A REVIEW OF MY LOVE IS LIKE ALL LOVELY THINGS
My Love is Like All Lovely Things: Selected Poems of E. E. Bradford is an anthology of the Greek love poetry of the Reverend Edwin Emmanuel Bradford (1860-1944), selected with a biography of the poet by C. Caunter, and published by Arcadian Dreams in London in 2023.
A Layman’s Approach to Bradford’s Poetry
by J. M. Thian, 23 June 2023
Take the blood, the flesh and the tears out of boy-love fiction à la Kevin Esser, Bob Henderson or even C. J. Bradbury Robinson, to name a few, and what are you left with? Pure unadulterated and beautifully crafted mystic poetry with a ten-fold erotic charge, if not more!
Such is Bradford’s poetry.
Between 1908 and 1930, the London firm Kegan Paul published the twelve volumes of one of the most prolific Uranian poets, Edwin Emmanuel Bradford (1860-1944). From those twelve volumes, C. Caunter selected 118 poems, ballads, sonnets, rondeaux (and even a short story as a final bonus) all focusing on astoundingly frank man-boy relations. Each of those poems is given enough breathing space on the page to make for a more than pleasant reading experience. At the end of this long anthology, Caunter added his 75-page-long biography of the poet, along with references and bibliography. All in all, 323 pages published in 2023 by Arcadian Press under the title My Love is Like All Lovely Things.
The poems cover twenty-two years of the poet’s life as a boy-lover. The sole contemporary equivalent I could think of would be Tony Duvert’s supposedly non-autobiographical novels from Recidive (1967) to When Jonathan Died (1978) – if they had been published in one single volume; Matzneff’s Carnets Noirs up to 1984, after the non boy-love related material has been expurgated; or, why not, C. J. Bradbury Robinson's Young Thomas or Crocodile of Choirboys, minus the titillating passages.
That Bradford was a boy-lover is an often-stated fact: “Turn away from the wench with her powder and paint,” he advocates, for instance, in The Call (page 118), “and follow the Boy, who is fair as a saint.” And follow boys, Bradford did, in his own way, always with tact, respect, and love. For Bradford’s poetic universe is not one of turmoil and angst: his universe, from beginning till end, is set against a background of deep forests, hills, rivers and sea shores, breaking waves, wind, rain and starlit skies, ringing bells, cathedrals and spires. Against this background, Bradfords’s boys work, travel, play, have fun, swim in the sea, kiss their lovers, sometimes observed by the poet from afar, sometimes sitting on the poet’s lap by a fire in the chimney (a recurring image):
“Fresh from his bath [...]
I see him, naked, clean and warm [...]
‘Mid myriad of snowflakes whirling in the wind [...]
The shore, here dank with snow, there foul with mire,
Lies all around his form yet leaves it free:
So it is with his heart – ‘mid shame and sin
Unstained it glows with love’s pure light within!
Bradford’s boys are from 7 to 17, some are strong and masculine, others are prettier than girls. They come from all walks of life. For the poet, an “adored boy” becomes a “Prince” or a “Duke”; the boy’s social background has no importance whatsoever: there is beauty in a working lad, be he a fisherman or a shoe-shine boy. In I Cannot Love my Love Alone (page 123), he writes:
A little Lord, in sweet disguise
Kneels down to black my boots:
A mighty Duke (through small in size)
Comes hawking summer fruits.
Some of those boys, the poet will meet only briefly, never to see them again, but they will make an everlasting impression on his soul; others he will have time to know, love and later, in written form, minutely describe in all their simplicity, shyness, joy and fears:
“Do you think that a boy – and a shy boy too –
Finds it easy to come to a man like you,
And propose to be friends – real mates for life?
You make a mistake if you do!”
At Last, p. 127
Some will give their names to poems: Paddy Malloy, Jack, Rudolf, Eric, Alan, Joe and Jim, Frank... Others will remain anonymous. But all will be equally befriended, cherished and loved.
Bradford’s conception of the ideal friendship is best explained in The New Chivalry (1918) – one of the best volumes among the twelve, I think. There, Bradford argues Uranian affection better benefits a boy than flirting with girls. “Boys need love,” he says, “but not the love of a woman.” The poet argues that “romantic friendship, passionate and pure, should be their first-love.”
Love him, and you will learn his heavenly dress
Is sacramental: but in any case
E’en if his form should lie, his modesty
Would linger in his kiss and his embrace.
“Kiss and embrace!” I might be a kill-joy here, but those three words have to be taken at their face value. Kisses and embraces abound in Caunter’s My Love is Like All Lovely Things. More, you won’t find, at least not in written form from Bradford. Physical passion is rarely in evidence. The purity of the ideal and, perhaps, the fear of censorship keep the tone of the poems on the highest spiritual level. On occasion, however, the eroticism comes very close to the surface...
A little child lay with me yesternight
If in the body or no I scarce could tell [...]
And though deep darkness hid him from my sight,
Yet in my spirit I perceived him well;
And when he kissed me, all the dark grew light
And clear as noonday. Irresistible
Was his embrace, and as he held me tight
And clung to me with ardour hot as hell
Yet pure as heaven, I cried o’ermastered quite,
“Can Love Divine in this slight body dwell?”
Then knew I that this child of mortal clod
Was but a blossom in the Love of God.
... and sometimes breaks it: Bradford, hearing a chorister singing “I want to be where Jesus is”, relates that, after the service, the boy confided that he did not believe what he was singing but that he...
