Obscure Queer

An Anthology of pieces drawn from my collecting and dealing in the obscure byways of queer literature. A new kind of anthology I hope - evolving, odd, eclectic...

Monday, January 30, 2006

John Addington Symonds

Symonds was one of the very first Victorians to write openly about the subject of homosexuality. There's more information about him than I could ever hope to provide available at Ricor Norton' pages HERE.
The poems below come from 'Fragilia Labilia' which was one of the privatly published booklets of his own poetry that Symonds printed to give to friends. That first privately printed edition is now extremely rare and the number of copies known to exist is in low single digits. These fourteen poems below make up a sequence titled, 'A Lieder Kreis' and have been taken from the later pirated edition by Thomas Mosher.

Clouds o’er a meadow,
Wind on the corn;
And man like a shadow
Is fitfully borne.

Waves on the ocean,
Flames of a fire;
Oh, swift is emotion
And subtle desire!

Death like a gloaming
comes over the west;
The shadow stops roaming,
The wave is at rest.

Never a breeze
Hath stirred the trees
This long October day;
But the dripping eaves
Are thick with leaves,
That silently fall away.

All night there went
A discontent
Around yon lonely fir;
But when the day
Broke sad and grey,
Quiet came over her.

My heart is dead,
the unrest fled
That rocked me through the night;
But a world’s weight lies
On the tired eyes
That loathe and rebuke the light.

The Stately ships are passing free
Where scant light strikes along the flood;
Gaunt Winter scowls o’er filed and wood:
Oh, who will bring my love to me?

White gulls fly screaming to the sea;
The bitter east wind sweeps the sky;
Faint snow-streaks on the hillside lie:
Oh, who will bring my love to me?

The hawthorn bough is bare and dree;
The spiky holly keeps him warm;
Brown brake shrills shivering in the storm:
Oh, who will bring my love to me?

The bright blue sky is cold to see;
The frosty ground lies hard and bare:
So cold is hope, so hard is care:
Oh, who will bring my love to me?

Love sat like a boy by my pillow,
And murmured a song in mine ears
Of death on the breasts of the billow
And darkness and desolate years.

His Sweet eyes were streaming with sorrow,
His tresses were tangled and torn;
On his fair brows the fear of tomorrow
Was fixed like the tooth of a thorn.

He smiled at the close of his singing;
He kissed me with kisses of air:
When I woke in the dawn, I was wringing
Vain hands in a passion of prayer.

In the sunny scented meadows,
By the basking summer sea,
I have watched the trooping shadows
Over lawn and over lea
Passing sadly, passing slowly,
Like the years of melancholy
That divide my days from thee.

By the fireside I have lingered,
Lived again the April morn
When young Eros, fiery-fingered.
In our heart of hearts was born;
When out hopes flew forth together,
Winged their way in halcyon weather,
And life’s winter was out-worn.

Here in Paris I remember
All the sweetness of the hours
When the russet-red September
Cast a glory on the bowers,
When at dawn we crossed the ferry,
Plucked the coral briony berry,
Sat among the fading flowers;

On that happier noontide glory
When I taught thee how to twine
Hyacinth and star-wort hoary
And the purple columbine,
All I told thee how Apollo,
Quoiting in the Spartan hollow,
Made the youth he loved divine.

From that tale of old-world sadness
Fell the shade of coming death
For one moment on our gladness: -
We were still and held our breath: -
While the thrushes sang in chorus,
and anemones nodded o’er us,
Lying low amid the heath.

The down of thy delicate cheek
Drank dew from the fountain of life;
Thy lips, when they parted to speak,
With honey and sugar were rife;
Who loveth to drink of the dew
Of honey, to taste of them flew.

Happy the man upon whose eyes
Each morn thy beauty shineth!
His sun shall never leave the skies,
His summer ne’er declineth.

Whoso with wine is drunk, will wake
When matin songs are chanted:
But who from Beauty’s fount both slake
His thirst, may never hope to wake
Till Doomsday disenchanted.

Ah, but to be
Once more alone with thee!
What treasure I would give
Again to live
As in the days when thou didst gladden me!
I am grown old:
In this thought-burdened brain,
In each still beating vein,
The life that erewhile nourished me is cold.
O Love! I die,
But thou, new-born, dost fly
Aloft on wings irradiate with gold,
Into yon skies that hold
The fountains of the soul’s eternity.

