Velocity Of Money

Allen Ginsberg

‘Velocity Of Money’ by Allen Ginsberg uses irony and satire to make a powerful critique on the forces of capitalism.

Allen Ginsberg

Nationality: American

Allen Ginsberg was a leader of the Beat Generation.

Notable works include 'Americaand 'Howl.' 

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Capitalism ensures money only ever flows in one direction: toward those who already have it

Speaker: A person living in Manhattan

Emotions Evoked: Depression, Greediness, Panic

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

Allen Ginsberg's poem balances black humor with visceral imagery that serves to create a sarcastic but no less truthful commentary on the way inflation and greed deteriorate society.

‘Velocity Of Money’ is a poem that takes aim at the forces of capitalism that create poverty by filling the pockets of the wealthy. Allen Ginsberg writes the poem from the perspective of one who sarcastically upholds the necessity of inflation, applauding its detrimental effects on the United States.

Their black humor is matched only by the brutal reality illustrated through the poet’s deft imagery and use of figurative language. Creating a depressing but kinetic vision of the chaotic race for profit that such inflation creates, either out of desperate necessity or in order to greedily take advantage of others in the hopes of attaining more money.


‘Velocity Of Money’ by Allen Ginsberg is a poem about the negative effects of exorbitant rises in the cost of living under a capitalistic society collapsing under inflation and debt.

‘Velocity Of Money’ takes place from the perspective of a speaker living in Manhattan. Throughout the poem, they profess support for what they call the “velocity of money,” which serves as a metaphor for inflation. Yet the consequences of this increase in costs are detrimental not just to the speaker themselves (eviction looming over them) but to the city and its inhabitants as well.

The speaker offers a catalog of images that offer a visceral glimpse into the way such immense economic greed drives American society, as well as the ways in which it begins to negatively influence art and culture. They even try to find a few silver linings, but each one is just as bleak as the last. The weight of it all immobilizes even the speaker against trying to avert their own eviction by their landlord, opting instead to just keep sleeping as the economy collapses outside.

Literary Devices

‘Velocity Of Money’ has some interesting examples of a variety of literary devices. Ginsberg uses metaphor throughout: “the velocity of money” (1); “an usury makes the walls thinner, books thicker & dumber” (13); “Everybody running after the rising dollar” (22). There are also examples of visual imagery: “Delighted by skyscrapers rising the old grungy apartments falling on / 84th Street” (3-4); and kinesthetic imagery: “the velocity of money as it whistles through the windows / of Lower East Side” (2-3); “Crowds of joggers down broadway past City Hall on the way to the Fed” (23). The poet also uses rhetorical questions: “After all what good’s the family farm, why eat turkey by thousands every / Thanksgiving?” (6-7)

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-5

I’m delighted by the velocity of money as it whistles through the windows
of Lower East Side
Delighted by skyscrapers rising the old grungy apartments falling on
84th Street
Delighted by inflation that drives me out on the street

The opening lines of ‘Velocity Of Money’ begin with a series of declarations that serve to establish the speaker’s attitude toward the rising cost of goods in the United States — specifically, within Manhattan. Ginsberg uses both kinesthetic imagery and metaphor to create a compellingly tangible example of inflation, one he imagines physically zooming around the city, affecting change: “I’m delighted by the velocity of money as it whistles through the windows” (1).

Ironically, the speaker’s diction celebrates the increase in cost, as well as the adverse effects it has not just on the city but their own quality of life as well. “I’m delighted” (1), they assert, repeating that same sentiment three times in the first five lines of the poem. The emphasis highlights the speaker’s deadpan sarcasm as they delight in the visual imagery of the “skyscrapers rising the old grungy apartments falling on / 84th Street” (3-4). As well as in the way such inflation “drives me out on the street” (5).

The implication is that the speaker doesn’t actually favor such circumstances, and instead, the poem unfolds as a list of all the negative ways (disguised beneath Ginsberg’s sardonic satire) a meteoric rise in the cost of living affects a society.

Lines 6-20

After all what good’s the family farm, why eat turkey by thousands every
Why not have Star Wars? Why have the same old America?!?
George Washington wasn’t good enough! Tom Paine pain in the neck,
Whitman what a jerk!

