Image of two men kissingEssays on Gay History and Literature by Rictor Norton

Relax, Man

The Gay Love Letters of
Neal Cassady to Allen Ginsberg

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.

To sum up the gay "line of succession," Walt Whitman slept with Edward Carpenter, who slept with Gavin Arthur (1901–72), who slept with Neal Cassady, who slept with Allen Ginsberg (born 1926) – the current reigning queen, who generously shared the mantle of gay poetry among the Beat Generation in the 1950s. Ginsberg's great poem Howl (1956) was one of the most shocking poems of that generation – "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, / dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix" – but also one of the most liberating, a watershed for gay liberation – "who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts, / who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy . . . ." By the 1960s Ginsberg was preoccupied with Buddhist wisdom, and he became a leading figure in the Flower Power movement, lecturing in American universities against the Vietnam war and chanting his mesmerising Hare Krishna Mahamantra. His first important relationship was with Neal Cassady, and their letters chart an odyssey, geographially as well as spiritually, ranging across America, South America and India. Cassady had been the companion of Jack Kerouac (1922–69) in his travels, described in Kerouac's On the Road (1957). Cassady was basically heterosexual in a homosexual milieu; his life was full of pathos, and prison; he died in 1968. Cassady and Ginsberg were together in Denver June through August 1947, before Ginsberg went to Dakar and Cassady went to New york. Ginsberg went to New York that fall hoping to rendezvous with Cassady, but Cassady had returned to San Francisco a couple of days earlier to get married. There was a painful separation, but eventually they renewed their correspondence and remained friends through the 1960s, and occasionally even slept together. Ginsberg's early letters to Cassady do not survive, probably because Cassady destroyed them when he eventually married. Carolyn Cassady did not know of this correspondence until the letters were being prepared for publication in 1977, when she described them as a "testimony to the tenacity of deep and enduring love."
[See also the love letters between Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky.]

Photograph of Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady

Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady


Denver, Colorado
March 14, 1947.

Dear Allen;
          . . . My life is, at the moment, so cluttered up I have become incapable of relaxing long enough to even write a decent letter, really, I'm almost unable to think coherently. You must, then, not only forgive, but, find it within yourself to understand & in so doing develope a degree of patience until I am able to free myself enough to become truly close to you again.
          On your part, you must know, that any letdown in your regard for me would upset me so much that, psychologically, I would be in a complete vacuum. At least for the immediate future I must request these things of you. so please don't fail me. I need you now more than ever, since I've noone else to turn to. I continually feel I am almost free enough to be a real help to you, but, my love can't flourish in my present position & if I forced it now, both you & I would lose. By God, though, every day I miss you more & More.
          Understanding these things I hope, nay, in fact, know you must pour out more affection now than ever, rather than reacting negatively & withering up so that all is loss, or would be, between us.
          Let us then find true awareness by realizing that each of us is depending on the other for fulfillment. In that realization lies, I believe, the germ that may grow to the great heights of complete oneness. . . .
          I shall find a job tomorrow & perhaps by losing myself in work again I may become more rational & less upset & unnerved by the emotional shock of returning. Write soon I need you. I remain your other self.


Denver, Colorado
March 30, 1947.

Dear Allen,
          . . . I don't know how to say this, but you've hit the nail on the head. No more sacrament, no more directing my efforts in the nervous, stupid, neurosis you have outlined so well. I understand perfectly Allen and by god, you're right! Man, from here on out it'll be a breeze. Really, the formulation you gave is just what I needed. I'm overwhelmed with joy, I feel a sense of relief, I almost know peace again! All of this just thru understanding and agreeing with you. . . .
          What you say on "Play" is honestly what I've been doing, or striving for, all my life, therein lies our, or my, confused sense of closeness. Also, I fear, therein lies our strength of tie to each other, I say I fear, for I really don't know how much I can be satisfied to love you, I mean bodily, you know I, somehow, dislike pricks & men & before you, had conciously forced myself to be homosexual, now, I'm not sure whether with you I was not just forceing myself unconciously, that is to say, any falsity on my part was all physical, in fact, any disturbance in our affair was because of this. You meant so much to me, I now feel I was forcing a desire for you bodily as a compansation to you for all you were giving me. This is a sad state and upsets me for I want to become nearer to you than any one & still I don't want to be unconciously insincere by passing over my non-queerness to please you. Allen, this is straight, what I truely want is to live with you from Sept. to June, have an apt., a girl, go to college, (just for French to sit in on classes etc.) see all and do all. . . .


Denver, Colorado
April 10, 1947

. . . I don't care what you think, that's what I want. If you are able to understand and can see your way clear to shepharding me around the big city for 9 months, then, perhaps, go to Europe with me next summer thats swell, great and wonderful, exactly what I want, if not — well, why not? Really, damn it, why not? You sense I'm not worthy of you? you think I wouldn't fit in? you presume I'd treat you as badly or worse? You feel I'm not bright enough? you know I'd be imposing, or demanding, or trying to suck you dry of all you have intellectually? Or is it just that you are, almost unconciously, aware of enough lack of interest in me, or indifferance to my plight and need of you, to believe that all the trouble of helping and living with me, would not be quite compensated for by being with me? I can't promise a darn thing, I know I'm bisexual, but prefer women, there's a slimmer line than you think between my attitude toward love and yours, don't be so concerned, it'll fall into line. Beyond that – who knows? Let's try it & see, huh? . . .
          Relax, man, think about what I say and try to see yourself moving toward me without any compulsive demands, due to lack of assurance that I love you, or because of lack of belief that I understand you etc. forget all that and in that forgetfulness see if there isn't more peace of mind and even more physical satisfaction than in your present subjective longing (whether for me, or Claude, or anybody) I know one cannot alter by this method, but come to me with all you've got, throw your demands in my face, (for I love them) and find a true closeness, not only because what emotionality I have is also distorted by lonliness, but also because I, logically or not, feel I want you more than anyone at this stage.
          I'm really beat, off to bed, and a knowledge of relief, for I know you must understand and move with me in this, you better not fight against it or any other damn thing, so shut up, relax, find some patience and fit into my mellow plans.
          Love & Kisses, my boy, opps!, excuse, I'm not Santa Claus am I? Well then, just – Love & Kisses,


