Poems and Letters

Lenny Writes “So-called Poems” to a Teenage Sweetheart

While Leonard Bernstein was a student at Boston Latin School, he wrote several sweet and contemplative poems for his high school sweetheart.

Decades later, Leonard Bernstein wrote a letter responding to his former sweetheart, Beatrice Gordon. She had asked the rising star to take a look at some songs she had written. Bernstein wrote,

How about striking a bargain? I will be very happy to look at these songs and give you whatever advice I can, provided you send also all my old so-called poems which you apparently still have. …

“So-called poems” is a humble way of describing his writing from his teenage years at Boston Latin School. Though not all of them are masterpieces, Bernstein’s poems are clear flashes of brilliance from a young man with a lifelong love of language.

Here are five poems Bernstein wrote in the early 1930s for Gordon.

Thoughts on People Like Myself


I wondered if the world were masquerading
Like mere pretending agents of desire –
I wondered if their souls were escapading;
While in their hearts, their passion ne’er abating
they scorned to tell the secret of their fire ….

And they said, “We have increased our inmost longing
with falsehood and unwonted chastity;
While we, to modesty, the farce, belonging,
Our souls and every other’s have been wronging
Since first two humans cried, ‘Naked
Are we …'”

(dated L.B. 8/12/34, Midnight)

II. Hypothosis

If I were night
I should go
To those who weep
And shroud their souls
In dark
That they might sleep.

If night were I
Perhaps the morning star
Should cry aloud at me
For what we are.

III. Unity

For love and life
And hope are one
And I’ve seen hope —
Man, can you say,
“But not yet love and life?”

“From without my worldly wall”

From without my worldly wall there comes a
Pressing me to worship the Divine.
But this were mere conceit; for I am
Of God; and all that’s his is mine.

My soul is parched by only
holy fires
I can quench those thirsts of soul …
[line indeciperhable]

I can raise my soul above my earthly
Why, then, should I seek my God

“I walked and met Theocritus”

(dated 8/20/34 in his hand)

I walked and met Theocritus,
His beard was long and gray –
I stopped and asked Theocritus,
“Wherefore is the day?”

I walked and met Theocritus,
His beard was long and white –
I stopped and asked Theocritus,
“Wherefore is the night?”

Then answered me Theocritus,
“The night and day were made
So that you and I could suffer,
And live, and be afraid … ”

Sleeping Beauty

Why lies thou dormant in my soul,
Love, gracious cowl of divine breath?
Why hast thou not stirred within
To give meaning to a fruitless race
with Death?

Your lashes closed in slumber
sweep your cheek,
I know the beauty of a reclining
I see the host of angels round
you resting –
Would God they smiled around my bed!

Than thee there is no being fairer
For I have sought throughout a flowering
But useless are thou thus in Death
Awake, reclining Prince, Inspiration comes to
kiss thy hand!

“Resignation” and “The Inevitable”

Night is made of
God’s shadow
And half hushed things.

The siren sings,
The priestess chants,
The wood-thrush calls,
The anvil rings,
But they are songs without an echo —
And there is no fulfillment.
So be it.

( …. Resignation)


As ever in the pines
When from the pregnant cone,
A wealth of brilliant verdure springs,
From my web of darkness
A hundred mystic dreams.


Night held me trembling
With her melting eyes
And said, ‘Forsake the day,
It is not for you’
And died in the arms of dawn.

( …. The Inevitable)


Portrait of Beatrice Gordon, inscribed to ("zu") Leonard Bernstein, ca. 1930s. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Music Division. Click photo to view inscription.
Click photo to view inscription. Portrait of Beatrice Gordon, inscribed to (“zu”) Leonard Bernstein, ca. 1930s. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Music Division.

Post updated September 7, 2018

About this content

Poems by Leonard Bernstein used by permission of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc. All rights reserved. Special thanks to Nina Bernstein Simmons, Margaret Mercer, and Mark Horowitz.

Headings for untitled poems are based on Bernstein’s first line, such as “From without my worldly wall” and “I walked and met Theocritus”, or his final line, as in “Resignation and The Inevitable”. The latter, with similiar themes and title-like final lines, have been combined.

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