In early 1901 The Book of Jade by David Park Barnitz (1878-1901), a little-known masterpiece of decadent and nihilistic verse was published —at its author's insistence, anonymously— by San Francisco bookseller William Doxey; publisher of the popular humorist Gelett Burgess, as well as many obscure, macabre, (and sometimes decadent) authors.

David Park Barnitz
David Park Barnitz

Later that year, mid-west newspapers were reporting the sudden death of a twenty-three year old Harvard graduate and orientalist scholar, David Park Barnitz (1878-1901), who was, the obituaries said, the anonymous author "of a volume of poems…which was spoken of as of unusual merit" That book was The Book of Jade ―one of the poems from The Book of Jade having been published in the Overland Monthly in March, 1901, under a new title, but under Park Barnitz's own name. And while the newspapers were saying that Barnitz had died accidentally, of an "enlarged heart", it was soon being whispered that Barnitz had actually killed himself.

“Anguish and Mourning are as gold to her;
She weareth Pain upon her as a gem,
And on her head Grief like a diadem;
And as with frankincense and tropic myrrh

Her face is fragrant made with utter Woe;
And on her purple gorgeous garment's hem … ”
Madonna

Park Barnitz earned his A.M. (the equivalent of a PhD) at the age of twenty-one, at which time Barnitz was also admitted to membership of the American Oriental Society. However,it was in the realm of poetry, though, rather than Asian Studies, where Barnitz truly left his mark ―Barnitz adopting 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."

Come with us now, and explore the dark sacrament officiated by Park Barnitz…

…where the incense is the breath of a rotting whore…
…where the altar is the breast of a dying woman…
…where the earth itself is one vast sepulchre…
…where even the stars rot and fall from space…
…where the resurrection and the life lead to corpses who lie raving in the ground, raped by lustful worms…
…and where God himself is nothing but"A filthy idiot" sitting and giggling in a pile of his own dung in the Void…

Come, peer into the dark vision of Park Barnitz, the last of the 1890's poets…

If you dare…

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