Thirteen Things about Gay Love Poetry

Children of the future age,
Reading this indignant page,
Know that in a former time,
Love, sweet Love, was thought a crime!

William Blake (1757-1827)

1. The Song of Songs, Now widely acknowledged to be a homoerotic poem:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.

2. Shakespeare, notably the infamous (and very witty) Sonnet 20:

A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,
Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion:
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;

A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men’s eyes, and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman were thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.

But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

3. Abu Nuwas (756-815): I Die of Love

I die of love for him, perfect in every way,
Lost in the strains of wafting music.

My eyes are fixed upon his delightful body

And I do not wonder at his beauty.
His waist is a sapling, his face a moon,

And loveliness rolls off his rosy cheek

I die of love for you, but keep this secret:

The tie that binds us is an unbreakable rope.
How much time did your creation take, O angel?
So what! All I want is to sing your praises.

4. Michelangelo: In the 1530s, Michelangelo was sustaining a relationship with his much younger model Febo di Poggio. He calls Febo “that little blackmailer,” because Febo adopted Michelangelo as “my honorary father” and steadily demanded money, clothes, and love-gifts from him. On a page containing financial calculations, Michelangelo wrote:

Here with his beautiful eyes he promised me solace,
And with those very eyes he tried to take it away from me.

Their passion raged through 1533-34, but ended when Michelangelo discovered that the mignon had “betrayed” him, perhaps by actually stealing money or drawings from his sugar-daddy. The artist felt humiliated by his subservience to the model.

Several poems pun upon the boy’s name. “Febo” equals Phoebus, and poggio is the Italian word for “hill”–and suggest physical consummation:

Blithe bird, excelling us by fortune’s sway,
Of Phoebus’ thine the prize of lucent notion,
Sweeter yet the boon of winged promotion
To the hill whence I topple and decay!

But such a topple was sweet:

Easily could I soar, with such a happy fate,
When Phoebus brightened up the heights.
His feathers were wings and the hill the stair.
Phoebus was a lantern to my feet.

5. Walt Whitman: Perhaps less love for a single man, but love for the rough-trade he would immerse himself in. Whitman’s notebooks of this period are filled with descriptions of bus drivers, ferry-boat men, and other “rude, illiterate” men that he met

Native Moments

…I share the midnight orgies of young men . . .
I pick out some low person for my dearest friend,
He shal be lawless, rude, illiterate, he shall be condemned by others for deeds done,
I will play a part no longer, why should I exile myself from my companions?

And more romantically. . .

When I Heard at the Close of the Day From “Leaves of Grass

…And when I thought how my dear friend, my lover, was on his way coming, O then I was happy;
O then each breath tasted sweeter—and all that day my food nourish’d me more—and the beautiful day pass’d well,
And the next came with equal joy—and with the next, at evening, came my friend;
And that night, while all was still, I heard the waters roll slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands, as directed to me, whispering, to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night,
In the stillness, in the autumn moonbeams, his face was inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast—and that night I was happy.

6. Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas: Famous for being linked to Oscar Wilde and his poem Two Loves gives us one of the most famous lines in gay poetry.

I am true Love, I fill
The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.
Then sighing, said the other, ‘Have thy will,
I am the love that dare not speak its name.

7. W H Auden’s “Funeral Blues,” famously famous in Four Weddings & a Funeral:

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

8. Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II. In Gaveston’s first speech he reads Edward’s letter to him, and he remarks upon it:

‘My father is deceased. Come Gaveston,
And share the kingdom with thy dearest friend.’
Ah, words that make me surfeit with delight!
What greater bliss can hap to Gaveston

Than live and be the favourite of a King!

Sweet prince, I come! These, these thy amorous lines
Might have enforced me to have swum from France,

And, like Leander, gasped upon the sand,
So thou wouldst smile, and take me in thine arms.

9. Sir Philip Sidney‘s “My True-Love Hath My Heart” from Arcadia:

My true-love hath my heart, and I have his, By just exchange one for the other given..

10. Hafiz, circa 1320-1389:

With looks disheveled, flushed in a sweat of drunkenness His shirt torn open, a song on his lips and wine cup in his hand With eyes looking for trouble, lips softly complaining So at midnight last night he came and sat at my pillow. . . .”

11. Byron’s Don Leon (attributed):

How oft, beneath the arbour’s mystic shade, My boyish vows of constancy were made! There on the grass as we recumbent lay, Not coy wast thou, nor I averse to play; And in that hour thy virtue’s sole defence Was not thy coldness, but my innocence.

12. Muhammad al-Nawaji bin Hasan bin Ali bin Othman (1383?-1455) wrote For a Beautiful Black Boy:

Aroused, he exhales
The intense perfume of his musk.
The sight of his face, lit by a ray of light
Imprints itself.

13. Byron’s The Cornelian. Byron became obsessed with a choirboy, John Edleston (spelled “Eddleston” by Byron), whom Byron met as a student at Cambridge and with whom he was deeply in love (see The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature, ed. Byrne R. S. Fone, p. 219) and the poem is about a stone that Edleston once gave the poet.

He offer’d it with downcast look,
As fearful that I might refuse it;
I told him, when the gift I took,
My only fear should be, to lose it.

This pledge attentively I view’d,
And sparkling as I held it near,
Methought one drop the stone bedew’d,
And, ever since, I’ve lov’d a tear.

Please share your own favourites?