A Ganymede with grace is a delight both to gaze upon and to love, but most of the boys in the gay poetry written as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth were ethereal wisps of pale straw. Poets such as Roden Noel (1834-1894) dreamed at a distance of bright butterfly-boys with "delicate limbs of milk" whose limpid features mirrored their wet-dream existence. For those who have a penchant for good old-fashioned apple pandowdy like auntie used to make (hot from the oven), it is refreshing as well as surprising, to come upon the vigorous verse of the Reverend Edwin Emmanuel Bradford (1860-1944). This merry Scots Protestant minister pursued Willie, Eric, Dick, Guy, Frank and Jock, as well as an occasional Aubrey, Silvester, or "A shy little fellow called Merrivale White." He prefers a swarthy rustic to a statuesque Adonis: "Talk about the Greeks' impeccability of form: / Give to me a Belton boy whose flesh and blood are warm." Of course these are still boys, not men, but pederasty was part of the philosophical tradition. But we should take care not to apply the modern term "paedophile" to him, since is it apparent that all of his chums were post-pubescent and most of them were around sixteen years old.
Bradford often cruised down London way to carouse with the "Uranian" coterie of gay poets, though his verse resembles theirs only in its theme of boy-love. He became the good friend (only friend I am sure he would not touch a full-grown man) of Samuel Elsworth Cottam at Exeter College in the 1880s, whose magazine Chameleon was produced in evidence against Oscar Wilde at his trial, since Wilde had contributed to this openly gay journal. Later both Bradford and Cottam became chaplains at the Anglican church of St George in Paris, where together they chased the choirboys, and no doubt taught a few how to sing. Bradford's biography is sketchy except for what he gives us in his own poetry, according to which his boy-lovers included Eddie Worth, Merrivale White, Leslie de Lampton, Clinton Fane, Merivale Trelawney Bates, Steve Ailwyn, Hugh, Alan, David, Boris, Bob, Roy, Geoffrey, etc.
Bradford's brisk and unencumbered verse sometimes resembles the classic Horatian style of A.E. Housman's Shropshire Lad, as in "The Belton Boy":
No bird or brute's more shy than the boy batherBradford writes poetry of action. He doesn't merely reflect or gaze upon something, but describes something as it happens and participates in a dramatic situation. His style is that of the narrative ballad, ballad dialogues, and Browningesque dramatic monologues always with an undertone of irony that marks him out as a distinctively modern poet. There is hardly a trace of the mythological allusions that make his contemporaries' gay poetry so tacky. Even his Eros bears more resemblance to the bugler during an English fox-hunt than to the Cupid of a Raphael painting:
Eros is up and away, away:A leaping, rollicking freedom is the mainspring of his poetry, but he sometimes enters the arena of angry polemic for truly serious issues, as in his bitterly sarcastic attack on culturally enforced heterosexuality:
So some men counsel: "Breed and multiply!"Bradford lived through both World Wars, and, like Housman, he saw many of his lads die in battle the slaughter of the unacknowledged aristocracy of shoe-shine boys, paperboys, grocers' boys.
Loitering in Piccadilly, we might come across one of his favourites, some of whom include Hilary:
Hilary is seventeenOr Silvester:
Silvester seems somnolescent.Of Freddie:
Week after week, every Saturday night,Or Aubrey:
Lightly clad in night attire,No doubt ready for a bedtime story.
O Willie, Willie, Willie, summer holidays are coming,Or Eddie:
So as soon as I get Eddie is it heaven that begins Or we can mosey on out to the lowlands, and perhaps make friends with
... a lusty ploughboy in naked pride,And if any dour Puritan scolds Bradford for this indelicacy, he would reply:
The mere word "carnal" shall not me affright;This is just a sampling of the twelve books of poetry Bradford wrote, all openly on ladslove, with titles such as Passing the Love of Women, The Romance of Youth, Boyhood, The New Chivalry, and Matthew Rawdon a complete novel in verse! There is not enough space to quote his ironic narrative poems, such as the one that describes the deepening love between Clinton Fane and Alan Dave, which ends in their swearing blood-brotherhood in a marriage ritual similar to that between Gerald and Birkin in D.H. Lawrence's Women In Love; or a tender conversation between Bradford and a boy blinded by smallpox; or Bradford and a boy named Chris walking past old men on benches who snicker in recognition of their obvious love-relationship. I must be content to leave you with a gem of Bradford's wisdom:
From Lust to Love the roads are twain
Copyright © 1974, 1998 Rictor Norton
Copyright © Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. These essays may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the author.
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