the performance. However, Rimbaud was unable to obtain permission from Ginsberg's estate to use the work, and instead rewrote it, updating it as a critique of post September 11, 2001, American culture. Of this work Rimbaud states, "In "How?" I have attempted to confront the innate madness of the 'New World Order': It is, I believe, a madness that even Ginsberg could not have foreseen in his wildest Nightmares". Whilst retaining much of the structure and spirit of the original work, "How?" includes some significant changes, including the substitution of 'Mammon' for 'Moloch', and the word 'wholly' instead of 'holy' in the poem's celebratory 'footnote'. A recording of Rimbaud's "How?", performed live and unrehearsed with a jazz-ensemble at the Vortex Club, was released in 2004.


As an experiment in Antipoetry and in the tradition of re-writing the poem, commemorating the 50th anniversary of "Howl"'s publication, in 2006, Australian writer and poet Bill Pascoe wrote "Bowel". While partly a parody of Howl, it keeps good faith with the original, mixing intensely personal experience, socio-political critique and irreverent profanity.

References in pop culture

  • A 50th anniversary of 'Howl' took place on November 1, 2006 at The Art Workers Guild in London on the exact day of first publication at City Lights San Francisco, with a reading of 'Howl', tributes to Ginsberg, poetry readings and a screening of 'Wholly Communion' and highlights of 'Allen Ginsberg Live in London'.
  • Quoted in the song "Machinehead" by Bush, on the album Sixteen Stone The first line serves as the bridge in this song, with Gavin Rossdale saying, "I've seen the best minds of my generation/they are starving, hysterical, and naked..." Gavin Rossdale has often cited Allen Ginsberg as an inspiration.
  • In episode #5, Season 2, of TV show Gilmore Girls, Jess notices a copy of "Howl" on Rory Gilmore's bookshelf. She offers to lend it to him and he declines, but later, he returns it to her, saying that he had merely "borrowed" it when she accuses him of stealing it. He also tells her that he has read it many times before.
  • In episode #7F07 of cartoon series The Simpsons, "Bart vs. Thanksgiving", after a nasty incident during the family's Thanksgiving dinner, daughter Lisa writes a poem titled "Howl of the Unappreciated" which begins "I saw the best meals of my generation / destroyed by the madness of my brother. / My soul carved in slices / by spikey-haired demons."
  • In episode #302 of cartoon series Daria, while Daria is volunteering at the nursing home to read to senior citizens, one poem she reads is the first stanza, which results in the elderly people disliking her.
  • Quoted in the song "I Should be Allowed to Think" by They Might Be Giants (on the album John Henry), which opens with the line "I saw the best minds of my generation / destroyed by madness, starving hysterical," and later includes the line "I saw the worst bands of my generation applied by magic marker to dry wall" to the same beat.
  • In the 1988 John Waters film Hairspray, a "beatnik chick" played by Pia Zadora reads the beginning of 'Howl' as she offers to 'get naked and smoke pot' with Tracy Turnblad and friends.
  • In the movie Hackers, the protagonist, Dade Murphy, uses the second stanza as a quote that gives him credibility as a member of his high school's Advanced Placement English class.
  • The lyrics to the opening verse of the song Nutopia, featuring vocals by Meg Lee Chin, are an obvious tribute: "I saw the best minds of my generation running on empty, superglued to the T.V., dreaming of prosperity, talking incessantly, saying nothing." Nutopia appears on both the 1997 Pigface album A New High in Low and Meg Lee Chin's 1999 solo album Piece and Love.
  • Quoted by Warren Zevon in a performance of Werewolves of London at Raul's Roadside Attraction in 1988 (and possible elsewhere). He opens the song with the line "I've seen the best minds of my generation, starving hysterical, naked, and walking through the streets of Portland in the rain."
  • During the failed Supreme Court Nomination of U.S. Appeals Court Chief Judge Douglas Ginsberg SNL's "Weekend Update" Anchor Dennis Miller reads a stanza from "Howl" ("I saw the best minds of my generation / destroyed by madness, starving hysterical,"). Seemingly confusing the conservative jurist for the liberal poet, Miller concludes that the jurist sounded to him "like a heavy cat."
  • The lyrics to the opening verse of the Dan Bern song Wasteland are an obvious tribute: "I saw the best of my generation playing pinball / Maked up and caked up and lookin' like some kind of china doll / With all of Adolf Hitler's moves down cold / As they stood up in front of a rock and roll band...". Wasteland appears on his 1993 self-titled debut album.
  • Re-worked by The Fugs as "I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Rock," currently available on the Fantasy Records reissue of their first album.
  • An episode of the children's animated TV show Hey Arnold makes reference to Howl when Gerald shares a poem that is a more children-friendly version of the poem.
  • New York based Crust-Punk Ezra Kire, in his one man band, Morning Glory, makes reference to Howl with the opening lines of the song Circle N: "I saw the best minds of my generation/destroyed by desperation" on the album This Is No Time Ta Sleep.
  • The title of first track on post-hardcore band Refused's album The Shape Of Punk To Come, "Worms Of The Senses/Faculties Of The Skull" comes from "Howl".



