Kenneth Rexroth is perhaps one of the most accessible writers to have gained prominence during the Beat movement.

Kenneth Rexroth is perhaps one of the most accessible writers to have gained prominence during the Beat movement.

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He was born in South Bend, Indiana in 1905 and died on June 6, 1982 in Montecito, California.

In addition to being a writer, translator, essayist and philosopher, Rexroth also helped found the San Francisco Poetry Center. He received the California Literature Silver Medal Award in 1941 for his book, In What Hour.

Rexroth became a prolific painter and poet by the age of seventeen. He soon gained reputation as a radical by associating with various labor groups and political anarchists. When the second renaissance of the 1920’s occurred in Chicago, Rexroth was there. He later became involved in the Beat movement, attempting to elevate common consciousness. He was later given the title, “Godfather of the Beats” because of his involvement with the readings and events at the Cellar jazz club.

Rexroth’s influence and talents were actually greater than the Beat movement itself. He was perceived by critics as more than just another West Coast anarchist poet. “He is a man of wide cultivation and, when not too busy shocking the bourgeois reader…a genuine poet”, said a critic by the name of Rosenthal. A critic named Gibson observed of his book, In Defense of the Earth, that it “is no period piece… these poems of love and protest, of meditation and remembrance, stand out as some of his most deeply felt poems”.

Rexroth must also be respected not only for his ability to create beautiful diction, but for his ability to translate and convey character through his poetry. Some of his poems were written in the voice of an ancient Japanese woman. This selection of verse exemplifies Rexroth’s ability to convey the erotic with a sense of wisdom and beauty. These are perhaps the poet’s most enchanting and elusive of his writings.

Runaway ( Top of Page )

There are sparkles of rain on the bright
Hair over your forehead;
Your eyes are wet and your lips
Wet and cold, your cheek rigid with cold.
Why have you stayed
Away so long, why have you only
Come to me late at night
After walking for hours in wind and rain?
Take off your dress and stockings;
Sit in the deep chair before the fire.
I will warm your feet in my hands;
I will warm your breasts and thighs with kisses.
I wish I could build a fire
In you that would never go out.
I wish I could be sure that deep in you
Was a magnet to draw you always home.

Yin and Yang ( Top of Page )

It is spring once more in the Coast Range
Warm, perfumed, under the Easter moon.
The flowers are back in their places.
The birds are back in their usual trees.
The winter stars set in the ocean.
The summer stars rise from the mountains.
The air is filled with atoms of quicksilver.
Resurrection envelops the earth.
Goemetrical, blazing, deathless,
Animals and men march through heaven,
Pacing their secret ceremony.
The Lion gives the moon to the Virgin.
She stands at the crossroads of heaven,
Holding the full moon in her right hand,
A glittering wheat ear in her left.
The climax of the rite of rebirth
Has ascended from the underworld
Is proclaimed in light from the zenith.
In the underworld the sun swims
Between the fish called Yes and No.

Floating ( Top of Page )

Our canoe idles in the idling current
Of the tree and vine and rush enclosed
Backwater of a torpid midwestern stream;
Revolves slowly, and lodges in the glutted
Waterlilies. We are tired of paddling.
All afternoon we have climbed the weak current,
Up dim meanders, through woods and pastures,
Past muddy fords where the strong smell of cattle
Lay thick across the water; singing the songs
Of perfect, habitual motion; ski songs,

Nightherding songs, songs of the capstan walk,
The levee, and the roll of the voyageurs.
Tired of motion, of the rhythms of motion,
Tired of the sweet play of our interwoven strength,
We lie in each other’s arms and let the palps
Of waterlily leaf and petal hold back
All motion in the heat thickened, drowsing air.
Sing to me softly, Westron Wynde, Ah the Syghes,
Mon coeur se recommend à vous, Phoebi Claro;
Sing the wandering erotic melodies
Of men and women gone seven hundred years,
Softly, your mouth close to my cheek.
Let our thighs lie entangled on the cushions,
Let your breasts in their thin cover
Hang pendant against my naked arms and throat;
Let your odorous hair fall across our eyes;
Kiss me with those subtle, melodic lips.
As I undress you, your pupils are black, wet,
Immense, and your skin ivory and humid.
Move softly, move hardly at all, part your thighs,
Take me slowly while our gnawing lips
Fumble against the humming blood in our throats.
Move softly, do not move at all, but hold me,
Deep, still, deep within you, while time slides away,
As the river slides beyond this lily bed,
And the thieving moments fuse and disappear
In our mortal, timeless flesh.

Confusion ( Top of Page )

I pass your home in a slow vermilion dawn,
The blinds are drawn, and the windows are open.
The soft breeze from the lake
Is like your breath upon my cheek.
All day long I walk in the intermittent rainfall.
I pick a vermilion tulip in the deserted park,
Bright raindrops cling to its petals.
At five o’clock it is a lonely color in the city.
I pass your home in a rainy evening,
I can see you faintly, moving between lighted walls.
Late at night I sit before a white sheet of paper,
Until a fallen vermilion petal quivers before me.

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