Tag Archives: Poet

Guido Gezelle (1830-1899): Flemish priest, teacher, and poet

b. 1st May 1830
d. 27th November 1899

Belgian priest and poet, born in Brugge as Guido Pieter Theodorus Josephus Gezelle. He is considered by the Belgians as one of their greatest poets.

 

 

About Gazelle’s sexuality, not much is certain. Typically for a priest, there is no clear evidence that he ever gave physical expression to his sexual yearnings, whatever they may have been, About the nature of those feelings, and what we today would call his “orientation”, there are some strong clues:

Forget Maurice Maeterlinck, Herman de Coninck, Hugo Claus. The Belgian poet you want to read is Guido Gezelle (1830-1899). Writing in the popular idiom of the West Flemish region, this poet-priest caused a revolution in the rhythm, sound, and soul of Belgian poetry, and can be counted among the world’s greatest poets.

In Gezelle’s work, God and Nature are the key words. Admiring the beauty of God’s creation, the poet is reminded of the grandeur of the Creator Himself. To express these feelings into writing, Gezelle refuses to imprison them into the straight-jacket of age-old conventional forms, but allows them to play freely in a refreshing, new use of rhyme patterns, original images, free verse, and prose poetry.

(He) also voiced strong feelings for some of his pupils. Gezelle expressed the “spiritual twofoldness” between master and student in some of his best poems.

Gezelle’s homoerotic feelings may have been platonic. Certainly, some of his admirers resist any suggestion that his feelings for his pupils were sexual.Nevertheless, his relationship with Eugène van Oye, whom he admired for his “angelic innocence” and whom he tried to comfort in his loneliness in the seminary, was deep indeed. It struck him as a tragedy when van Oye left the seminary in Roeselare in 1859. In his lamentation “To an Absent Friend,” published in 1862, he called his loss greater than that of a mother missing her child.

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St Paulinus of Nola, Gay Bishop, Poet

Although some would dispute the description of Paulinus as ‘gay’, the description seems to me entirely appropriate to his sensibility. Although history records no evidence of physical expression of his same sex attraction, nor is there any evidence against it.  Given the historical context he was living in (4th/5th century Roman empire) , when sex with either gender was commonplace for men at at all levels of society, inside and outside the Christian church, the absence of written records of private activities after 15 centuries is completely unremarkable.  Nor is the fact that he was married particularly significant – for Romans, marriage and sex with men were entirely compatible. 

 

What is known is that he was passionately in love with a man, Ausonius, to whom he addressed exquisitely tender love poetry.   This is of sufficient quality and gay sensibility to be included in the Penguin book of homosexual verse:

To Ausonius”

I, through all chances that are given to mortals,
And through all fates that be,
So long as this close prison shall contain me,
Yea, though a world shall sunder me and thee,

Thee shall I hold, in every fibre woven,
Not with dumb lips, nor with averted face
Shall I behold thee, in my mind embrace thee,
Instant and present, thou, in every place.

Yea, when the prison of this flesh is broken,
And from the earth I shall have gone my way,
Wheresoe’er in the wide universe I stay me,
There shall I bear thee, as I do today.

Think not the end, that from my body frees me,
Breaks and unshackles from my love to thee;
Triumphs the soul above its house in ruin,
Deathless, begot of immortality.

Still must she keep her senses and affections,
Hold them as dear as life itself to be,
Could she choose death, then might she choose forgetting:

Living, remembering, to eternity.

[trans. Helen Waddell, in Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse]

It is surely clear from the above that whatever his physical erotic activities, his sensibility was entirely what we would today call “Gay”.  Paulinus’  feast day is on June 22nd.  It is fitting that we remember him, and the multitude of other LGBT saints in the long history of the church.

Further reading:

For more  online, see Paul Hansall’s invaluable LGBT Catholic handbook, or the Catholic Encyclopedia. (Note though that the latter’s entry on Paulinus is an excellent case study on how official Church history scrupulously edits out our LGBT history.  In a reasonably lengthy entry, Ausonius and the verses addressed to him are noted – but the essential facts that the relationship was passionate, or that the verses were clearly love poetry, are carefully filtered out.)

In print, see  John Boswell’s “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality”, pp133 – 134.

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