If you’re a human being with discernable standards and feel that Fifty Shades of Grey is a badly written, Mills-and-Boon rip-off, filled with cringe-worthy sexual metaphors that make even BDSM seem boring, this doesn’t mean that the world of literary eroticism has closed its velvety door on you. Oh no, turns out there’s a whole world of erotic poetry out there written by some of the cleverest (and dirtiest) minds the English language has to offer, and I, your word-fetishising Cupid, has gone to the trouble of hours of questionable Google searches to find the choicest cuts of titillating, scintillating, palpitating and tantalizing erotic verse for you to offer up to your valentine (/Tinder date/friend/anyone) this coming Valentine’s Day.
e e cummings – iv.
As well as being an experimental poet and artist, the typographical saboteur e e cummings wrote a number of erotic poems during his early career and successfully published them accompanied by a number of his drawings. Here’s one of his more conventional verse-meditations that combines striking imagery with a hint of naughtiness:
What is thy mouth to me?
A cup of sorrowful incense,
A tree of keen leaves,
An eager high ship,
A quiver of superb arrows.
What is thy breast to me?
A flower of new prayer,
A poem of firm light,
A well of cool birds,
A drawn bow trembling.
What is thy body to me?
A theatre of perfect silence,
A chariot of red speed;
And O, the dim feet
Of white-maned desires!
W. H. Auden – The Platonic Blow
As well as being a stalwart of the literary canon and the creator of some of the most beautifully wrought poems in the English language, W. H. Auden also tried his hand at some graphic and visceral sexual verse. “The Platonic Blow” is rather long in its entirety so here’s a small taste:
We aligned mouths. We entwined. All act was clutch,
All fact contact, the attack and the interlock
Of tongues, the charms of arms. I shook at the touch
Of his fresh flesh, I rocked at the shock of his cock.
If that’s got your boat well and truly floated then you can find the rest of the poem here. An entertaining read to say the least…
John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester – Upon His Drinking a Bowl
Time now for some 17th Century eroticism and the work of the rake and debonair aristocrat, the Second Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot. Much of Wilmot’s poetry contains explicit sexual references throughout its sharp, biting satire and is a reflection of his own excessive lifestyle which saw him arrested for treason and finding death in veneral disease. Famed for other works such as “Signor Dildo” (I kid you not) and a meditation on premature ejaculation, “The Imperfect Enjoyment”, “Upon His Drinking a Bowl” contains some of his most blunt verse (see the closing line):
Vulcan contrive me such a Cup,
As Nestor us'd of old;
Shew all thy skill to trim it up,
Damask it round with Gold.
Make it so large, that fill'd with Sack,
Up to the swelling brim,
Vast Toasts, on the delicious Lake,
Like Ships at Sea may swim.
Engrave no Battail on his Cheek,
With War, I've nought to do;
I'm none of those that took Mastrich,
Nor Yarwouth Leager knew.
Let it no name of Planets tell.
Fixt Stars, or Constellations;
For I am no Sir Sydrophell,
Nor none of his Relations.
But carve thereon a spreading Vine,
Then add Two lovely Boys;
Their Limbs in Amorous folds intwine,
The Type of future joys.
Cupid, and Bacchus, my Saints are,
May drink, and Love, still reign,
With Wine, I wash away my cares,
And then to Cunt again.
Robert Herrick – The Vine
Herrick is another 17th Century poet who wrote prolifically during his lifetime and whose work expounds a “carpe diem” attitude towards life. “The Vine” interprets the “carpe diem” sentiments a little differently and tells the story of an arousing dream (no prizes for guessing what the “vine” itself refers to):
I dreamed this mortal part of mine
Was metamorphosed to a vine,
Which crawling one and every way
Enthralled my dainty Lucia.
Methought her long small legs and thighs
I with my tendrils did surprise;
Her belly, buttocks, and her waist
By my soft nervelets were embraced.
About her head I writhing hung,
And with rich clusters (hid among
The leaves) her temples I behung,
So that my Lucia seemed to me
Young Bacchus ravished by his tree.
My curls about her neck did crawl,
And arms and hands they did enthrall,
So that she could not freely stir
(All parts there made one prisoner).
But when I crept with leaves to hide
Those parts which maids keep unespied,
Such fleeting pleasures there I took
That with the fancy I awoke;
And found (ah me!) this flesh of mine
More like a stock than like a vine.
[This post was originally published in Helicon Magazine on 13/02/15]