We’ll change the world

The Gay Love Letters of
Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky

Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries, Edited by Rictor Norton

Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.

Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky in San Francisco in 1955

Allen Ginsberg (whose correspondence with Neal Cassady is in a previous selection) met Peter Orlovsky (born 1933) in San Francisco in 1954. It was the first time Ginsberg had an affair with someone who was not primarily heterosexual, and their relationship was unusually frank and open, "completely giving and taking." Ginsberg immediately determined that Orlovsky would be his "life-long love": “I was completely enamored and intoxicated – just the right person for me, I thought." Orlovsky has been an ambulance attendant, psychiatric nurse, and handyman in a wide range of jobs to earn money for very extensive travels. He describes himself as a "nut tree farmer, poet–teacher–singer" at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. What Ginsberg calls their "marriage" lasted from 1954, though its terms changed over more than forty years, surviving the upheavals of freaking out on drugs in the 1960s through the strains caused by Ginsberg's worldwide fame. It went through many phases and they became "independent" though together, with Orlovsky sleeping mostly with girls but sometimes again with Ginsberg. "But the origin of our relationship is a fond affection. I wouldn't want to go to heaven and leave Peter alone on earth; and he wouldn't leave me alone if I was sick in bed, dying, gray-haired, wormy, rheumatic."


Chambre 25
Paris 6, France
January 20, 1958

Dear Petey:
          O Heart O Love everything is suddenly turned to gold! Don't be afraid don't worry the most astounding beautiful thing has happened here! I don't know where to begin but the most important. When Bill [Burroughs] came I, we, thought it was the same old Bill mad, but something had happened to Bill in the meantime since we last saw him. . . . but last night finally Bill & I sat down facing each other across the kitchen table and looked eye to eye and talked, I confessed all my doubt and misery – and in front of my eyes he turned into an Angel!
          What happened to him in Tangiers this last few months? It seems he stopped writing and sat on his bed all afternoons thinking and meditating alone & stopped drinking – and finally dawned on his consciousness, slowly and repeatedly, every day, for several months – awareness of "a benevolent sentient (feeling) center to the whole Creation" – he had apparently, in his own way, what I have been so hung up on in myself and you, a vision of big peaceful Lovebrain – said it gave him (came sort of like a revelation slowly) courage to look at his whole life, me, him more dispassionately . . . . We talked a long time got into tremendous rapport, very delicate, I almost trembled, a rapport much like yours and mine, but not sexual, he even began to dig my feelings about that, my willingness but really I don't want to, has stopped entirely putting pressure on me for bed – the whole nightmare's cleared up overnight, I woke this morning with great bliss of freedom & joy in my heart, Bill's saved, I'm saved, you're saved, we're all saved, everything has been all rapturous ever since – I only feel sad that perhaps you left as worried when we waved goodby and kissed so awkwardly – I wish I could have that over to say goodby to you happier & without the worries & doubts I had that dusty dusk when you left . . . – Bill is changed nature, I even feel much changed, great clouds rolled away, as I feel when you and I were in rapport, well our rapport has remained in me, with me, rather than losing it, I'm feeling to everyone, something of the same as between us. And you? What's happening inside Dear Pete? I read Bill your poems, I'll type them & send them soon, everything is happening so fast. I feel like I can write even. Are you OK? Write me happy letter, don't be sad, I love you, nothing can change love, beautiful love, once we have it. . . .


[On board ship
returning to New York]
Jan 22, 58

Dear Allen:
          On the ship, close to home, at night, full turky stomache sadness on my face but finally read through the brothers K[aramazov] & see the same madness in my famiely. Have been very quite, sick half the time from the bellybutton waves but eating marvously & to boot havent smoked much at all & to boot have this nice typewritter to type to yo . . . . I know I goofed with Bill being so silent as if crying inside my throught, yes I gess I am meek, like you say. But at the end of eternity theres nothing to be imbarresed about. . . . Love Bill like I love you, be a chair for him to sit on and for him to talk proudly from – Bill seems more like a brother now then a farther with stern eyes in Tangiers. Bill got roses in his teeth. I took a one hour shower yesterday & used to much water that the hall was soken wet twenty people nocked on my door in fright but I kept singing along till cleaned & wash all dirty clothes. Have had two wet dreams so far, did not masterbate once & feel good about that for I must stop that habit for its insulting to my cock. . . . On the frist day out I saw land in the sky & thought it was real. It was only till I left you & Bill to get on train did I feel lonely sadness pains and crying in my throught but now I feel better. tho when I left you I felt our friendship was like sunset dust floating & seperating away – young young young saw flying fish with red boots on. . . . Someone wants the typewritter so must move on off. I feel very good & confident things will work out well. . . .


