Sunflower Sutra

Sunflower Sutra

by Allen Ginsberg

I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.

Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery.

The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hung-over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily.

Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust—

—I rushed up enchanted—it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake—my visions—Harlem

and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past—

and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye—

corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb,

leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,

Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then!

The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives,

all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt—industrial—modern—all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown—

and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos—all these

entangled in your mummied roots—and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form!

A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze!

How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul?

Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?

You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!

And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not!

So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter,

and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul too, and anyone who’ll listen,

—We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our own eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision.

Summary of Sunflower Sutra

  • Popularity of “Sunflower Sutra”: Allen Ginsberg, a great American poet and philosopher, wrote “Sunflower Sutra”. It is a superb literary piece famous on account of its theme of destruction in America after modernization. It was first published in 1956. The poem speaks about the dark side of human society. It also illustrates how negative impulses of mankind have polluted the beautiful course of nature. The poem also exposes man versus nature in the postmodern world. The word ‘sutra’ is derived from the Buddist religion. It means a thread or short rule.
  • “Sunflower Sutra” As Representative of Sorrow: The poem criticizes the materialistic approach of man and his habits, which have corroded the beauty of the earth. The speaker, along with his friend, is sitting on the dock to look at the sunset over the box houses and cry. As they gaze upon the locomotives and steel machinery, a single, dead sunflower catches their attention. The dead flower reminds him of the great literary figures as they represent life and hope. However, unfortunately, in the present times, it is tarnished by the society.
    The materialistic approach of humanity and the thirst for consumerism has devoured the true glories of nature. He adds no matter if the modern world has failed to realize the flower’s inner beauty, which is still beautiful and bright. As the poem continues, the speaker talks about environmental devastation and pollution on the West Coast. He says that New York is filled with the denouement of industrialization, and this culmination has corroded the city. The speaker concludes by saying that America and mankind are not the product of this filthy industry, the terror of war, and the greed of consumerism. We can be golden sunflowers inside without the absurdities of selfishness.
  • Major Themes in “Sunflower Sutra”: Industrialization, modernity, nature, and humanity are the major themes of this poem. Throughout the poem, the speaker criticizes the materialistic and selfish approach of mankind that has killed his aesthetic sense. To him, the charm of modern society and man’s attraction toward it are the major causes of destruction. Using the central image of a sunflower, the speaker talks about the destruction man has caused to the natural world. Even though the flower decays in the industrial setting, yet to the speaker, it is still a beautiful sunflower. Therefore, he compares mankind to the eye-catching sunflowers.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Sunflower Sutra”

Literary devices such as essential elements of any literary text. Their use brings richness to the text and also helps the readers understand the story. Ginsberg has also made this poem superb by using figurative language. Here is the analysis of some literary devices used in this poem

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /o/ in “You were never no locomotive, Sunflower” and “my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then.”
  2. Anaphora: It refers to the repetition of a word or expression in the first part of some verses. For example, “And you Locomotive” in the last part of the poem to emphasize the point.

“You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not.”

  1. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /r/ in “You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower”, the sounds of /d/ and /l/ “home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills”.
  2. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter,” and “The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives.”
  3. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects and persons different in nature. The speaker has used an extended metaphor of sunflower to compare people with the changing nature of time.
  4. Rhetorical Question: Rhetorical question is a question that is asked as a statement instead of expecting an answer; it is just posed to make the point clear. The poem has many rhetorical questions used to emphasize his point. For example, “When did you forget you were a flower?”, “When did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive?” and “the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?”
  5. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. Sunflower symbolizes beauty, life, hope, and destruction.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Sunflower Sutra”

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. It is a long poem with no specific stanza break.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful when you would like to encourage or motivate people to be self-acceptant and confident.

“A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze!”