While reading Walt Whitman’s “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” I couldn’t help but think of the beat generation and also how that bucking of society’s traditions seems to be coming back in our current mindset. From great turmoil comes change. An idea. A way of thinking that is, not so much new as it is being forced into the foreground. Walt Whitman’s experiences colored his life and outlook, as did the beat generation had to shuck off society’s norms and values and how even today, so much is changing that we cannot embrace the values that our parents grew up with.
When I was young, I believed that success was having a good job, a house, getting married and having a kid or two. Then I realized that I didn’t particularly want kids and I wasn’t so sure about getting married, especially when so many of the marriages around me were dissolving. This made me think about other aspects of my parents’ lives that I had thought were the marks of being an adult. Then the housing bubble burst and so many people were having trouble paying their mortgages and it seemed that maybe having a house did not equal success. All this, along with a more recent transition in my life made me think that these were not the traditions to follow anymore. They were too inhibiting to embrace.
I assume this is a lot like what triggered a lot of the writers in the beat generation. It didn’t make sense anymore to embrace what society had been telling them to embrace. A lot of people will call it a beat movement, but I don’t think it can be classified as a movement so much as a way of life. The beat poets at the time did not consider it a movement, they just were. Later, the hippies took it and warped it into a movement, but the beat poets and those in their culture were individuals who were just living and questioning society’s values.
More and more lately, I have felt a kinship and an urge to learn more about the beat generation. I have recently found more and more reason to question what I thought was important. Some of this due to personal reasons, some due to economic reasons and some due to values just not making sense anymore. There is always change and this poem is so easy to relate to when I realize that we are in time of great upheaval.
Academy of American Poets (1997 – 2011) Walt Whitman. Poets.org. Retrieved Aug. 12, 2011, from http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/126
Parkins, Keith (2005) Beat Generation. Retrieved Aug. 12, 2011, from http://www.heureka.clara.net/art/beat-generation.htm