Klimt & the Beats

I came across this poem in the back of The Beat Reader. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of San Francisco’s famous City Lights bookstore and member of the Beat crowd, rendered Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting The Kiss into a poem. All paintings are itching for interpretation, and I like the story that he conjured up from the scene. When I was in Vienna this summer, I saw “The Kiss” and stopped dead in my tracks. I was mesmerized, and ever since have been more or less obsessed with Klimt. The sheer size and grandeur of the painting is incredible, and makes every dorm room rendition seem feeble. The painting incites inspiration upon impact.


Here’s the poem.

“Short Story on a Painting of Gustav Klimt”


They are kneeling upright on a flowered bed


       has just caught her there

                                 and holds her still

      Her gown

                     has slipped down

                                               off her shoulder

    He has an urgent hunger

                           His dark head

                                      bends to hers


And the woman the woman

     turns her tangerine lips from his

            one hand like the head of a dead swan

                   draped down over

                                                 his heavy neck

                      the fingers

                         strangely crimped

                                     tightly together

       her other arm doubled up

                      against her tight breast

                           her hand a languid claw

                                                        clutching his hand

                               which would turn her mouth

                                                                         to his

       her long dress made

                             of multicolored blossoms

                                    quilted on gold

       her Titian hair

                    with blues stars in it

       And his gold

                          harlequin robe

                                            checkered with

                                                        dark squares

       Gold garlands

                     stream down over

                                             her bare calves &

                                                 tensed feet

Nearby there must be

                a jeweled tree

                        with glass leaves aglitter

                            in the gold air

It must be


                           in a faraway place somewhere


       are slient together

                                 as in a flowered field

           upon the summer couch

                                 which must be hers

  And he holds her still

                                 so passionately

        holds her head to his

                             so gently so insistently

           to make her turn

                               her lips to his

Her eyes are closed

                              like folded petals


     will not open


                            is not the One

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