  • Charters, Ann (ed.). The Portable Beat Reader. Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-140-15102-8 (pbk)
  • Ginsberg, Allen. Howl. 1986 critical edition edited by Barry Miles, Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First Public Reading, Legal Skirmishes, Precursor Texts & Bibliography ISBN 0-06-092611-2 (pbk.)
  • Howl of the Censor. Jake Ehrlich, Editor. ISBN 1-11117-504-7
  • Raskin, Jonah. American Scream: Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and the Making of the Beat Generation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. ISBN 0520240154
  • Miles, Barry. Ginsberg: A Biography. London: Virgin Publishing Ltd. (2001), paperback, 628 pages, ISBN 0-7535-0486-3
howl in German: Howl
howl in Italian: Howl
howl in Polish: Skowyt
howl in Spanish: Howl y otros poemas

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Bedlam let loose, air a grievance, animal noise, bark, barking, battle cry, bawl, bay, bedlam, beef, beefing, bell, bellow, bellyache, bellyaching, birdcall, bitch, bitching, blare, blast, blat, blate, bleat, bobbery, boggle, boycott, brawl, bray, brouhaha, call, call in question, caterwaul, challenge, charivari, cheer, chirm, clamor, clang, clangor, clap, clatter, commotion, complain, complaining, complaint, compunction, crab, creak, croak, cry, cry out, cry out against, demonstrate, demonstrate against, demonstration, demur, demurrer, destructive criticism, din, discord, dispute, dissent, dolorous tirade, donnybrook, drunken brawl, dustup, enter a protest, exception, expostulate, expostulation, faultfinding, flap, fracas, free-for-all, fret, fret and fume, fuss, give tongue, give voice, grievance, grievance committee, gripe, griping, groan, groaning, grouch, grouse, grousing, growl, grumble, grumbling, grunt, hail, halloo, hell broke loose, holler, hollo, hoot, howling, hubbub, hue and cry, hullabaloo, hurrah, indignation meeting, jangle, jeremiad, keen, kick, kicking, lament, lodge a complaint, loud noise, low, make an outcry, march, mating call, meow, mew, mewl, miaow, moan, moo, murmur, murmuring, mutter, neigh, nicker, noise, noise and shouting, nonviolent protest, note, object, objection, outcry, pandemonium, panic, peeve, peevishness, pet peeve, petulance, picket, picketing, pipe, plaint, planctus, press objections, protest, protest demonstration, protestation, pule, qualm, querulousness, racket, raise a howl, rally, rallying cry, rattle, register a complaint, remonstrance, remonstrate, remonstration, rhubarb, roar, row, ruckus, ruction, rumble, rumpus, scolding, screak, scream, screech, scruple, shindy, shivaree, shout, shriek, shrill, sidesplitter, sigh, sing, sit in, sit-in, skirl, skreigh, snarl, sniping, sob, sough, squall, squawk, squawking, squeak, squeal, state a grievance, stridulation, strike, take on, teach in, teach-in, thunder, thunderclap, tintamarre, tirade, troat, tumult, ululate, ululation, uproar, wail, wail of woe, wailing, war cry, war whoop, whicker, whimper, whine, whining, whinny, whisper, whistle, whoop, woodnote, wrawl, yammer, yap, yapping, yawl, yawp, yell, yell bloody murder, yelp, yelping, yip, yo-ho, yowl
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