“Who Dares to Say That Love Is Like the War?”: A Gay, Catholic Poet in the 20th Century

I don’t want to be tokenistic but I’m betting the best way to get you to read this terrific article is to show you these paragraphs:

In the meantime both men underwent a private transformation. Thompson had abandoned Catholicism at Harvard, though he had never entirely renounced the faith. In 1952 he told his lover (who had been raised an Anglican) that he wanted to practice the Catholic faith again. Trower was initially taken by surprise, but six months later he followed Thompson into the Church. The two men also made the bold move to ask for ecclesiastical permission to live together as a celibate couple, which, mirabile dictu, was granted. (Their spiritual advisor wisely felt that they would live their faith more successfully together than apart.) Although their platonic lifestyle has been criticized by some gay commentators (and their ecclesiastical license has astonished some Catholic ones), the couple’s decision evidently worked. The two men spent the rest of their life together as a loving, content­ed, and very Catholic couple—a happiness attested to over the years by many visitors, both gay and straight. Thompson continued to write poetry but with little public success. A few poems appeared in The New Yorker, Paris Review, and Horizon, but his next three manuscripts remained unpublished in his lifetime. Mean­while Trower prospered in his new career, eventually becoming a major Catholic journalist. Thompson died in 1975 after a long and painful decline from liver cancer. He was 57 years old. Trower continued as a journalist for the next forty years. Now 91, he lives in Cheltenham. …

It is a great mistake to divide Thompson’s career into Catholic and non-Catholic periods. Roman Catholicism haunts all of his writing, even the novel and travelogue. The early poetry is as deeply and explicitly theological as the later work. What differs mostly is the speaker’s perceived relationship toward grace and redemption. Edward Field’s formula is exactly backward: only in Thompson’s early work does the persona of the guilt-ridden sinner appear. This torturously divided soul, vacillating between carnal desire and spiritual despair, serves as the protagonist of the early work. If the young Thompson was indeed a “brilliant bad boy,” he was also the very poster child of Catholic guilt. For him, sexual inebriation inevitably led to a theological hangover. By contrast, the calm and grateful persona of the later work is unconcerned with guilt or repentance.

more! his actual poetry also fascinating!


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