Allen Ginsberg - Sunflower Sutra

Allen Ginsberg
"Sunflower Sutra"
Ginsberg’s “Sunflower Sutra” was written in 1955 during Ginsberg’s time in Berkeley, California. It represents many of the themes that Ginsberg would take up throughout his career. It’s overarching message is one of a desolate American landscape, destroyed and devastated by the careless work of modern society. But, unlike Ginsberg’s other poems, like “America,” “Sunflower Sutra” ends with a glimmer of hope as Ginsberg proclaims he will preach a “sermon” of light to all that see only despair in their country and their lives.
Ginsberg titles the poem as a “Sutra,” a Buddhist form of literature in which a string of aphorisms compose a body of work. An aphorism is a kind of quick line - spoken or written - that uses wit or humor to state a deep seeded truth. Ginsberg’s poem is more complex than a simple Sutra, however, though by titling the poem as such he means to suggest that the message of the poem is really quite simple.
The sunflower has many representations throughout the poem, but it means to finally suggest an America that has been tarnished and battered, but contains the ability to be redeemed and to be beautiful once again. In fact, the sunflower still holds the form of beauty inside of it, an Aristotelean view of beauty, and that beauty can shine forth if only people expand their thought to understand it as such. In this way, America and its core values - freedom of expression, progressive political and social thought - contains the inner form of beauty. Ginsberg sees himself, in the line of Romantic poets, as a prophet whose job it is to show this beauty to a country that has become rotten at its core.
In the line of Ginsberg’s prophetic poems - a style based on the Hebrew Bible’s prophetic literature in which a person is called to proclaim God’s wrath to an unfaithful Israelite nation - this poem could be considered Ginsberg’s original vision that calls him to a prophetic life. “America,” and parts of “Howl”...