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Great Gay Poets Friday! Oscar Wilde and Hart Crane

by David Badash on April 16, 2010

in culture

Post image for Great Gay Poets Friday! Oscar Wilde and Hart Crane




Editorial Note:

Last Friday, in honor of National Poetry Month, we began our weekly tribute to great gay poets, thanks to guest blogger Julia Garbowski. In “Celebrate National Poetry Month With Great Gay Poets!,” Julia shared two of her favorites, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. This week, Julia looks at several poems by the very well-known Oscar Wilde, and the far less well-known but highly respected Hart Crane.

National Poetry Month Continues….

It was my intention to read and find out about one or two additional gay poets this week and to rejoice in their great works.  I celebrate, but I also feel some sadness. I had been thinking about Oscar Wilde because I loved his stories as a child. I remember listening to Basil Rathbone narrating  “The Happy Prince” and others on the LP record that I played over and over.  I knew that Wilde wrote poetry and plays as well, and that he had been imprisoned for homosexuality on a charge of “indecency” from 1895-1897. Clearly the dramatic historical event of his imprisonment is a reminder of a cruelness in society.  I remember an Oscar Wilde quote:  “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

La Mer (The Sea)
by Oscar Wilde

A white mist drifts across the shrouds,
A wild moon in this wintry sky
Gleams like an angry lion’s eye
Out of a mane of tawny clouds.

The muffled steersman at the wheel
Is but a shadow in the gloom; -
And in the throbbing engine-room
Leap the long rods of polished steel.

The shattered storm has left its trace
Upon this huge and heaving dome,
For the thin threads of yellow foam
Float on the waves like ravelled lace

Great English playwright, poet, and author Oscar Wilde’s life was shortened (he died three years after prison release, in 1900, age 46) by the unjust social demands of his time and country. Wilde’s prison cell number C33, was the basis for the first published poem of 20th century poet Hart Crane when Crane was a mere 17 years old.

C33
By Hart Crane

He has woven rose-vines
About the empty heart of night,
And vented his long mellowed wines
Of dreaming on the desert white
With searing sophistry.
And he tented with far truths he would form
The transient bosoms from the thorny tree.

O Materna! to enrich thy gold head
And wavering shoulders with a new light shed

From penitence, must needs bring pain,
And with it song of minor, broken strain.
But you who hear the lamp whisper through night
Can trace paths tear-wet, and forget all blight.

Crane went on to write a very influential body of work in a very short amount of time, but never seemed to find his way in the world. He moved back and forth between Ohio and New York several times, had somewhat erratic financial support from his father, struggled with alcoholism and depression. He worked at his father’s candy factory, in advertising, and even as a secretary to a stockbroker among other things.

Like Oscar Wilde, he married and had children. He had a benefactor for a time and he even won a Guggenheim which enabled him to go to an artist colony in Mexico to write. He was attracted to sailors and supposedly was beaten after making advances to a sailor on a ship coming back from Mexico. He committed suicide by jumping off that same ship in April of 1932, age 33.

Of those that I have read so far, my favorite Hart Crane poem is “Chaplinesque” from The Bridge poems.  In it he describes a man naïve to the negative forces around him; it is a reference to Chaplin’s character the Little Tramp.

Chaplinesque
by Hart Crane

We make our meek adjustments,

Contented with such random consolations

As the wind deposits

In slithered and too ample pockets.
For we can still love the world, who find

A famished kitten on the step, and know

Recesses for it from the fury of the street,

Or warm torn elbow coverts.
We will sidestep, and to the final smirk

Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb

That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,

Facing the dull squint with what innocence

And what surprise!
And yet these fine collapses are not lies

More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;

Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.

We can evade you, and all else but the heart:

What blame to us if the heart live on.

The game enforces smirks; but we have seen

The moon in lonely alleys make

A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,

And through all sound of gaiety and quest

Have heard a kitten in the wilderness

For more see “Oscar Wilde”  by Richard Ellman (Vintage Books; 1988)

and “Voyager: A Life of Hart Crane” by John Unterecker (Farrar, Straus &Giroud; 1969)

(Images: top: Emily Dickenson, bottom: Oscar Wilde)

Julia Garbowski lives in Royal Oak, MI and has returned to writing after 25 years of running a farm and market in Door County WI. She grew up in Sag Harbor, NY. Her B.A. in Communications is from the University of Wisconsin. She belongs to the Michigan Literary Network and her twitter name is @driftnotes.

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{ 1 comment }

attercop April 16, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Great post! I've always loved "La Mer". :]

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