Walt Whitman was a true American vagabond. He was born in Long Island in 1819. Raised second in a family of nine, Whitman looked back on his childhood as generally restless and unhappy, given his family's difficult economic status. One happy moment that he later recalled was when he was lifted in the air and kissed on the cheek by the Marquis de Lafayette (a leader in the French revolution and general in the American revolutionary war) during a celebration in Brooklyn on July 4, 1825. He was an autodidact who taught himself to read Dante, Homer, and Shakespeare. At eleven he finished formal school, and got a job at a newspaper to help his family make end's meat. Working as a typesetter he occasionally wrote "sentimental bits" for filler material.
A year later Walt took a job at The Long-Island Star in Brooklyn. His parents and family moved to West Hills but he stayed to follow his interests. While there, he became a regular patron of the local library, joined a town debating society, began attending theater performances, and anonymously published some of his earliest poetry. At age 16 Walt moved to New York, though he had a hard time finding work. There had been a general collapse of the economy leading up to the Panic of 1837 (that led to a 5 year depression) as well as a severe fire in the printing and publishing district. Walt moved back with his family in Long Island and worked as a teacher, a job he found unsatisfying.
Sort of reminds me of tasteless in a way
Walt decided to move to Huntington, New York, to found his own newspaper, The Long Islander. He served as publisher, editor, pressman, and distributor and even provided home delivery. After ten months, he sold the publication and found a job as a typesetter in Jamaica, Queens, only to leave shortly after, making another attempt at teaching from 1840 to 1841. During this time, he wrote Sun-Down Papers-From the Desk of a Schoolmaster where he adopted a constructed persona, something he'd use from time to time later on in life. At one school he was reported to have been tarred and carried out on a rail by a mob after the local pastor accused him of committing sodomy with some students. In 1842 he published the only novel he would ever write, Franklin Evans. The book concerned the hardships of change and struggle, and temperance.
For the next seven years he continued working for short periods of time for various newspapers and became more interested in politics and the issue of slavery. In 1846 he wrote that the abolitionists had, in fact, slowed the advancement of their cause by their "ultraism and officiousness". His main concern was that their methods disrupted the democratic process, as did the refusal of the Southern states to put the interests of the nation as a whole above their own. He wrote, addressing to the south, "you are either to abolish slavery or it will abolish you". He was also a delegate to the 1848 founding convention of the Free Soil Party, a single-issue anti-slavery party.
Paul at about 30, painted by the great French painter Gustave Courbet
Paul Verlaine was a rigid and neurotic man born 1844 in Metz, France. He went to school at the Lycée impérial Bonaparte. He grew up lounging in salons and rubbing shoulders with prominent artistic figures of his day: Anatole France; Emmanuel Chabrier; Theodore de Banville; François Coppée; Jose-Maria de Heredia; Catulle Mendes, among others. At the age of 19 he published his first poem. His first collection of poems, Poèmes saturniens, established him as a promising young poet.
Frontispiece to leaves of grass
Back in New York, Walt was determined to become a poet after years of competing for "the usual rewards". He first tried experimenting with the more popular genres that appealed to the general public, but in 1850 he began writing Leaves of Grass. He was inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay The Poet, which expressed the need for the United States to have its own new and unique poet to write about the new country's virtues and vices. Walt set out to write a distinctly American epic, using the free verse style with a cadence based on the Bible. Five years later he finished the first edition, publishing with his own money, even though his brother George "didn't think it worth reading". No name is given as the author, though 500 lines in the body of the text he calls himself "Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them, no more modest than immodest"
Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty-ninth bather, The rest did not see her, but she saw them and loved them.
The beards of the young men glisten'd with wet, it ran from their long hair, Little streams pass'd all over their bodies.
An unseen hand also pass'd over their bodies, It descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs.
The young men float on their backs, their white bellies bulge to the sun, they do not ask who seizes fast to them, They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bending arch, They do not think whom they souse with spray.
A few days after Leaves of Grass was published, Walt's father died at the age of 65. During the first publications of Leaves of Grass, Walt had financial difficulties and was forced to work as a journalist again. He left the paper a few years later, for reasons unknown, as he usually wrote detailed notebooks and journals about his life. Fortunately his work was well received by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote him letters and praised the book to his friends. The great abolitionist Henry David Thoreau enjoyed Leaves of Grass so much that he visited Walt in person to give him his admiration.
