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Longing For HER: Ferlinghetti’s Mad Quest for the Muse

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Vassar College

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  1. Introduction
  2. The grammar of poetic myth in The White Goddess
  3. Attempts at pinning down 'her' image
  4. The climax of the 'orgasm in paint'
  5. Conclusion

While Lawrence Ferlinghetti makes no claim to being enlightened, his poetry is nonetheless a record of and reaction to the sacred journey. While it is illuminating to read words of the awakened prophets of world history, I think it can be as rewarding to read the work of those who, sincere in their intention, still have some way to make along the path. In the pages of HER (1960), his poetic ?labyrinth-dream,? Ferlinghetti takes the reader on a tour of ?a semi-mad period of my life, in that mindless, timeless state most romantics pass through, confusing flesh madonnas with spiritual ones. ? In his search for bemusement, Ferlinghetti's character travels through the realms of memory, meditation and song that characterize the three-fold Greek idea of the Muse. For Ferlinghetti, these three stages become recollection, obsession, and painting in an attempt to propitiate his nameless, maddening muse. In the process, the poet contributes to the discussion about the relationship between the woman-in-time and the timeless-goddess.

[...] The artist understands that his ?life which was itself based upon an endless sexual fantasy centered on some vague unmet figure of love with longing hair whose eyes held what I took for speechless messages He calls himself the ?chief fanatic,? a principal devotee of the trans-historic Goddess he elucidates to be an impressionable idol constantly affected and transformed by her changing surroundings, with her skirt growing longer and longer or shorter and shorter as each century dictated and pausing finally to straighten her seams and put spit on her seams as she came at last to today in the Rue de Vaugirard But of course the devoted, wandering eyes of the poet never settle on one instance of these divine eyes and continue to become ?caught by another pair of eyes? after another. [...]

[...] Ferlinghetti reflects on the path to the true self, telling us that the first thing God made was love though the second thing he made was blood, the third hip thing God made was [this] long journey: I am on the way to myself through what I hope is love or through what at least I would take for love yes I am on my way to myself through the illusions of sense through the illusions of happiness and beauty to find that innermost swinger beyond the self (60). [...]

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