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Monday, July 28, 2014

Erotic Poetry: Wild Nights and Haunted Houses




Wild Nights – Wild Nights! 

By Emily Dickinson (1891)

Wild nights - Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!
Futile - the winds -
To a Heart in port -
Done with the Compass -
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden -
Ah - the Sea!
Might I but moor - tonight -
In thee!

"Wild nights! Wild nights!" is a poem of unrestrained sexual passion and rapture. When the 1891 edition of Dickinson's poems was being prepared, Colonel Higginson wrote to his co-editor
Mrs. Todd ...

"One poem only I dread a little to print--that wonderful 'Wild Nights,'--lest the malignant read into it more than that virgin recluse ever dreamed of putting there. Has Miss Lavinia [Emily Dickinson's sister] any shrinking about it? You will understand & pardon my solicitude. Yet what a loss to omit it! Indeed it is not to be omitted."

His comments reflect both the sexual narrowness of his times and the Myth of Emily Dickinson, Virgin Recluse.


Clearly, Dickinson uses luxury in a meaning she found in her 1844 dictionary, one which is no longer used: in the gratification of a lustful appetite. In fact, the English word stems from Old French luxurie meaning "debauchery, dissoluteness, lust."

Who could deny that the "heart in port" is the lover's embrace. Yielding to sexual passion, couples need no compass or chart, instruments of control and reason, to reach the ultimate destination. To extend the nautical metaphor "rowing" and "moor in thee" are, in this reading, images for sexual intercourse. There is great economy of words here -- and this adds to the rush of emotion.

Emily Dickinson is widely acknowledged as an innovative, pre-modernist poet. And, evidently Emily, who some consider a loner and a virgin, knew a little about "rocking the boat" of passionate love.


Carpe Diem Erotic Poetry

Carpe diem may mean "seize the day," but to those who fancy erotic poetry, the directive infers much more than a philosophical capture of time. Erotic poetry attempts to pen the intoxication of human sexuality. Perhaps Robert Herrick summarized the genre most famously in his poem “To the Virgins, Make Much of Time” where he begins with the words, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”

Love is the strongest human emotion, and passion is sweet fruit for the loving poet. Lord Byron stated "Love without passion is dreary; passion without love is horrific." And, he proclaimed, "In her first passion, a woman loves her lover, in all the others all she loves is love." Hearts forever quicken with words of love.

So, it is no wonder erotic verse traces its beginnings to the oldest writings in cultures around the world. It has survived from ancient Greece and Rome with authors including Straton of Sardis, Sappho of Lesbos, Automedon, Ovid, and Juvenal. 

Erotic poems explore the passion of sexual desire and the intense longing for spiritual union. This poetry also sometimes including elements of satire or social criticism. Due to the controversial nature of the verse, cultural taboos eventually developed about such material.

People may find it interesting that circulation of erotic literature was not seen as a major problem before the invention of printing, as the costs of producing individual manuscripts limited distribution to a very small group of readers. But, the invention of printing, in the 15th century, brought with it both a greater market and increasing restrictions, like censorship and legal restraints on publication on the grounds of obscenity.

(H. Montgomery Hyde. A History of Pornography. 1964)

Because of restrictions, much of the production of this type of material became clandestine. What developed is a substantial overlap between erotic literature and pornography, with the distinction typically being made on perceived literary merit.

Pornography has been regulated by the legal standards that govern the concept of obscenity, which refers to things society may consider disgusting, foul, or immoral, and may include material that is blasphemous. Pornography is limited to depictions of sexual behavior and may not be obscene.

Pornographic material is protected expression unless it is determined to be obscene. However, child pornography is illegal under federal and state laws prohibiting the depiction of minors in sexual acts.

 
Is Erotic Poetry Obscene?

Obscenity is the word used to describe that which is calculated to promote the violation of the law and the general corruption of morals.

The exhibition of an obscene picture is an indictable offence at common law, although not charged to have been exhibited in public, if it be averred that the picture was exhibited to sundry persons for money.

For something to be "obscene" it must be shown that the average person, applying contemporary community standards and viewing the material as a whole, would find it objectionable, lewd, or lascivious. Three tests must be met before the material in question can be found to be obscene. If any one of these is not met, the material would not be obscene within the meaning of the law:

(1) That the work appeals predominantly to "prurient" interest -- appeal to a morbid, 
degrading and unhealthy interest in sex, as distinguished from a mere candid interest in sex. 
(2) That it depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and 
(3) That it lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. 


Erotic Poetry As Art

Patrick Gillespie, poet and blogger (poemshape.wordpress.com), writes ... 

"Just as the haiku is the art of indirection, so too erotica. Whereas the explicit is an imaginative endpoint, the best haiku are a suggestive starting point for the imagination. Suggestiveness is all – allusion, inference, and association.  And when haiku fail because they were made too explicit, eroticism fails for the same reason: eroticism becomes pornographic."

To Gillespie, the best erotic poetry is an imaginative starting point, not an endpoint. The best erotic poems are like the best metaphors; which is to say, to paraphrase the great poet EA Robinson, erotic poetry “tells the more the more it is not told." When poems become too explicit, they lose something. 