I am he that walks with the tender and growing night, I call to the earth and sea half-held by the night.
Press close bare-bosom'd night—press close magnetic nourishing night! Night of south winds—night of the large few stars! Still nodding night—mad naked summer night.
Smile O voluptuous cool-breath'd earth! Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees! Earth of departed sunset—earth of the mountains misty-topt! Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue! Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river! Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer for my sake! Far-swooping elbow'd earth—rich apple-blossom'd earth! Smile, for your lover comes.
Prodigal, you have given me love—therefore I to you give love! O unspeakable passionate love.
Arthur Rimbaud was a beautiful but restless and libertine soul. He was born 1854 in Charleville, France to a middle class military family. His father rose up from the rank of private to captain, and his mother came from a well-established family. Unfortunately though, they were plagued by two unstable and alcoholic uncles. A common myth of his infancy involved his mother, when, after putting her second son in the care of a nurse in Gespunsart, supplying clean linen and a cradle for him, returned to find the nurse's child sitting in the crib wearing the clothes meant for Arthur. Meanwhile, the dirty and naked child that was her own was happily playing in an old salt chest.
Fearing that her children were spending too much time with and being over-influenced by neighbouring children of the poor, Mme Rimbaud moved her family to the Cours d'Orléans in 1862. Arthur became a highly successful student and was head of his class in all subjects but sciences and mathematics.
Arthur's mother was a constant agitator in his development. She would punish her sons by making them learn a hundred lines of Latin verse by heart and if they gave an inaccurate recitation, she would deprive them of meals. Though Arthur had a knack for using things he detested to his benefit: when he was nine, he wrote a 700-word essay objecting to his having to learn Latin in school. Vigorously condemning a classical education as a mere gateway to a salaried position, Arthur wrote repeatedly, "I will be a rentier (one who lives off his assets)". He disliked schoolwork and his mother's continued control and constant supervision. The children were not allowed to leave their mother's sight, and, until the boys were sixteen and fifteen respectively, she would walk them to and from school.
The great meeting in Union Square, New York, to support the government, April 20, 1861
As the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Walt published Beat! Beat! Drums! as a patriotic rally for the north. The next year as he was reading the New York Tribune, he saw in the list of killed soldiers the name G.W. Whitmore. Thinking it might be his brother George, Walt worriedly made the trek south to find out if it was him. On the way there his wallet was stolen, "Walking all day and night, unable to ride, trying to get information, trying to get access to big people", he later wrote. He eventually found George alive, with only a small wound on his cheek. Profoundly affected by seeing the wounded soldiers and the heaps of their amputated limbs, Walt left for Washington that year with the intention of never returning to New York.
While in Washington a friend of Walt's managed to get him a part time job in the army paymaster's office, which left him time to volunteer in the hospital. He would write of this experience in "The Great Army of the Sick", published in a New York newspaper in 1863. He then contacted Emerson, this time to ask for help in obtaining a government post. Emerson forwarded a letter of recommendation to the secretary of treasury, who did not want to hire the author of such a disreputable book, Leaves of Grass.
The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.
1864 was a difficult year for Walt and his family. His brother George was captured by confederates, another brother, Andrew Jackson, succumbed to tuberculosis compounded by alcoholism. The same month, Walt had to commit another of his brothers, Jesse, to a Lunatic Asylum.
The next year Walt was fired from his job. Most speculate his boss had read Leaves of Grass, and found it morally reprehensible. The same year he wrote O Captain! My Captain! a relatively conventional poem on the death of Abraham Lincoln, the only poem to appear in anthologies during Walt's lifetime. Luckily he had a friend get him a job at the Attorney General's office.. He spent most of that year taking care of his mother of 80 years old who had been suffering from arthritis.
Robbin Williams, perhaps a better dramatic actor than one of comedy
A great movie, always fun to see actors in their youth
In 1866 Walt met a bus conductor named Peter Doyle. Not much is known first-hand about their relationship, but Doyle seems to be the most likely love of Walt's life. The two were supposedly inseparable for years. "We were familiar at once — I put my hand on his knee — we understood. He did not get out at the end of the trip — in fact went all the way back with me." Edward Carpenter, author of Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure, once described his own erotic encounter with Walt when he was young.