With a sense of things that are over,
A touch of the years long dead,
A perfume of withered clover,
An echo of kindness fled,

We wake on this morn when snow-wreaths
Silently thaw to rain,
And the love that the old years know breathes
Dying, not born again.

Cold and grey is the morning,
Grey with evanishing rose;
We wake, and I feel her warning,
I know what the doomed man knows.

Stayed are the streams of madness,
Dried is the fount of tears;
But oh, at the heart what sadness!
And oh, in the soul what fears!

Parting to meet again
is such sweet sorrow,
That souls of men are fain
From Fate to borrow
So much of grief and ache
As may joy keener make.

Yet shall the word be given
One day for the endless
Parting, when we to heaven
Of hell go friendless.
Ah, dared we hope that feet
And lips even there should meet!

Once more from midnight visions and the strain
Of sleepless pain
I have arisen, and I stand
Not as a victor glorious with the palm
In my right hand,
But cold and calm,
To fate resigned,
With reason clothed and in my firmer mind.

Lo, from her amethystine cup
The bay to heaven is tossing up
Incense of buds new-born!
Lo, songs of morn
Ascend from nightingales, in chorus flinging
Their souls forth from their quick and quivering throat!
The world is ringing
With music; not one note
Makes discord; I alone am grave and mute.

Come not to stir again
The old sad dream of pain,
To smile and weep:
Your melancholy eyes,
Your soft remembered sighs,
Oh, let them sleep.

Violets plucked or daffodils
Fade beside their native rills;
Lilies crushed by careless feet
Droop ere Spring and Summer meet;
So thy flower of youth, too soon
Cropped before the strength of June,
No kind dew, no kiss of rain,
Makes to grow or bloom again.

Though, Love, thy lips are pale with praying,
Though thy crowned brows are faint and chill,
they tired eyes dim with long delaying,
And down thy cheeks the salt tears straying,
Yet, love, thou art our own Lord still.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Theodore Wratislaw

Theodore Wratislaw (1871-1933) very definately falls in the 1890s 'decadent' movement within literature. It is a normal strategy by non-queer critics to say of poetry which has a significant possible gay readings, that the author was simply performing an exercise in style: this is often the case with Shakespeare's sonnets, critics trying to play down the issue of actual desire in order to make the sonnets to Mr W. H. somehow 'acceptable' and to 'justify' them by making them no more than a literary exercise. However, this is one time when this might be correct. This appears to be more or less the only homoerotic writing in this man's oeuvre and seems to have come about because of his contact with other poets of the age who were all writing poems to boys and young men willy-nilly.
To a Sicillian Boy

Love, I adore the contours of thy shape,
Thine exquisite breasts and arms adorable;
The wonders of thine heavenly throat compel
Such fire of love as even my dreams escape:
I love thee as the sea-foam loves the cape,
Or as the shore the sea’s enchanting spell:
In sweets the blossoms of thy mouth excel
The tenderest bloom of peach or purple grape.

I love thee, sweet! Kiss me again, again!
Thy kisses sooth me, as tired earth the rain;
Between thine arms I find mine only bliss;
Ah let me in thy bosom still enjoy
Oblivion of the past, divinest boy,
And the dull ennui of a woman’s kiss.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ionica - William Johnson Cory

William Johnson was a schoolmaster at Eton 1845-72, but not a happy one. He had modern, rather liberalising ideas about education which didn't endear him to the authorities but more than that - and the reason he was 'asked' to resign - was that he was 'apt to make favourites'. Ionica was published originally anonymously in two parts (1858 and 1877) and then finally in one volume, still anonymously, some time later. In 1905 it was published under his own name with an introduction and biographical notes by A. C. Benson. The poems are not great works of literature but they do provide a compendium of all the various strategies that a Victorian man of letters might use to justify his homoerotic desires towards men and boys, for example, writing in the first person as a woman and using classical references where same-sex interest and intimacy was 'expected' if not actually approved of. They also very much typify the tone of Victorian homoerotic and uranian poetry in their melancholy hankering after lost youth and their over concentration on death and loss. For a full discussion of the bibliography of Ionica see Timothy D'Arch Smith, 'Love in Earnest'

Oh, lost and unforgotten friend,
Whose presence change and chance deny;
If angels turn your soft proud eye
To lines your cynic playmate penned,

Look on them, as you looked on me,
When both were young; when, as we went
Through crowds of ferns, you leant
On him who loved your staff to be;