Longed for something – was it home?
And some one – was it you?
There is a lot to be said for the way Bradford’s poetry works in the reader’s subconscious, especially if the reader is a boy-lover. Through the interplay of sounds, vowels and consonants, and the linking of scattered elements brought together in an unconscious way, independently of the reader’s will, certain scenarios are set in motion that go beyond simple eroticism: the dreamlike visions induced by Bradford’s poetry are sometimes far from chaste...
One thing that really helps to fully adhere to Bradford’s conception of childhood and the way he relates to boys is that, in his poetic universe, there is a total lack of negative passions (in the Spinozian sense of the terms): hate, depression, fear, sexual tensions are banned from it. And if they arise, they are immediately faced and vanquished (see The Mad Wolf or Fomes Peccati), be it with the help of God, or through sheer courage. Being sources of tension, anxiety and negative passions, it is no wonder girls and women have no place in this universe.
Now, if carnal knowledge, sex and women are banned, how does Bradford rationalize his love for boys? The answer has been partly given in the poetic extracts above. Another answer, more simple and straightforward, can be found in a letter Bradford sent to a friend, Green, in August 1917. “No man hath seen God at any time,” he writes, "so all conceptions of Him come through His works. The beauty of Nature suggests what He is like; but “we are also His offspring,” and the beauty of His children gives us an idea of His beauty.”
To this highly spiritual love, which forms the first layer of Bradford’s vision of man-boy companionships or friendships, can be added another layer which is at the core (or so it seems to me) of both The New Chivalry (1918) and The True Aristocracy (1923).
In those two volumes, Bradford insists that these man-boy relationships, if they are based on mystic love, are also based on a total disregard for the social class the boys belong to – a boy may be poor or rich, if he needs help, guidance, instruction or education, it is the role, the function of the boylover to be there to guide and accompany him. And this layer, this idea, which flows throughout Caunter’s anthology, is what touched me the most, all the more so as it gives coherence to his poetic universe, from the first volume to the last.
Bradford knows how to speak directly to the soul of his reader. His best poems are those where he chooses to remain simple, when he relates his tales of boyhood from the child's point of view and when he describes the boys’ everyday games, how they strive for friendship and love. Bradford is at his best, tender and sensitive, when he talks about fleeting relationships with boys, or when he portrays a declaration of love, a chaste kiss, or when he gives a physical description of a boy’s face or body.
One thing worth mentioning, I think, is Bradford’s gradual involvement in his work: In the first volume, he is absent. Then he enters the scene, but only as witness. Later, he will start becoming an active protagonist in his own universe, and without you even realizing it, he will finally, in the last volumes, become this omniscient narrator who works wonders in (at the risk of repeating myself) portraying what it is to be a child and what it is to be a boy-lover.
As years go by, the poet will become more nostalgic, bringing back friendships from his own childhood, but, and I insist, always with sensitivity, always with the same thirst for ideals and thirst to love and be loved, without any morbidity, but, it’s true, with a certain sadness, especially when he remembers past friendships and the ghosts of his childhood. And yes, my own youth being long gone, I admit that I shed a few tears here and there...
I cannot conclude this review without speaking of Caunter’s biography of the poet. What a stroke of genius to have placed it, not at the beginning of the anthology, but at its very end. And what respect for the readers, and for the choice, I think assumed by Caunter, of believing in their intelligence and their ability to form an idea of who Bradford was as a man through his poetry first, allowing them to draw a mental portrait of the man without any preconceived ideas.
It was only after reaching this point in the writing of this review, that I set about reading the 75 pages of Bradford’s life, as reconstructed by Caunter. What a pleasure it was to realize that the portrait I had mentally drawn for myself corresponded to what the man was in reality. What a surprise it also was to realize that I had sometimes got it wrong - I thought Bradford was a mystical poet, not a man who made religion his profession, for example.
“If a poem hasn’t torn your soul apart, you haven’t known poetry,” wrote Edgar Allan Poe. There are, in Caunter’s anthology, many such poems. Obscure at first, Bradford always manages to bring light to them. Thanks to the music of his words, – “Note the notes but not the words” he writes in In The Dusk (page 36) – the carefully crafted simplicity of his technique, they become luminous by dint of calm, attentive reading, and at the end, as the French poet René Daumal one day wrote, “they produce fruits of light.”
“Did I?” said he. “Do you mean that you doubted
My feeling for you?” Then he frowned and pouted.
“Do you think that a boy can offer a man
His love – and perhaps be scouted?”
At Last, p. 126
 For more information on the Uranian poets, read Timothy d’Arch Smith’s Love in Earnest, Some Notes on the Lives and Writings of English ‘Uranian’ Poets from 1889 to 1930, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1970 and Secreted Desires, The Major Uranians: Hopkins, Pater and Wilde, by Michael Matthew Kaylor, published by the Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic in 2006.
 The Purity of Love, page 137.
 No such self-censorship in The Priest and the Acolyte by John Bloxam, published in The Chameleon in 1894.
 The New Chivalry, 1918.
 Source : Love in Earnest, Timothy d’Arch Smith. See also The Child Divine, in My Love Is Like All Lovely Things, page 4.
 For more accurate information on this concept, see Edmund Marlowe’s Alexander’s Choice, (2012) the last pages of chapter X. See also Bruce Rind’s Pederasty: An Integration of Historical, Sociological, Cross Cultural, Cross-Species and evolutionary Evidence and Perspectives (2013).
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