Whitman and Doyle
Bill Duckett was another possible lover. The two lived on the same street and later moved in together. Duckett shared Walt's money when he had any to spare. Whitman described their friendship as "thick".
Photograph of Whitman and Duckett modeled on the conventions of a marriage portrait
The Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870. Reacting to this, one of his few friends, a teacher, left Charleville and Arthur became depressed. He still managed to write his first poem to appear in print named "Les Étrennes des orphelins" ("The Orphans' New Year's Gift"). He ran away to Paris with no money for his ticket and was subsequently arrested and imprisoned for a week. After returning home, Rimbaud ran away to escape his mother's wrath.
From 1870 on, Arthur started acting more eccentric, started drinking, and grew his hair out. He wrote to his old teacher about his method for attaining poetical transcendence or visionary power through a "long, intimidating, immense and rational derangement of all the senses. The sufferings are enormous, but one must be strong, be born a poet, and I have recognized myself as a poet."
The next year, a friend of Arthur's advised him to send a letter to Paul Verlaine, after letters to other poets failed to garner replies. Verlaine, who was intrigued by Rimbaud, sent a reply stating: "Come, dear great soul. We await you; we desire you," along with a one-way ticket to Paris. By then, Verlaine had left his job and taken up drinking. Verlaine had lost interest in his wife, and effectively abandoned her and their son, preferring the company of his new lover. Rimbaud and Verlaine's stormy affair took them all the way to London.
Verlaine on far left, Rimbaud next to him, in London
During their time together they led a wild, vagabond-like life spiced by absinthe and hashish. Rimbaud and Verlaine lived in considerable poverty, in Bloomsbury and in Camden Town, scraping a living mostly from teaching, in addition to an allowance from Verlaine's mother. Rimbaud spent his days in the Reading Room of the British Museum where "heating, lighting, pens and ink were free." Over time the relationship between the two poets grew increasingly bitter, even sadistic.
Probably NSFW; some blood. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Arthur, David Thewlis plays Verlaine. The whole movie is on YT. lots of nudity, both male and female
By late 1873, Verlaine grew frustrated with the relationship and returned to Paris, where he quickly began to mourn Arthur's absence. He telegraphed Arthur, instructing him to come to Brussels and Arthur complied at once. The Brussels reunion went badly: they argued continuously and Verlaine took refuge in heavy drinking. That afternoon, in a drunken rage, Verlaine fired two shots at Arthur, one of them wounding the 18-year-old in the left wrist.
Shortly after the shooting, Verlaine and his mother accompanied Arthur to a Brussels railway station, where Verlaine "behaved as if he were insane." His bizarre behavior induced Arthur to fear that he might give himself over to "new excesses," so he turned and ran away. "It was then I begged a police officer to arrest him." Verlaine was arrested for attempted murder and subjected to a humiliating medico-legal examination. He was also interrogated with regard to both his intimate correspondence with Arthur and his wife's accusations about the nature of his relationship with Rimbaud. Arthur eventually withdrew the complaint, but the judge nonetheless sentenced Verlaine to two years in prison.
Portrait by the great American realist painter Thomas Eakins
In 1873 Walt suffered a paralytic stroke, and moved in with his brother George who was now in Camden New Jersey. His mother lived there as well, but died that year. By 1876 yet another intense relationship with a young man took place with Harry Stafford. Walt met an 18 year old Harry, and stayed with Harry's family when he was at Timber Creek. Walt gave Harry a ring, which was returned and given back over the course of a stormy relationship lasting a number of years. Of that ring Harry wrote to Walt, "You know when you put it on there was but one thing to part it from me, and that was death."
Walt stayed with George, growing more and more depressed, until 1884 when he bought his own home. That year he also entertained Oscar Wilde with a bottle of elderberry wine. Oscar's mother had read him Leaves of Grass as a child. Walt told him he had once been a typesetter, and aimed at making his verse "look all neat and pretty on the pages, like the epitaph on a square tombstone." But to advocate beauty and charm over substance, as in Wilde's aestheticism - that was going too far. "Why, Oscar," Whitman objected, "it always seems to me that the fellow who makes a dead set at beauty by itself is in a bad way." Oscar later wrote that there was "no doubt" about the great American poet's sexual orientation — "I have the kiss of Walt Whitman still on my lips," he boasted.