[New York]
Feb 10, 58


Dear Allen:
          Great piece of news this morning; got job in Psychiatric MST – start work Thursday – all dressed in white again – felt great relief when found out I could work there – of course its a far cry from dream ambulance attendant job I said I would get on pay – but $60 is ok . . . . I have to get bite to eat honney – I cant continue write now – can you read my handwritting – no patience – darn coffee at apt – ?? go go go go – help – tea with limon – but I do feel good and so dont worry dear Allen things are going ok – we'll change the world yet to our dessire – even if we got to die – but OH the world's got 25 rainbows on my window sill. . . .


Feb. 15, 1958

Dear Peter:
          Got your letter yesterday, was so happy to receive it and your sweet sex talk. I had been running around with mad mean poets & world-eaters here & was longing for kind words from heaven which you wrote, came as fresh as a summer breeze & "when I think on thee dear friend / all losses are restored & sorrows end," came over & over in my mind – it's the end of a Shakespeare Sonnet – he must have been happy in love too. I had never realized that before. . . .
          O.K. I'll wrap this up. Write me soon baby, I'll write you big long poem I feel as if you were god that I pray to –


Feb. 24, 1958

Dear Peter:
. . . Sure miss you, as if a golden soul of me were still there, to think on, floating six feet above ground across the Atlantic (I feel your ball of soft fire in the room a near presence summoned up by a thot sometimes) – keep thinking of Shakespeare sonnet "But when I think on thee dear friend / all losses are restored and sorrows end." Got all your letters now, including last airgram Feb. 19. . . . I'm making it all right here, but I miss you, your arms & nakedness & holding each other – life seems emptier without you, the soulwarmth isn't around, only lots of energy, I do a lot – as in England I read wildly & saw lots of people & did something to hop poesy there, it will have an effect I'm sure once they broadcast that BBC record, open the floodgates in London maybe, for new feeling in poetry there – it's all so deadened now & insincere. But I feel alone without you Peter, I already daydream with tears of how sweet we'll be, meeting again, in summer, it seems a short time off. . . . Bill thinks new American generation will be hip & will slowly change things – laws & attitudes, he has hope there – for some redemption of America, finding its soul. But we are so run by competition and deception, there is no possibility of men being true, even to their dear wives – you have to love all life, not just parts, to make the eternal scene, that's what I think since we've made it, more & more I see it isn't just between us, it's feeling that can [be] extended to everything. Tho I long for the actual sunlight contact between us I miss you like a home. Shine back honey & think of me. Find anybody in NY? Maybe also we have some mad balls in NY when we end the summer. . . .
          Goodbye Mr February.
                    as tender as ever
                              swept with warm rain
                                        love from your Allen


[New York]
April 22, 58

Dear Allen:
          . . . Hi Allen – hay-ho doll – come on over and blow me you sexy ass of yours under the sheets that I feel all the time – right there between my hands – I miss the shoe shine you'd give my cock! – God – you know I've layd nobody since we last made it together – God for all I know my cock may be getting rusty like a dusty kings crown in dewy dungen – I'm sick of all this crying – the world is never going to end all this sadness – I'm going to marry good woman & grow my own love army . . .


[New York]
June 23, '60

Dear Allen with dark Indian Death Eyes:
          . . . I also thought, Yesterday, that you (in yr last letter said our Peyote High scared you when I laffed) feel I do harm to myself if we seperated & you get married (children) or I get mad at you & so I think now what ever we do (weather I turn into cockerroch cralling along 1st Ave coblestones & get Xed by truck) (both get married or just you) (as you fell in love with John Weiners or bring back new boy friend from Lima as you want to go away alone by yr self to india hill cave – or sit on my cock & talk it over & lay down & do it again, as you get married & I take care of yr baby while you blink in Jungle Storms or open the door & say "Now Peter you just cant stay around & do notheing all the time" – or be happey to each other at important times – maybe I am yr Child & you dont know it Allen – Alen I love you, Allen, Please Allen give me a sapey (sap) kiss – . . .
          Write me more if you want I sail yr heart
                    Love from 33 st. P.O. Peter
                              by by now

SOURCE: Excerpts from Straight Hearts' Delilght: Love Poems and Selected Letters, ed. Winston Leyland (San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1980). Copyright © 1980 Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. Used by permission.

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