And slouch you lazy length again
On cushions fit for aching brow
(your always ached, you know), and now
As dainty languishing as then,

Give them but one fastidious look,
And if you see a trace of him
Who humoured you in every whim,
Seek for his heart within his book:

For though there be enough to mark
The man’s divergence from the boy,
Yet shines my faith without alloy
For him who led me through that park;

And though a stranger throw aside
Such grains of common sentiment,
Yet let your haughty head be bent
To take the jetsom of the tide;

Because this brackish turbid sea
Throws toward thee things that pleased of yore,
And though it wash thy feet no more,
its murmurs mean: “I yearn for thee”
Mimnermus in Church

You promise heavens free from strife,
Pure truth, and perfect change of will;
But sweet, sweet it this human life,
So sweet, I fain would breathe it still;
your chilly stars I can forgo,
This warm kind world is all I know.

You say there is no substance here,
One great reality above:
Back from the void I shrink in fear
and child-like hide myself in love:
Show me what angels feel. Till then,
I cling, a mere weak man, to men.

You bid me lift my mean desires
From faltering lips and fitful veins
To sexless souls, ideal quires,
Unwearied voices, wordless strains:
My mind with foner welcome owns
One dear friend’s remembered tones.

Forsooth the present we must give
To that which cannot pass away;
All beauteous things for which we live
By laws of time and space decay.
But oh, the very reason why
I clasp them, is because they die.

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

I will not leave the smouldering pyre:
Enough remains to light again:
But who am I to dare desire
A place beside the king of men?

So burnt my dear Oechalian town;
And I an outcast gazed and groaned.
But, when my father’s roof fell down,
For all that wrong sweet love atoned.

he led me trembling to the ship,
He seemed at least to love me then;
He soothed, he clasped me lip to lip:
How strange, to wed the king of men.

I linger, orphan, widow, slave,
I lived when sire and brethren died;
Oh, had I shared my mother’s grave,
Or clomb unto the hero’s side!

That comrade old hath made his moan;
The centaur cowers within his den:
And I abide to guard alone
The ashes of the king of men.

Alone, beneath the night divine –
Alone, another weeps elsewhere:
Her love for him is unlike mine,
Her wail she will not let me share.
Caius Gracchus

I mind the day, when thou dist cheat
Those rival dames with answer meet;
When, toiling at the loom,
Unblest with bracelet, ring, or chain,
Thou alone didst dare disdain
To toil in tiring-room.

Merely thou sadist: “At set of sun
My humble taskwork will be done;
And through the twilight street
Come back to view my jewels, when
Pattering through the throng of men
Go merry schoolboys’ feet.”

They came, and sneered: for thou dids’t stand.
The web well finished up, one hand
Laid on my yielding shoulder:
The sternest stripling in the land
Grasped the other, boldly scanned
Their faces, and grew bolder:

And said: “Fair ladies, by your leave
I would exhort you spin and weave
some frugal homely cloth.
I warn you, when I lead the tribes
Law shall strip you; threats nor bribes
Shall blunt the just man’s wrath.”

How strongly, gravely did he speak;
I shivered, hid my tingling cheek
Behind thy marble face;
And prayed the gods to be like him,
Firm in temper, lithe of limb,
Right worthy of our race.

Oh, mother, didst thou bear me brave?
Or was I weak, till from the grave
So early hollowed out,
Tiberius sought me yesternight,
Blood upon his mantle white,
A vision clear of doubt?

What can I fear, oh mother, now?
His dead cold hand is on my brow;
Rest thou thereon thy lips:
His voice is in the night-wind’s breath,
“Do as I did,” still he saith;
With blood his finger drips.
An Invocation

I never pray for Dryads, to haunt the woods again;
More welcome there the presence of hungering, thirsting men,
Whose doubts we could unravel, whose hopes we could fulfil,
Out wisdom tracing backward, the river to the rill;
Were such beloved forerunners one summer day restored,
Then, then we might discover the Muse’s Mystic hoard.

Oh dear divine Comatas, I would that thou and I
Beneath this broken sunlight this leisure day might lie;
Where trees from distant forests, whose names were strange to thee,
Should bend their amorous branches within thy reach to be,
And flowers thine Helas knew not, which art hath made more fair,
Should shed their shining petals upon thy fragrant hair.