Whitman's house in Camden, New Jersey. Today, it is open to the public as the Walt Whitman House.
Rimbaud returned home to Charleville and completed his prose work Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell)—still widely regarded as one of the pioneering examples of modern Symbolist writing—which made various allusions to his life with Verlaine, described as a drôle de ménage (domestic farce) with his frère pitoyable (pitiful brother) and vierge folle (mad virgin) to whom he was l'époux infernal (the infernal groom). In 1874 he returned to London with the poet Germain Nouveau and put together his groundbreaking Illuminations.
When we are very strong, - who draws back? very gay, - who cares for ridicule? When we are very bad, - what would they do with us. Deck yourself, dance, laugh, - I could never throw Love out of the window.
Verlaine wrote Romances sans paroles between 1872 and 1873 while he was imprisoned. It was inspired by his nostalgically colored recollections of his life with his wife on the one hand and impressionistic sketches of his on-again off-again year-long escapade with Rimbaud on the other. Following his release from prison, Verlaine traveled to teach french, latin, and greek in England and America. While in England he produced another successful collection, Sagesse. Rimbaud and Verlaine met for the last time in March 1875, in Stuttgart, Germany, after Verlaine's release from prison and his conversion to Catholicism. Verlaine returned to France in 1877 and, while teaching English at a school in Rethel, fell in love with one of his pupils, Lucien Létinois, who inspired Verlaine to write further poems. Verlaine was devastated when Létinois died of typhus in 1883.
I see you, still. I opened the door. You lay in bed as if you were weary. But, O light body that my love bore, You leapt up naked, crying and happy.
Oh what kisses! What mad embraces! I myself laughed through my tears. Surely those moments will leave their traces, My saddest of all yet best it appears.
I’d not wish to see your smile or worse, Or your lovely eyes, for that very reason, Aught of you, in short, whom one must curse, Exquisite snare, but the ghost of that season.
By then Rimbaud had given up writing and decided on a steady, working life. He continued to travel extensively in Europe, mostly on foot. In May 1876 he enlisted as a soldier in the Dutch Colonial Army to travel free of charge to Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) where four months later he deserted and fled into the jungle, eventually returning incognito to France by ship. In December 1878, Rimbaud arrived in Larnaca, Cyprus, where he worked for a construction company as a foreman at a stone quarry. In May of the following year he had to leave Cyprus because of a fever, which on his return to France was diagnosed as typhoid.
Arthur in Harar, Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1883
In February 1891, Rimbaud developed what he initially thought was arthritis in his right knee. It failed to respond to treatment and became agonisingly painful, and by March the state of his health forced him to prepare to return to France for treatment. Rimbaud consulted a British doctor who mistakenly diagnosed tubercular synovitis and recommended immediate amputation. On arrival, he was admitted to a hospital in Marseille where his right leg was amputated. The post-operative diagnosis was cancer.
After a short stay at his family home in Charleville, he attempted to travel to Africa, but on the way his health deteriorated and he was readmitted to the same hospital in Marseille where the amputation had been performed, and spent some time there in great pain, attended by his sister Isabelle. Rimbaud died in Marseille in 1891, at the age of 37, and was interred in Charleville. He would later become very influential to a great many prominent artists: Pablo Picasso, Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Vladimir Nabokov, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Giannina Braschi, Léo Ferré, Henry Miller, Van Morrison and Jim Morrison. To quote Bob Dylan's You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go:
Situations have ended sad Relationships have all been bad Mine have been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud.
Verlaine's last years saw his descent into drug addiction, alcoholism, and poverty. He lived in slums and public hospitals, and spent his days drinking absinthe in Paris cafes. Fortunately, the French people's love of the arts was able to resurrect support and bring in an income for Verlaine: his early poetry was rediscovered, his lifestyle and strange behavior in front of crowds attracted admiration, and in 1894 he was elected France's "Prince of Poets" by his peers.
The sky’s above the roof So blue, so calm! A tree above the roof Waves its palm.
The bell in the sky you see Gently rings. A bird on the tree you see Sadly sings.
My God, my God, life’s there, Simple and sweet. A peaceful rumbling there, The town’s at our feet.
