Using only the written word, a poet can make you laugh, cry, think, or wonder with just a turn of phrase.
There are many gay, lesbian and bisexual poets who have this ability, and rank as some of the best literary voices in history.
So to celebrate National Poetry Day, Gay Star News decided to take a look at some of the most inspiring gay poets from history and today.
Oscar Wilde, otherwise known as the most quotable man of his generation, is one of the wittiest men in history.
With quotes such as ‘Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much,’ and ‘I can resist everything except temptation,’ the British writer’s words have lasted lifetimes.
Our favorite poem by Wilde is The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which was written while he was serving prison time for homosexuality.
An excerpt goes:
Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard.
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word.
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with the sword.
The mother of all lesbian poets, the ‘10th muse’, and the only woman canonized as the one of the nine lyric poets in antiquity, little is known about the Ancient Greek poet Sappho.
What we do know about her is she was a poet, a teacher, and most academics agree she was a lesbian.
Aside from two complete poems, only fragments of Sappho’s work have survived. Some believe Christians, furious at the poetry’s lesbian content, burned them to never be seen again.
Much of her work, from what we know, is addressed to three women: Anaktoria, Atthis and Gongyla, who is featured in the excerpt below.
I bid you, Abanthis,
take up the lyre
and sing of Gongyla as again desire
floats around you
the beautiful. When you saw her dress
it excited you. I’m happy.
The Kypros-born once
August Von Platen-HallermÃ¼nde
The German poet and dramatist August Von Platen-HallermÃ¼nde, born in 1796, lived a deeply unhappy life, even by most poet standards.
Even though he was a ‘Graf’, known as a Count in English, Platen-HallermÃ¼nde believed in the purity and the dignity of the poetry, but it often led to dark regretful pieces.
Here is an excerpt from Remorse:
And upward I gazed in the night, in the night,
And again on the waves in their fleeting;
Ah woe! thou hast wasted thy days in delight;
Now silence, thou light,
In the night, in the night,
The remorse in thy heart that is beating.
Possibly one of the most famous female poets in North America, Dickinson only published eight poems during her lifetime in the 19th century, and more than 1700 were found and published posthumously.
While some believe Dickinson was in love with a newspaper editor, it is now widely recognized she longed to be close to her sister-in-law Susan.
According to An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer Culture, one draft of the following poem was found with the word “nature” replaced with “Susan’.
What mystery pervades a well!
That water lives so far —
A neighbor from another world
Residing in a jar
Whose limit none have ever seen,
But just his lid of glass —
Like looking every time you please
In an abyss’s face!
The grass does not appear afraid,
I often wonder he
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.
Related somehow they may be,
The sedge stands next the sea —
Where he is floorless
And does no timidity betray
But nature is a stranger yet;
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.
To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.
Some of the world’s literary academics are convinced the greatest playwright in the history of the English language was bisexual, or even gay.
While married to the much older Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare spent most of his adult years in London.
In the sonnets, Shakespeare spends the first few poems informing a young man he should procreate. However, these become more sexual and longing.
Probably his most famous poem, Sonnet 18, was written about a man.
Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And oft’ is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d:
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Swedish 20th century poet Karin Boye was famous for her outspoken attitude about her lesbianism.
Her novel ‘Crisis’ (‘Kris’) depicts her religious crisis about her sexuality, and her most well-known poem ‘Yes, of course it hurts’ (‘Ja visst gör det ont’) is about the battles she faced.
When she died in an apparent suicide in 1941, Boye was given two very different epitaphs. One, by Hjalmar Gullberg, described her as a heroic Amazon, while the other, written by a close friend Ebbe Linde, called her an ordinary woman who was released from her struggles.
Here is an excerpt from Yes, Of Course It Hurts, translated by Jenny Nunn.
Of course it is hard when drops fall.
Trembling with fear they hang heavy,
clammer on the branch, swell and slide –
the weight pulls them down, how they cling.
Hard to be uncertain, afraid and divided,
hard to feel the deep pulling and calling,
yet sit there and just quiver –
hard to want to stay
and to want to fall.
Then, at the point of agony and when all is beyond
the tree’s buds burst as if in jubilation,
then, when fear no longer exists,
the branch’s drops tumble in a shimmer,
forgetting that they were afraid of the new,
forgetting that they were fearful of the journey –
feeling for a second their greatest security,
resting in the trust
that creates the world.
Federico GarcÃa Lorca
Federico GarcÃa Lorca, a Spanish poet, was part of the legendary poetry circle The Generation of ’27, which hoped to work with avant-garde forms of art.
Murdered by fascists in the Spanish Civil War for his liberal views, his poetry and plays continue to be read and performed today.
So famous is his work, his name is now immortalized in an airport in Granada.
Here is Before The Dawn:
But like love
Upon the green night,
the piercing saetas
leave traces of warm
The keel of the moon
breaks through purple clouds
and their quivers
fill with dew.
Ay, but like love
Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy is the first woman, gay person, and Scot to hold the position of Poet Laureate in the UK.
As Poet Laureate, Duffy has tackled MP expenses, the London Olympics, and the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
But it is a love poem which gets our hearts racing the most.
Here is an excerpt of our favorite, You:
I hid in my ordinary days, in the long grass of routine,
in my camouflage rooms. You sprawled in my gaze,
staring back from anyone’s face, from the shape of a cloud,
from the pining, earth-struck moon which gapes at me
and I open the bedroom door. The curtains stir. There you are
on the bed, like a gift, like a touchable dream.
Did we miss out your favorite poet/poem? Let us know in the comments!