Then thou shouldst calmly listen with ever-changing looks
To songs of younger minstrels and plots of modern books,
And wonder at the daring of poets later born,
Whose thoughts are unto thy thoughts as noon-tide is to morn;
And little shouldst thou grudge them their greater strength of soul,
Thy partners in the torch-race, though nearer to the goal.

As when ancestral portraits look gravely from the walls
Upon the youthful baron who treads their echoing hals;
And whilst he builds new turrets, the thrice ennobled heir
Would gladly wake his grandsire his home and feast to share;
So from Aegean laurels that hide thine ancient urn
I fain would call thee hither, my sweeter lore to learn.

Or in thy cedarn prison thou waitest for the bee:
Ah, leave that simple honey, and take thy food from me.
My sun is stooping westward. Entrancèd dreamer, haste:
There’s fruitage in my garden, that I would have thee taste.
Now lift the lid a moment; now, Dorian shepherd, speak:
Two minds shall flow together, the English and the Greek.
A Study of Boyhood

So young, and yet so worn with pain!
No sign of youth upon that stooping head,
Save weak half-curls, like beechen boughs that spread
With up-turned edge to catch the hurrying rain;

Such little lint-white locks, as wound
About a mother’s finger long ago,
When he was blither, not more dear, for woe
Was then far off, and other sons stood round.

And she has wept since then with him
Watching together, where the ocean gave
To her child’s counted breathings wave for wave,
Whilst the heart fluttered, and the eye grew dim.

And when the sun and day breeze fell,
She kept with him the vigil of despair;
Knit hands for comfort, blended sounds of prayer,
Saw him at dawn face death, and take farwell;

Saw him grow holier through his grief,
The early grief that lined his withering brown,
As one by one her stars were quenched. And now
He that so mourned can play, though life is brief;

Not gay, but gracious; plain of speech,
And freely kindling under beauty’s ray,
He dares to speak of what he loves; to-day
He talked of art, and led me on to teach,

And glanced, as poets glanced, at pages
Full of bright Florence and warm Umbrian skies;
Not slighting modern greatness, for the wise
Can sort the treasures of the circling ages;

Not echoing the sickly praise,
Which boys repeat, who hear a father’s guest
Prate of the London show-rooms; what is best
He firmly lights upon, as birds on sprays;

All honest, and all delicate:
No room for flattery, no smiles that ask
For tender pleasantries, no looks that mask
The genial impulses of love and hate.

Oh bards that call to bank and glen,
Ye bid me go to nature to be healed!
And lo! a purer fount is here revealed:
My lady-nature dwells in hearts of men.

The world will rob me of my friends,
For time with her conspires;
But they shall both to make amends
Relight my slumbering fires.

For while my comrades pass away
To bow and smirk and gloze,
Come others, for as short a stay;
And dear as these are those.

And who was this? they ask; and then
The loved and lost I praised:
“Like you they frolicked; they are men:
“Bless ye my later days.”

Why fret? the hawks I trained are flown:
‘Twas nature bade them range;
I could not keep their wings half-grown,
I could not bar the change.

With lattice opened wide I stand
To watch their eager flight;
With broken jesses in my hand
I muse on their delight.

And, oh! if one with sullied plume
Should droop in mid career,
My love makes signals:- “There is room,
Oh bleeding wanderer, here.”
A Birthday

The graces marked the hour, when thou
Didst leave thine ante-natal rest,
Without a dry to heave a breast
Which never ached from then till now.

That vivid soul then first unsealed
Would be, they knew, a torch to wave
Within a chill and dusky cave
Whose crystals else were unrevealed.

That fine small mouth they wreathed so well
In rosy curves, would rouse to arms
A trop then bound in slumber charms;
Such notes they gave the magic shell.

Those straying fingerlets, that clutches
At good and bad, they so did glove,
That they might pick the flowers of love,
Unscathed, from every briar they touched.

The bounteous sisters did ordain,
That thou one day wilt jest and whim
Should’st rain thy merriment on him
Whose life, when thou wert born, was plain.

For haply on that night they spied
A sickly student at his books,
Who having basked in loving looks
Was freezing into barren pride.

His squalid discontent they saw,
And, for that he had worshipped them
With incense and with anadem,
They willed his wintry world should thaw;

And a thy cradle did decree
That fifteen years should pass, and thou
Should’t breathe upon that pallid brow
Favonian airs of mirth and glee.