This middle section of ‘Velocity Of Money’ probes for the benefits of inflation. A series of rhetorical questions that appear to comment on the values of American culture, especially in terms of how money is spent. The speaker attaches the “velocity of money” (i.e. inflation) to a zealous need to have more, be it food or blockbuster entertainment: “After all what good’s the family farm, why eat turkey by thousands every / Thanksgiving? / Why not have Star Wars?” (6-8)

But there’s also a redefinition of the country that’s wrapped up in this monetary crescendo. “Why have the same old America?!?” (8). The speaker screams questioningly before lambasting George Washington and Thomas Paine. They even take a dig at one of Ginsberg’s idols: “Whitman what a jerk!” (10) The raw sentiment being expressed is out with the old, in with the new — and the new is quite expensive.

Throwing out history and culture is just the beginning as well. As the cost of everything goes up, people have less money or leisure time to spend on meaningful works of art, and the speaker contemplates sarcastically how to capitalize on this monetarily: “Usury makes my poetry more valuable / my manuscripts worth their weight in useless gold -” (14-15).

The speaker also uses their political ideology and religious views to point out the irony of society’s downward spiral. As a communist, they view the rise in inflation as making “the walls thinner, books thicker & dumber” (13). In other words, something’s got to give, and the greed capitalism inspires only destabilizes. Then they quip about how “everybody’s atheist like me, nothing’s sacred” (16) before painting shocking images of debauchery that result from rising inflation: “buy and sell your grandmother, eat up old age homes, / Peddle babies on the street,” (17-18).

Lines 21-27

The velocity’s what counts as the National Debt gets higher
Everybody running after the rising dollar
Crowds of joggers down broadway past City Hall on the way to the Fed

In this last section of lines from ‘Velocity Of Money,’ the speaker reiterates their inane worship of the accelerating rise in cost. Another striking piece of imagery and figurative language coalesces the rat race attitude: “Everybody running after the rising dollar / Crowds of joggers down broadway past City Hall on the way to the Fed” (23-24).

Once again, the speaker also comments on the fact that cultural and literary interests are receding because of it. The one benefit to themselves is that because no one is reading Russian authors like Fyodor Dostoevsky, they’ll have to settle for giving “a passing ear / to my fragmented ravings in between President’s speeches” (24-25). Ginsberg employs a little self-deprecation to highlight the topsy-turvy world in which people will have to either choose between the philosophical jabbering of a Beat poet and the words of a President.

The poem ends with an anticlimax but also humorously as the speaker offers a monumental understatement: “Nothing’s happening but the collapse of the Economy” (26). But like so many of the devastatingly bleak realities of inflation, they are able to find an irreverent bit of silver lining. Reasoning that if an economic disaster is truly here, there’s not much else to do but “go back to sleep till the landlord wins his eviction suit in court” (27) because there’s obviously no way they’re going to be able t come up with the money.


What is the theme of ‘Velocity Of Money?

The poem uses irony and satire to criticize the way inflation deteriorates society and stalls culture. In feigning support for such exorbitant rises in costs, the speaker reveals the absurdity of actually supporting the systems that allow it.

Why did Allen Ginsberg write ‘Velocity Of Money?

Ginsberg wrote the poem as a thinly veiled and acerbic criticism of capitalism. According to the poem, the only goal of such a system is to greedily squeeze every scrap of money people have by commodifying everything. Creating a vicious cycle that’s only barely sustained by encouraging people to capitalize (e.g. similarly take advantage of people) wherever they can to make more “useless gold.”

What is the tone of the poem?

The speaker’s tone becomes more frantically desperate and/or absurdly sarcastic with every line. They feign support for inflation, but Ginsberg’s various examples of imagery and figurative language, which reveal the horrific consequences of its effects, imply they don’t actually see it that way.

What is usury?

Usury is defined as the unethical or immoral act of engaging in money lending that excessively benefits the lender with high rates of interest. What qualifies as usury is arbitrary, however, and varies by law. The speaker of Ginsberg insinuates that legally-sanctioned usury is taking place in the United States already via interest rates, taking advantage of those with already so little to give and so much to lose.

Similar Poems

Poetry+ Review Corner

Velocity Of Money

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.

