Walt Whitman, William Blake, and Arthur Rimbaud are three nineteenth century poets who shared styles, philosophies, and views of the world. They were writers searching for enlightenment and understanding of the world in which they lived; a world held in contempt for the injustices and inhumanities suffered by or because of it’s people. Many of these authors’ works would embody a clear disdain for ideals that went against those Whitman, Blake, and Rimbaud held so dear. They told their stories though vivid imagery, touching into taboo topics that frequently reflected aspects of their lives. Sexual, and sometimes homosexual, notions tended to appear in the poetry and prose of these three writes.
Blake dabbled with provocative imagery in the poem The Sick Rose; “The invisible worm – has found out thy bed of crimson joy.” There are subtle sexual allusions in the tale of a worm that flies through the night and destroys the life of a fragile flower. The poem possesses a frailty, conveying the idea that an innocent rose has been raped and ravaged by a devious man (the worm being referred to as “he” during the final verse). It has a quite beautiful quality to it. The syntax, short verses, and the haunting descriptions convey a very powerful feeling of something small and/or weak being abused. Walt Whitman offered some powerful suggestions of sexuality, only with a slightly different approach.
Whitman’s work seemed to have underlying homosexual tendencies. In the 11th section of Song of Myself: A Poem of Walt Whitman, an American, he tells a tale of twenty-eight young men bathing, being very descriptive when describing them. Again during the 13th section of an American, Whitman describes a “negro” holding the reins of four horses; “The sun falls on his crisp hair and moustache – falls on the black of his polished and perfect limbs.” These vivid pictures Whitman paints in his poems are very provocative and would seem to be especially risque for the nineteenth century. Whitman’s writing seems to venture into the realm of homosexuality, as does some work by Arthur Rimbaud.
A Season in Hell, by Arthur Rimbaud, contains a chapter titled Delirium I The Foolish Virgin The Infernal Bridegroom, where he depicts the torrid love affair of two men. This tale is supposed to reflect the affair between an older man named Verlaine and Rimbaud himself. “His mysterious delicacies had seduced me,” Verlaine’s character spoke as he began to describe his affair with Rimbaud. Rimbaud goes so far as to have Verlaine’s character coyly state his sexual preference, “I do not like women: love must be reinvented.” Taboo topics surrounded these writers with much criticism and controversy, but scandal helped make these artists great. Rimbaud’s writing is so elegant and poetic, it is wonderful to pick apart and interpret.
Religion appeared as a common topic with these artists. The Church was a very powerful and influential force in the nineteenth century; Blake often questioned it in his work. In The Garden of Love Blake talks of a chapel being built over top of a beautiful field, replacing the flowers with graves, and binding us with itТs rules and beliefs. Blake again attacked the Church in his poem The Little Vagabond. Blake compares the “cold” church to the “healthy, pleasant, and warm” Ale-house, “if at the Church they would give us some Ale – we’d sing and we’d pray all the live-long day.” It is a very interesting concept, the proposition of combining the sacred with the voracious. The idea is actually very stimulating to indulge in; inviting the social revelry of the pub into the sullen domain of the House of God; the sins of the night are combine with the morning of the Sabbath. Walt Whitman and Arthur Rimbaud seemed to believe in God more so than organized religion.
Whitman acknowledges the Lord as the creator and the guiding hand, “And I know that the hand of God is the elderhand of my own,” he writes in An American.
Rimbaud wrote about both a love and a loathing of religion. He criticized the Christian beliefs in A Season in Hell; “ever since that declaration of science, Christianity, man fools himself.” It appears that Rimbaud does not believe so much in organized religion, as he also comments of “the bastard wisdom of the Koran,” but he does seem to believe in a God. “God is my strength and I praise God,” Rimbaud writes, as he speaks of the “divine love” that is the roots of life.
Rimbaud comes across as being a very rebellious youth, but one equipped with a superb intellect, viewing the world around him with wide and curious eyes. He sheds light onto many topics and is very opinionated and introspective. He laments of his Hell on earth, then rejoices of his lust for life. Rimbaud’s writing almost defines him as being bipolar, invigorated one moment and lost in sorrow and disappointment the next. His thoughts were very well composed, although they are conveyed as endless contradictions. It makes reading interesting.
Their words reflect their thoughts and beliefs; Arthur Rimbaud, Walt Whitman, and William Blake stood out as important authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Chased by the controversy of the topics they embraced, these writers became icons and influences to those who would follow. They wrote with composure, elegance, and intelligence, acknowledged by the many readers who have read them, and the writers who attempt to reinvent them.