A Supermarket in California
by Allen Ginsberg
What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?
I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.
Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?
Summary of A Supermarket in California
- Popularity of “A Supermarket in California”: Allen Ginsberg, a great American poet, and philosopher, wrote “A Supermarket in California”. It is a narrative piece and a tribute to Walt Whitman on the hundredth anniversary of ‘Leaves of Grass’. It was first published in 1956. The poem speaks about the speaker’s significant meeting with Walt Whitman, an American poet, essayist, and journalist, and Federico García Lorca, a Spanish poet, and playwright. While this imaginary meeting occurs, Allen takes an opportunity to criticize the American’s mainstream culture. The poem also talks about love and disappointment.
- “A Supermarket in California” As Representative of Sorrow: The speaker remembers Walt Whitman as he is walking back streets, on a full moon day. The poet is clearly alluding to his inspiration, Walt Whitman. While speaking directly to his imagined hero, the speaker enters a supermarket to satisfy his hunger. He observes men and women, especially those who have come together as families. First, he greets Garcia Lorca, a Spanish Civil War poet. Later, at the meat aisle, Allen sees Walt Whitman and begins to shadow him around the supermarket. The poet doesn’t buy any groceries for himself and realizes that the store is about to be closed.
Hesitantly, he asks Walt Whitman about the plans to go out after the store closes. Here, he takes an opportunity to compare the American of his time and Walt Whitman’s time. He addresses him as a father, teacher, and dear friend, expressing his loneliness and differences. Allen also refers to two historical rivers Styx and Lethe. Charon, the ferryman takes the deceased to Hades, and Lethe wipes people’s memories.
- Major Themes in “A Supermarket in California”: Inspiration, consumerism, and loneliness are the major themes of this poem. Throughout the poem, the poet pays respect and devotion to his role model, Walt Whitman. He imagines walking through the lonely streets and the crowded supermarkets in the company of Garcia and Walt, who too were openly homosexual. He presents his lonely travel in contrast to the people present in the supermarket and wonders how the people are lost in the enchanting glitz and glamour of the world and the lost the spirit of America. He mourns the death of his dream, the transformed America, which is now the hub of industrialization and modernization.
Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “A Supermarket in California”
Literary devices are very important elements of any literary text to bring richness to the text and make the reader understand the hidden meanings. Ginsberg has also made this poem superb by using figurative language. Here is the analysis of some literary devices used in this poem.
- Apostrophe: An apostrophe is a device used to call somebody or something from afar. Here, the poet has used an apostrophe to call Garcia Lorca and Walt Whitman expressing surprise and amazement by calling these figures directly.
- Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /o/ in “We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes” and “lonely old grubber, poking among” and the sound of /i/ in “Charon quit poling his ferry”.
- Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sounds of /l/ and /t/ in “Will we walk all night through solitary streets” and “Whole families shopping at night”.
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations” and “We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes.”
- Irony: The poet has used this device in the second line where it is stated as; “In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket”, he was searching for poetic inspiration, his hunger was mental.
- Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects and persons that are different in nature. The speaker has used an extended metaphor of the supermarket to comment upon the changing nature of America.
- Rhetorical Question: Rhetorical question is a question that is not asked in order to receive an answer; it is just posed to make the point clear. Allen Ginsberg has posed rhetorical questions at many places in the poem to put emphasize on his point such as, “what were you doing down by the watermelons?”, “Will we walk all night through solitary streets?” and “Who killed the pork chops?”
- Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. Supermarket symbolizes industrialization, modernism, and consumerism.
Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “A Supermarket in California”
Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.
- Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free-verse poem with no strict rhyme or meter.
- Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. It is a long poem having three stanzas in it.
Quotes to be Used
The lines stated below are useful to express our loneliness.
“Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.”