Allen Ginsberg

This poem by Allen Ginsberg underscores the poet's skill with irony. It also displays his breathless verse and ability to wrangle a diverse array of images and symbols together to create something manic but also cohesive. Every side-winding line leading you back to the speaker's vaulting praise of money and the acerbic commentary that lies between every line.
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20th Century

Ginsberg was an important poet in the 20th century and was exceptionally vocal through his verse. This poem reveals his apathetic and critical perceptions of American life and society during his lifetime, lamenting the way money has only led to more poverty and the degradation of culture. It is a moving and biting sarcastic poem that still resonates decades later.
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Ginsberg was a central figure among the Beat poets and important to the literary movement. He was also an incisive critic of various elements of American society, this included capitalism, which he saw only as unchecked greed. This poem exemplifies those views in a way that is unique to the poet's off-kilter style, using satire and sarcasm to reveal the incredulity of such greed.
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Ginsberg's poem is a satirical celebration of money and all its detrimental effects on society. It praises and encourages it, urging people to participate the way a parody of capitalist propaganda might. But underneath that celebration is a hidden lament for what is being lost as money gains more and more precedence.
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The poem ends with the speaker revealing that everything they have said is just a way to justify staying in bed and not getting a job, despite facing eviction. They are immobilized by the disappointment that awaits them if they try to overtake the velocity of money set in motion. Sure, they could sell their writing to try and hoodwink the masses into giving them some money, but that would do nothing for the speaker.
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Religion is another theme found within the poem. The speaker mentions that with the rise in inflation and reverence of money, people have become atheists just like themselves. The poem insinuates that money has become just another idol to be worshipped, and it is driven by greed. Ginsberg finds irony in the way capitalism has made people just as godless as himself.
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This poem can be considered depressing to read because of its bleak view of a society plagued by money. Although it is masked by the speaker's satire and irony, the imagery that Ginsberg provides is indicative of intense poverty. The ending of the poem is especially dismal as it does not offer much of a solution for such an existence other than to just give up.
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Greediness is perhaps the most powerful emotion expressed and felt throughout the poem. The speaker satirizes this feeling to the point of money worship, exalting inflation as a beautiful and necessary thing. Of course, the poem does not advocate for such greed. Instead, it simply reveals just how dismaying and illogical it is to be guided solely by such narcism.
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There is also a sense of panic that enters the poem as the speaker continues to exalt inflation. It fills the world around them as people are forced out of their homes and are forced to sell anything they can just to survive. The poem depicts a society in crisis and one that flows directly from the greed of others.
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The idea of culture is also touched on within the poem: there is American pop culture, literary culture, and the culture of money-worshipping fanatics. According to the speaker, culture is suffering and languishing because of our obsession with money. It even points out how people might seize on it and profit from such a vacancy.
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Giving Up

The poem ends with the speaker essentially resigning any hope that they might be able to reverse their coming eviction. This contrasts greatly with the poem's opening lines which are enthused and excited. But now it is clear there is no stopping the velocity of money, it is far too powerful a force. As a result, the poem ends in tragic surrender.
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Irony plays a large role in the poem. Ginsberg does a phenomenal job of using the speaker's intense sarcasm as a means of punctuating their own bitter distaste for money and capitalism in general. Some of its most potent moments are wrapped up in outrageous statements and images that drive home the bleakness of the poem's satire.
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Money is really the central topic of the poem. It is the velocity of this paper, given arbitrary value, that consumes the speaker with overzealous excitement. Yet hidden behind their sarcasm is an intense apathy toward money that is just as insatiable. The poem leaves the reader with the sense that its permeance in our society is the reason for its degradation.
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Free Verse

Ginsberg's poem is written in free verse, the purpose of which is to capture the earnest anxiousness of the speaker's zeal over inflation. The poem does this exceptionally well, immersing the reader in a rapid array of images that create the illusion of speed while also building exceptional tension as the scenes grow more bleak and terrible.
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The poem sings the praises of inflation alongside a laundry list of its terrible effects on society, revealing the bitter irony at the heart of those who support the consequences of capitalism. In doing so, it presents a satirical monologue that is uncompromising in its imagery and callous criticisms. The speaker's words are dripping with immense and ridiculous irony.
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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.

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