– What have you done, O you there Who endlessly cry, Say: what have you done there With Youth gone by?
His drug dependence and alcoholism caught up with him and took a toll on his life. Paul Verlaine died in Paris at the age of 51 in 1896. He was buried in the Cimetière des Batignolles. He was first buried in the 20th division, but his grave was moved to the 11th division - on the round about, a much better location - when the Boulevard Périphérique was built.
Back in New Jersey Walt was bed-ridden most of the time, though he did start socializing with neighbours. As 1891 drew to a close, he made one last edition of Leaves of Grass nicknamed the Deathbed Edition. He wrote, "L. of G. at last complete—after 33 y'rs of hackling at it, all times & moods of my life, fair weather & foul, all parts of the land, and peace & war, young & old".
Through me forbidden voices, Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veil'd and I remove the veil, Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur'd.
I do not press my fingers across my mouth, I keep as delicate around the bowels as around the head and heart, Copulation is no more rank to me than death is.
I believe in the flesh and the appetites, Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle.
Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch'd from, The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer, This head more than churches, bibles, and all the creeds.
If I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of my own body, or any part of it, Translucent mould of me it shall be you! Shaded ledges and rests it shall be you! Firm masculine colter it shall be you! Whatever goes to the tilth of me it shall be you! You my rich blood! your milky stream pale strippings of my life! Breast that presses against other breasts it shall be you! My brain it shall be your occult convolutions! Root of wash'd sweet-flag! timorous pond-snipe! nest of guarded duplicate eggs! it shall be you! Mix'd tussled hay of head, beard, brawn, it shall be you! Trickling sap of maple, fibre of manly wheat, it shall be you! Sun so generous it shall be you! Vapors lighting and shading my face it shall be you! You sweaty brooks and dews it shall be you! Winds whose soft-tickling genitals rub against me it shall be you! Broad muscular fields, branches of live oak, loving lounger in my winding paths, it shall be you! Hands I have taken, face I have kiss'd, mortal I have ever touch'd, it shall be you.
I dote on myself, there is that lot of me and all so luscious, Each moment and whatever happens thrills me with joy, I cannot tell how my ankles bend, nor whence the cause of my faintest wish, Nor the cause of the friendship I emit, nor the cause of the friendship I take again.
That I walk up my stoop, I pause to consider if it really be, A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.
To behold the day-break! The little light fades the immense and diaphanous shadows, The air tastes good to my palate.
Hefts of the moving world at innocent gambols silently rising freshly exuding, Scooting obliquely high and low.
Something I cannot see puts upward libidinous prongs, Seas of bright juice suffuse heaven.
The earth by the sky staid with, the daily close of their junction, The heav'd challenge from the east that moment over my head, The mocking taunt, See then whether you shall be master!
In the last week of his life, he was too weak to lift a knife or fork and wrote: "I suffer all the time: I have no relief, no escape: it is monotony — monotony — monotony — in pain." Walt Whitman died at age 72, in 1892. An autopsy revealed his lungs had diminished to one-eighth their normal breathing capacity as a result of bronchial pneumonia and that an egg-sized abscess on his chest had eroded one of his ribs. A public ceremony was held at the cemetery, with the great orator and secularist Robert Ingersoll giving the euology.
We two boys together clinging, One the other never leaving, Up and down the roads going, North and South excursions making, Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching, Arm'd and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving. No law less than ourselves owning, sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening, Misers, menials, priests alarming, air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing, Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing, Fulfilling our foray.
Last edit: 2012-05-29 18:28:03
1Eris1 United States. January 30 2012 04:22. Posts 5797
I don't know if the series is on exclusively gay poets, but Gordon Lord Byron is one of my favorites and he just had sex with everything, so I don't know if that counts, but a great poet and he has a great story.
"If you're not angry, you're not paying attention"
Bagration United States. January 30 2012 04:39. Posts 16242
On January 30 2012 13:29 Arisen wrote: I don't know if the series is on exclusively gay poets, but Gordon Lord Byron is one of my favorites and he just had sex with everything, so I don't know if that counts, but a great poet and he has a great story.
Everything? Oh lord. It's like Catherine the Great all over again!
Team Slayers, Axiom-Acer and Vile forever
Nevuk United States. January 30 2012 05:03. Posts 4602