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Uranian Poets  
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The poets, who lived and wrote from the close of the Victorian era to the middle of the interwar period, celebrated love for adolescent boys.

The Term Uranian

The term Uranian derives from Plato's Symposium, in which Pausanias distinguishes between Heavenly Aphrodite (Aphrodite Urania) and Common Aphrodite (Aphrodite Pandeumia). According to Pausanias, men who are inspired by Heavenly Love "are attracted towards the male sex, and value it as being naturally the stronger and more intelligent . . . their intention is to form a lasting attachment and partnership for life."

The term Urning was popularized by the German legal official Karl Heinrich Ulrichs in the late 1860s and 1870s and was soon adapted in England as Uranian, used by such leaders of the early English homosexual emancipation movement as John Addington Symonds and Edward Carpenter. As employed by them, the term embraces homosexuals generally.


More narrowly, however, Uranianism designates a movement in English poetry, from the close of the Victorian era to the middle of the interwar period, whose theme is love for the adolescent boy. Inspired by feelings akin to the paiderasteia of the ancient Greeks, but far more circumspect and clandestine because of the prevailing cultural attitudes of their time, the Uranian poets left a minor legacy to the gay and lesbian literary heritage.

The object of the Uranian poets' love was the youth between 12 and 17, not the adult male, the concern of modern androphile homosexuality. In their lifetimes, the two orientations were not clearly distinguished; J. Z. Eglinton (pseudonym of Walter Breen, 1928-1993) drew the line of demarcation between them clearly and correctly in his epoch-making Greek Love (1964).

was the predominant form of male homosexuality in Greco-Roman antiquity, but in the twentieth century the proportions have been reversed so that the prevalent type is the androphile. Hence the Uranians were a "minority within a minority" and their poems often have the quality of pieces written for a small clique of critics and admirers who knew the earlier works in the same recondite genre.

Classical Sources

The Uranians turned for inspiration first of all to the pederastic literature in Greek and Latin, which Christian intolerance had obscured but not obliterated. Steeped as they were in classical education at the British public schools of the Late Victorian and Edwardian eras, they found and appreciated poetry that was not part of the canon approved for class reading.

In particular the twelfth book of the Greek Anthology, the Musa paidik of Strato of Sardis, in modern times first published in full only in 1764, was for them a gold mine of themes and images, especially the superiority of male adolescent beauty. But throughout classical literature, the Uranians could discover what their heterosexual contemporaries often missed: unabashed erotic fascination with the but fleeting charm of youth.

The Characteristic Themes of Uranian Verse

The characteristic themes of Uranian verse reflect the special relationship between the pederast and his beloved boy. The brevity of the anthos, the "pride" of the adolescent, is a recurrent subject, because its passing spells the end of the boy's charm and of the adult's fascination with him. The growth of hair on the boy's body, and the need for the razor, repelled the modern quite as much as the ancient boy-lover.

Often all that the pederast could do was engage in voyeurism, in gazing at an opportune moment on the nude bodies in the locker room or stripped for swimming. Even so, the erotic thrill was perhaps intensified by the futility of the desire. And the imperfections of the real boy were offset by fantasies of the ideal youth, the quintessence of boyhood that emerged in dreams and visions, the puer aeternus who would never age, would never lose the androgynous beauty prized by the lover.

The superiority of the male bonding inspired by boy-love to marriage and procreation is another commonplace in the Uranians' lore. This had been an argument of Greek philosophers, living as they did in a society where paiderasteia was the recognized and approved initiatory-pedagogical form of homosexuality and where they had the love affairs of the gods as exempla, but in modern times it was overshadowed by the religious taboo.

Understandably, an aesthetic paganism runs through the verses of the Uranian poets, even though some of them were clergymen of the Church of England. The legends of Zeus and Ganymede, Heracles and Hylas, Achilles and Patroclus, and the history of Hadrian and Antinous, however denatured they may have been in the popular mind, served poets of boy-love perfectly for the voicing of their unorthodox passions. Still, an occasional author voiced the hope that pederasty was inspired and protected by the Christian God as well.

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