Allen Ginsberg’s Early Poems at Columbia, 1947

Columbia Review, May 1947

June 3rd is Allen Ginsberg’s birthday. In the spring of 1947, Allen Ginsberg was still a student at Columbia University, and a nascent poet in development of his craft. His freshman seminar with Lionel Trilling a couple of years earlier was one of his most formative experiences at Columbia.

The Columbia Review is the oldest college literary magazine in the U.S., having published its first issue under the title Literary Monthly in 1815, under the purview of the literary and debate club the Philolexian Society. Later, the poetry-oriented Boar’s Head Society was founded by Professor John Erskine, and included notable members Alfred A. Knopf, Lionel Trilling, Eleanor Bell (its first female member), John Berryman, and Allen Ginsberg.

Ginsberg’s “The Proposal” and “Love Letter: Easter Sunday 1947,” which appear in this very scarce edition of the Columbia Review, are some of Allen’s very earliest published poems. Neither piece is included in Ginsberg’s Collected Poems, nor even in Wait Till I’m Dead, the collection of Allen’s previously uncollected works published in 2016.

Notably, both pieces are written in a more traditional, formal, metered style, from which Allen later broke, citing the influence of Kerouac’s spontaneous prose. A brief investigation into the circumstances of this period in Ginsberg’s life reveals that both poems were all but certainly written to Neal Cassady, whom Allen had first met in 1946, and fallen deeply in love.

This issue of the Columbia Review also contains another familiar poet: Herb Gold.