By Bayard Taylor
He was a boy when first we met;
His eyes were mixed of dew and fire,
And on his candid brow was set
The sweetness of a chaste desire:
But in his veins the pulses beat
Of passion, waiting for its wing,
As ardent veins of summer heat
Throb through the innocence of spring.
As manhood came, his stature grew,
And fiercer burned his restless eyes,
Until I trembled, as he drew
From wedded hearts their young disguise.
Like wind-fed flame his ardor rose,
And brought, like flame, a stormy rain:
In tumult, sweeter than repose,
He tossed the souls of joy and pain.
So many years of absence change!
I knew him not when he returned:
His step was slow, his brow was strange,
His quiet eye no longer burned.
When at my heart I heard his knock,
No voice within his right confessed:
I could not venture to unlock
Its chambers to an alien guest.
Then, at the threshold, spent and worn
With fruitless travel, down he lay:
And I beheld the gleams of morn
On his reviving beauty play.
I knelt, and kissed his holy lips,
I washed his feet with pious care;
And from my life the long eclipse
Drew off; and left his sunshine there.
He burns no more with youthful fire;
He melts no more in foolish tears;
Serene and sweet, his eyes inspire
The steady faith of balanced years.
His folded wings no longer thrill,
But in some peaceful flight of prayer:
He nestles in my heart so still,
I scarcely feel his presence there.
O Love, that stern probation o’er,
Thy calmer blessing is secure!
Thy beauteous feet shall stray no more,
Thy peace and patience shall endure!
The lightest wind deflowers the rose,
The rainbow with the sun departs,
But thou art centred in repose,
And rooted in my heart of hearts!
Bayard Taylor (1825-1878) was an American poet, novelist, travel writer, literary critic, diplomat, lecturer, and translator. He was a frustrated poet who, even though he published twenty volumes of poetry, resented the mass appeal of his travel writings, because his desire was to be known as a poet. Even his travel writings have been relegated to the dustbin of literary history, and he is known today solely for his translation of both volumes of Goethe’s Faust.
Bayard was born on the January 11, 1825, in the small town of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania into a Quaker family. His parents were reasonably well-off farmers and could afford to give their son a decent education at academies in West Chester and Unionville. Although he entered the printing business as an apprentice, he was a keen writer of poetry and took great inspiration from the influential Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Encouraged by Griswold he published his first volume of poems at the age of 19 and called it Ximena, or the Battle of the Sierra Morena and other Poems. It sold badly but was noticed by the editor of the New York Tribune.
He worked as a journalist on the New York Tribune and other publications and this profession turned out to be his gateway to extensive worldwide travel when sent on assignments abroad. He even turned his hand to lyric writing for famous singers and completed a period of diplomatic service in St Petersburg, Russia.
He was lucky that his first commission was a European trip covering Germany, Italy, France, and England. He spent two years happily travelling at a slow pace, sending reports back to the Tribune. He was also engaged by other publications such as The Saturday Evening Post and The United States Gazette. On his return to the States, he was encouraged to publish his first travel book, based on his recent adventures. Views Afoot, or Europe seen with Knapsack and Staff was published in New York in two separate volumes in 1846. Further assignments followed but this time within the United States and Mexico. Taylor was now comfortably established in both journalism and as an author. He also had some success with a set of lyrics written for a visiting Swedish singer called Jenny Lind which were sung at concerts around the country. Within a few years he was off again on his travels, this time to Egypt and other countries in the Middle East.
In 1853, Taylor started from England and sailed to India, China, and then Japan. He was back in the States at the end of 1853 and then began a successful lecture tour. Two more years passed before the next overseas trip and this time he chose the countries of Northern Europe such as Sweden. Here he was inspired to write a long poem in narrative form called Lars.
Incredibly he found the time to serve as a diplomat and was appointed chargé d’affaires at the United States embassy in St Petersburg in 1863, accompanied by his second wife Maria. The following year they were back home at Kennett Square and Taylor wrote four novels with limited success. Poetry was his forte.
Taylor confided to Walt Whitman that he found in his own nature “a physical attraction and tender and noble love of man for man.” Taylor’s novel Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania (1870), which depicted men holding hands and kissing, is considered the first American gay novel by modern scholars. It presented a special attachment between two men and discussed the nature and significance of such a relationship, romantic but not sexual. Critics are divided in interpreting Taylor’s novel as a political argument for gay relationships or an idealization of male spirituality. This novel is said to be based on the romantic relationship between poets Fitz-Greene Halleck and Joseph Rodman Drake. In Keith Stern’s Queers in History, it is revealed that the love of Taylor’s life was George Henry Boker, although both men married women. The American banker, diplomat, and poet George Boker wrote to Taylor in 1856 that he had “never loved anything human as I love you. It is a joy and a pride to my heart to know that this feeling is returned.”
His travelling days were not finished, and he was appointed to another diplomatic post, this time in Berlin. Unfortunately, he died only a few months after arriving in the German capital. Bayard Taylor died in Berlin on the December 19, 1878, at aged 53.