New York
[Fall 1947]

Dear Neal:
          . . . I think you know what is coming in this letter, it is serious; if you don't want to I won't ask you to read further or to reply for that matter.
          You know or (at the moment) I am smarter than you & cleverer in ways and I don't want to be smart or clever at this point, even subtle. I must admit that I have known more or less consciously that all the "purity" of my love, its "generosity" and "honour" was, though on its own level true, not at all my deeper intention toward you, which was and is simply a direct lover's. If we were equal and I were as strong as you in the relationship "I could afford to be" – I would naturally flow into common generosity. But we are not, for all my purity and abnegation is a stall and a sell out, and all my "gifts" to transmit, if they were to be any use to you which I really thought they would be, were unimportant in my mind and subsidiary to my main beggary. I would have been capable of continuing it, before, even to the point of renouncing any sexual claim on you as I did in my last letter; but that I know and knew was possessiveness taking the palatable & generous form. I had no clear ideas in mind when I told you to come back, except to follow out my agreement to the letter, though perhaps not in spirit, and wait for you to pity me again and sleep with me. . . .
          I do not know how I can hope for any love for you because my own love is one compounded of hostility & submission. I don't understand and can't, your own emotions, even when explained only because my drive is so blind that I cannot comprehend even intellectually the possible realism of your statements. And I can't well plead a case of love for you truly because at my most sweet or straight or goody-goody or sacrificing or demanding, I am always conscious below of stabbing you in the back while I lead you or deceive you. This is not so much conscious as merely known, by both of us, I suppose. . . .
          I don't know what I can do Neal now. You know you are the only one who gave me love that I wanted and never had, as you have – this does not humiliate me any more – a number of others, and I sometimes wonder about them. What must I do for you to get you back? I will do anything. Any indecencies any revelations any creation, any miseries, will they please you. Or will they frighten you as this does? I mean to bend my mind that knows it can destroy you to any base sordid level of adoration and masochistic abnegation that you desire or taunt me with. This has style, and it is now so much vomit. Or do you look on it as such? I do not care what I think really, I hate & fear you so much that I will do anything to win your protection again, and your mercy.
          I am lonely, Neal, alone, and always I am frightened. I need someone to love me and kiss me & sleep with me; I am only a child and have the mind of a child. I have been miserable without you because I had depended on you to take care of me for love of me, and now that you have altogether rejected me, what can I do, what can I do? . . . I blame you yet I still ask for the whip. . . .
          I have never asked you for a true favor, a gratuitous gift from you but small ones once or twice when I was driven to it by your love & purposeful or unconscious frustration of me. I have always been obedient & respectful, I have adjusted my plans to yours, my desires to your own pattern, and now I do ask – I pray – please neal, my neal, come back to me, don't waste me, don't leave me. I don't want to suffer any more, I have had my mind broken open over and over before, I have been isolate and loveless always. I have not slept with anyone since I saw you not because I was faithful but because I am afraid and I know no one. I will always be afraid I will always be worthless, I will always be alone till I die and I will be tormented long after you leave me. I can't give up now for this time the one chance I have of serving not being served, the last time, my only time. Already I am aging, I feel my life is sterile, I am unbloomed, unused, I have nothing I can have that I will ever want, only some love, only dearness & tenderness, to make me weep. . . . I have descended depths beyond depths into my own personality, even to the point of exhibition, of self-pity that is not self pity but knowledge of tragedy. Neal, how can I change, what can I do? Don't you see that I cannot be composed, I cannot reconcile myself, because there is no other reality but loneliness for me and before I am dragged back into isolation I will clasp and grasp and claw in fright even at you without consciousness – even I – and I am afraid that I cannot survive if I have to go on into myself. . . . Is not my state so wretched that you who once loved me cannot think of me without guilt. Or if it is guilt that will call you, then guilt, I am not so strong that I can afford to choose my weapons. Didn't you first come to me, seduce me – don't you remember how you made me stop trembling in shame and drew me to you? Do you know what I felt then, as if you were a saint, inhuman, to have touched me so, and comforted me, even deceived me a moment in my naieveté to think I was loved. I remember that night, and it is so sad now in my mind, to think that it did happen, if once, that I think of death and only death afterwards. Do you think I am lying again? I don't mean Death as suicide, I mean the unknown, the unforseen, the horrible.
          I would go on and on but in my eye I am afraid that all my emotions will only bore you and that you will turn from me with every pleading phrase, I am afraid that you could and this leaves me now as I end, speaking to you, sitting here, waiting in silence, speaking to you no more o god neal please Come back don't be harsh on me I can't help this I can only apologise and beg and beg and beg.
                    Allen Ginsberg

SOURCE: Excerpts from As Ever: The Collected Correspondence of Allen Ginsberg & Neal Cassady, ed. Barry Gifford (Berkeley: Creative Arts Book Company, 1977). Copyright © Allen Ginsberg and Carolyn Cassady. Used by permission.

Return to My Dear Boy Table of Contents
Return to Gay History and Literature