Homework by Allen Ginsberg

‘Homework’ by Allen Ginsberg is a poem depicting the environmental degradation in the modern world. The metaphorical reference to “Laundry” is significant. It reflects how dirty the world looks like from the eyes of an aware citizen of the world. Here, the aware citizen or the speaker of the poem is none other than the poet, Allen Ginsberg, himself. In his voice, there is a sternness of protest as well as a reformative appeal. The condition of the world be it environmental or political, both make the poet think about the dirt that modernity had stored in this azure planet called earth. Through this poem, the poet voices his protest in a reformative tone.

Homework by Allen Ginsberg

 

Summary of Homework

‘Homework’ by Allen Ginsberg describes how the speaker tries to wash various places on the earth clean like before.

In ‘Homework’ by Allen Ginsberg, the speaker feels as if the dirty places are clothes. He tries to wash them clean and remove the dirt of environmental degradation, politics, and pollution. There is a reference to a variety of countries, rivers, and places in this poem. The poet refers to countries such as Iran, the United States, Alaska, Russia, and China. Moreover, the poet refers to continents such as Africa, Asia, and North America. He also talks about the rivers namely Amazon, Rhine, Hudson, Thames, and Neckar, and other water bodies such as Carin and Gulf of Mexico, Love Canal, Mediterranean basin, and Lake Eerie. Apart from that, there are other references in the poem such as the North Pole, Rocky Flats, Los Alamos, Parthenon, and Sphinx.

By pointing out these places, Ginsberg highlights the major causes of natural degradation in the mentioned places. Last but not least, he wants to purify them by symbolically washing, scrubbing, wiping, rubbing, rinsing, and wringing those places.

You can read the full poem Homework here.

 

Structure of Homework

‘Homework’ by Allen Ginsberg consists of fourteen long lines without any specific rhyme scheme. The lines of the poem don’t follow the conventional poetic diction. Ginsberg uses prosaic lines to reflect the lack of beauty and the drooping condition of the places the poet talks about in this poem. Moreover, the poet describes how he wants to clean the dirt out of those regions from a first-person point-of-view. Hence, this poem is an example of a lyric. Though there isn’t any rhyming scheme in the poem, it is not unrhythmic at all. The poet uses internal rhythms for maintaining the flow of the poem.

Apart from that, there is a use of both the iambic meter and anapestic meter in this poem. However, some lines also contain the trochaic meter. The mixture of the meters creates a rising and falling rhythm alternatively that makes the sound scheme of the poem more interesting while reading.

 

Literary Devices in Homework

‘Homework’ by Allen Ginsberg begins with a metaphor in the usage of the word “Laundry” and in “dirty Iran” the poet makes a comparison between a dirty cloth and Iran. Thereafter the poet uses metonymy in the second line. Here, the poet refers to the places of the United States and Africa that are polluted. Moreover, the poet uses an allusion to the nursery rhyme “Rub a dub dub” in this poem. It’s not the only case where the poet uses allusion. There are several allusions such as the tragedy of Love Canal, the nuclear weapon manufacturing unit at Rocky Flats in America, and the Vietnam War. However, there are some lines in the poem that are connected by the use of enjambment.

Apart from that, in the last line, there is alliteration in “put the planet”. This line also contains irony as well as hyperbole in the use of the word “Aeon”.

 

Analysis of Homework

Lines 1–6

If I were doing my Laundry I’d wash my dirty Iran

(…)

Rub a dub dub for Rocky Flats and Los Alamos, Flush that sparkly Cesium out of Love Canal

‘Homework’ by Allen Ginsberg begins with sarcasm. The poet if he were doing his “Laundry”, he would preferably choose neither of his clothes. Rather he would take the countries and places that had become dirty due to pollution or man-made disasters. Hence, the poet says he would wash his dirty Iran and throw in the United States into his washing machine. Thereafter he would pour the Ivory Soap and scrub the whole of Africa until it became clear. He would put all the birds and elephants out of the zoos back to the jungle.

Moreover, the poet alludes to the polluted Amazon river and oily Carib and the Gulf of Mexico for washing the waste materials. After the washing with soap session is done, Ginsberg would start rubbing off the smog from the North Pole and wipe all the waste-carrying pipelines in Alaska. He would rub the Rocky Flats and Los Alamos for cleaning the radioactive waste stored there. Thereafter, he would flush the radioactive Cesium out of Love Canal that was polluted due to the disposal of chemical waste in the 1940s.

 

Lines 7–10

Rinse down the Acid Rain over the Parthenon & Sphinx, Drain Sludge out of the Mediterranean

(…)

Cleanse the Hudson Thames & Neckar, Drain the Suds out of Lake Erie

‘Homework’ by Allen Ginsberg focuses on the effect of Acid Rain on the Parthenon and the Sphinx at the beginning of this section. The poet says he would rinse down those monuments and drain the sludge out of the Mediterranean basin for making it azure again. Thereafter, the sky above the Rhine river catches the poet’s attention. He desires to put blueing the sky over the river and bleach the darkening clouds so the snow would look white as snow. This section reflects how everything had changed due to modernization and the pollution associated with it. Moreover, the poet says he would cleanse the rivers such as Hudson, Thames, and Neckar and drain the suds out of the Lake Eerie of America.

 

Lines 11–14

Then I’d throw big Asia in one giant Load & wash out the blood & Agent Orange,

(…)

& put the planet in the drier & let it sit 20 minutes or an Aeon till it came out clean.

Thereafter, in ‘Homework’ by Allen Ginsberg, the poet humorously refers to throwing the “big Asia” in “one giant load” to wash out the blood and “Agent Orange” from it. Here, “blood” symbolically refers to the Vietnam War, and Agent Orange was used by the U.S. Military as a tactical weapon to destroy the forest cover in Vietnam. Moreover, the poet refers to the political turmoil in China and Russia as the “whole mess”. He would put those countries in the wringer to squeeze out the political interference of the U.S. However, the poet ironically says he would also squeeze the brutality of the Central American police states out by putting them in the wringer.

At last, the poet says his work was done. Then, he would put the planet earth in the drier and let it sit for 20 minutes. Then suddenly the poet realized that it was not enough. That’s why he says the drying would take “an Aeon till it came out clean.”

 

Historical Context of Homework

‘Homework’ by Allen Ginsberg refers to the major man-made disasters that shook the planet. The poet refers to the Gulf Wars, the pollution of Amazon, and a lot more. There is a reference to the effect of massive industrialization on specific regions such as the North Pole and Alaska. Moreover, the poet refers to the radioactive pollution in the region of Rocky Flats and Los Alamos and the waste-disposal in the Love Canal. Apart from that, the poet presents the changing landscape due to pollution in Europe. In the last few lines, he presents the political tension in the countries of Asia and hints at the role of America in it.

At the end of the poem, the poet mocks the present scenario of the planet as if the dirt would not come out even if the poet tries this process for ages. Hence, it’s a satire on the artificiality of the problems existing in the modern world.

 

Similar Poetry

Like ‘Homework’ by Allen Ginsberg, the following poems present similarly talk about the effects of modernity and pollution.

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