Poetry Facts

Neal Cassady: Life, The Beat Generation and Poetry

Last Updated: November 5, 2021
neal cassady poetry

One of the most important figures of the Beat Generation of the 1950s was Neal Leon Cassady. He was the guy that influenced the psychedelic and counterculture movements in the 1960s. Cassady was no ordinary guy, and he did not live an ordinary life. In this article, we’re going to look at Neal Cassady’s life and his influence on poetry and literary in general.

Neal Cassady Biography: The Fast Living Muse

Youth

Neal Leon Cassady was born in February 8, 1926. He was raised by an alcoholic father as his mother died when he was 10. Young Neal Cassady involved in many petty crimes, as he had no real guiding figure in his early days.

In 1941, a prominent Denver educator named Justin W. Brierly stepped into Cassady’s life. He get Cassady to the school where he taught and even found a job for the young man. However, Neal Cassady, being young and dumb, continued his criminal activities. He was arrested in June 1944 for receipt of stolen property and had to serve 11 months in prison.

Marriages

neal cassady and jack kerouac
Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac

After being released from prison in 1945, Neal married a 16-year-old girl named LuAnne Henderson. The young couple then moved to New York in 1947. This is where they met Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and their acquaintances, some of whom later became members of the Beat Generation.

In 1948, Neal Cassady ended the relationship with his first wife to marry Carolyn Robinson, a teaching assistant he met in 1946. He and Carolyn had three children together. The couple eventually settled down in a ranch house in California.

Things got messier when in 1950, Neal Cassady entered into a bigamous marriage with Diane Hansen and had a son with her. To top it all off, for the next twenty years, Cassady had a on and off sexual relationship with Ginsberg.

Drugs and Death

Besides women, drugs also play a huge role in Cassady’s life. In 1958, he went to jail again after offer to share marijuana with an undercover agent at a San Francisco nightclub. Later on when he was released in 1960, the man had to face another divorce since he struggled to meet family obligations.

In 1964, Neal Cassady joined Merry Pranksters, a group that advocated the use of psychedelic drugs. The later part of Cassady’s life is less stable and fill with frenetic travelling.

On February 3, 1968, Cassady attended a wedding party in Mexico. Afterward, he walked to the next town but passed out in the cold wearing nothing but a t-shirt and jeans. He was found in a coma in the morning and died a few hours later on February 4.

People who attended the wedding confirm that Cassady took Secobarbital, a powerful barbiturate. The physician who performed the autopsy was unable to give an accurate report because there were drugs involved and Cassady was a foreigner. Therefore, the exact cause of Cassady’s death remains uncertain.

Neal Cassady, Poetry, and His Influence on Literature

Even though Cassady is credited as the influence of many literature works of the Beat Generation, his own written work was never published during his lifetime. His works are only a half-written manuscript and some personal letters. As he admitted in a letter to Kerouac in 1948, “…words are not the way for me.”

So when talking about Neal Cassady poetry, people talk less about his modest publish works:

  • Pull My Daisy (1951) written with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg
  • Grace Beats Karma: Letters from Prison (1993, collection of poetry and letters)

Understandably so, because his appearances and influence in popular poetry works of others completely dwarfs his own works. Here are some of his appearances in poetry:

  • Allen Ginsberg — “The Green Automobile” (1953) as “my old companion”
  • Allen Ginsberg — “Howl” (1956) as “N.C.”
  • Allen Ginsberg — “Many Loves” (1956)
  • Allen Ginsberg — “On Neal’s Ashes” (1968)

Not to mention his appearances in novel and other literary work outside poetry:

  • John Clellon Holmes — Go (1952) as “Hart Kennedy”
  • Jack Kerouac — On the Road (1957) as “Dean Moriarty”
  • Jack Kerouac — The Dharma Bums (1958) as “Cody”
  • Jack Kerouac — Book of Dreams (1960) as “Cody Pomeray”
  • Tom Wolfe — The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968)
  • Charles Bukowski — Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969) as “Kerouac’s boy Neal C.”
  • Ken Kesey — “Over the Border” as “Houlihan” (1973)
  • Robert Stone — Dog Soldiers as “Ray Hicks” (1974)
  • etc.

Neal Cassady is considered the real genius behind the Beat movement. As you can see, he appeared in many books as the main character. His influence didn’t stop at literature, but expanded to music, film, television. Some even go so far to say that without him, the Beat Generation would never have happened.

7 Famous Neal Cassady Quotes You Should Know

“We are actually fourth dimensional beings in a third dimensional body inhabiting a second dimensional world!”

Neal Cassady

“The time has come, everybody lie down so you won’t get hurt when the sun bursts.”

Neal Cassady, First Third & Other Writings – Revised & Expanded Edition Together With A New Prologue

“Sometimes I sits and thinks. Other times I sits and drinks, but mostly I just sits.”

Neal Cassady, First Third & Other Writings – Revised & Expanded Edition Together With A New Prologue

Art is good when it springs from necessity. This kind of origin is the guarantee of its value; there is no other.

Neal Cassady

“My prose has no individual style as such, but is rather an unspoken and still unexpressed groping toward the personal. There is something there that wants to come out; something of my own that must be said. Yet, perhaps, words are not the way for me.”

Neal Cassady

“Each day I lacerated myself thinking on her, but I didn’t go back.”

Neal Cassady

I see no greatness in my self…I’m a simple-minded, child-like, insipid sort of moronic and kind of awkward feeling adolescent.

Neal Cassady

Final thoughts

Neal Cassady was the catalyst for the Beat Generation, one of the most influential movements in American literature. Even though he barely wrote anything, his influences on important writers and poets like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg is undeniable. And Cassady’s life is no doubt just as fascinating as the stories and poetry about him.

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