long-forgotten american decadence: the book of jade

Pronounced “brilliant” by William James — one of his professors at Harvard — David Park Barnitz (June 24, 1878 – October 10, 1901) was an American poet, known for his one and only volume of poetry, a homage to the decadent writers of European letters, The Book of Jade. Within weeks of its publication Barnitz would be dead, a rumoured suicide.

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From Wikipedia: 

Barnitz adop[ed] the decadent style to create a monument of unrelieved and unrelenting oblivionist verse, fit to take its place alongside the works of such other gothic and macabre anti-luminaries as Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Count Stenbock, James Thomson (B.V.), H. P. Lovecraft, and the German Bonaventura. A classmate of fellow poet Wallace Stevens, Park Barnitz was a visionary who prefigured modernism in his adoption of new paradigms and literary styles as a form of mask. And the mask which Barnitz adopted, that of the decadents, fitted his intellectual cynicism and misanthropy precisely. The decadents, Barnitz wrote, though they “do not lecture at Harvard”, “seem to me the most delightful of contemporary French writers.” “All these slaves of the opal,” Barnitz goes on, “as one of their obscurest members proclaims them, with their one great man (Verlaine) and their hundred pathetic poets, it is surely a fitting thing to admire. ‘How nice of them,’ one feels like saying, ‘to be so dear!’ They have not produced a new art, but they have amused.”

 

For more, see the comprehensive www.bookofjade.com — a real labour of love (although “love” may not be the correct word to employ in connection with Barnitz’s milieu of decadence) — and this great post, too, at the wonderful rare books site, www.bookride.com.


An example of Barnitz’s ontology:

Mankind

 

They do not know that they are wholly dead,
Nor that their bodies are to the worm given o’er;

They pass beneath the sky forevermore;

With their dead flesh the earth is cumbered.

 

Each day they drink of wine and eat of bread,

And do the things that they have done before;

And yet their hearts are rotten to the core,

And from their eyes the light of life is fled.

 

Surely the sun is weary of their breath;

They have no ears, and they are dumb and blind;

Long time their bodies hunger for the grave.

 

How long, O God, shall these dead corpses rave?

When shall the earth be clean of humankind?

When shall the sky cease to behold this death?

 

If you’ve ever had to read Hegel, then you’ll appreciate Barnitz’s take on the great German nineteenth century metaphysicist:

Hegel


Because my hope is dead, my heart a stone,

I read the words that Hegel once did write

An idiot gibbering in the dark alone

Till on my heart and vision fell the night.

 

Both poerms are from David Park Barnitz’s The Book of Jade (1901), which may be downloaded here.

 

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