Does modern-day America truly possess a vital ... tradition of erotic poetry? I think so, but sloppy sexy references do not spark the magic essential for erotic art. Today, much of what is termed "erotic" is just hollow, without meaning and romantic purpose. 

"Ours is an era of plentiful but repetitive erotic writing, an age of 'copper-lidded eyes' and 'green eyes flecked with yellow,' of a 'backbreaking orchid' and an 'orchid boat,' of hyperlegible Freudian metaphor (silos and fountains, copper pipe and cowboy hats) and its counterpart, the forensic, literal overcorrection (aureoles, Formica countertops and AA batteries). The body parts alone oppress you: lips, testicles, shoulders, eyes, over and over again until you would rather inhabit some spirit realm where bodies are outlawed." 

(Dan Chiisson. "Hot or Not." The New York Times. March 16, 2008)


Let's read some erotic poems. You, may, like me, decide that art is simple evident. And, maybe we could analyze good poetry until the study would actually detract from the impact. I was taught to take poetry for what it is -- "special words in the right places." So, like love, let's just say, "I can't exactly put my finger(s) on it, but I can feel it when I see it." Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, Miss Dickinson.

To His Coy Mistress

By Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) 

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
 

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.


Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.


i like my body when it is with your body

by E. E. Cummings, from Complete Poems 1904-1962


i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body.  i like what it does,
i like its hows.  i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones,and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur,and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh…And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new



The Encounter   

By Louise Glück (1982)

You came to the side of the bed
and sat staring at me.
Then you kissed me — I felt
hot wax on my forehead.
I wanted it to leave a mark:
that’s how I knew I loved you.
Because I wanted to be burned, stamped,
to have something in the end —
I drew the gown over my head;
a red flush covered my face and shoulders.
It will run its course, the course of fire,
setting a cold coin on the forehead, between the eyes.
You lay beside me; your hand moved over my face
as though you had felt it also —
you must have known, then, how I wanted you.
We will always know that, you and I.
The proof will be my body. 


It Is Marvellous...

By Elizabeth Bishop, from The Complete Poems 1927-1979 

It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
To feel the air clear
As if electricity had passed through it
From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
All over the roof the rain hisses,
And below, the light falling of kisses.

An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
If lightning struck the house now, it would run
From the four blue china balls on top
Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
And we imagine dreamily
How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
Would be quite delightful rather than frightening;

And from the same simplified point of view
Of night and lying flat on one's back
All things might change equally easily,
Since always to warn us there must be these black
Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise
The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,
Change as our kisses are changing without our thinking. 


The Fall of Man

Author Unknown

Eve’s rounded arm was thrown above her head,
Her dimpled knee, just lifted from its bed,
When, by this chance, this trifle, light as air,
Their warm lips met, and trembling, lingered there.
They slept no more from dusk to rosy dawn,
’Mongst roses red or on some grassy lawn,
But wakened often, from strange dreams of bliss,
To find their mouths all melting in a kiss....

  



THE HAUNTED HOUSE
By George Sylvester Viereck (1884-1962)





 
I LAY beside you ... on your lips the while
Hovered, most strange ... the mirage of a smile,
Such as a minstrel lover might have seen
Upon the visage of some antique queen--
Flickering like flame, half choked by wind and dust,
Weary of all things saving song and lust. 
 
      How many days and years and lovers' lies
      Gave you your knowledge? You are very wise
      And tired, yet insatiate to the last.
      These things I thought, but said not; and there passed
      Before my vision in voluptuous quest,
      The pageant of the lovers who possessed
      Your soul and body even as I possess,
      Who marked your passions in its nakedness
      And all your love-sins when your love was new.
       
      They saw as I your quivering breast, and drew
      Nearer to the consuming flame that burns
      Deep to the marrow of my bone, and turns
      My heart to love even as theirs who knew
      From head to girdle each sweet curve of you,
      Each little way of loving. No caress,
      But apes the part of former loves. Ah yes,
      Even thus your hand toyed in the locks of him
      Who came before me. Was he fair of limb
      Or very dark? What matter, with such lures
      You snared the hearts of all your paramours!
       
      To-night I feel the presence of the others,
      Your lovers were they and are now my brothers
      And I have nothing that has not been theirs,
      No single bloom the tree of passion bears
      They have not plucked. Belovèd, can it be?
      Is there no gift that you reserve for me--
      No loving kindness or no subtle sin,
      No secret shrine that none has entered in,
      Whither no mocking memories pursue
      Love's wistful pilgrim? I am weary too,
      With weariness of all your lovers, when
      I follow in the ways of other men,
      I know each spot of your sweet body is
      A cross, the tombstone of some perished kiss.
      A touch ... and an innumerable host
      Of shadows rises ... at each side a ghost.
      Withal its beauty and its faultless grace
      Your body, dearest, is a haunted place.
      When I did yield to passion's swift demand,
      One of your lovers touched me with his hand.
      And in the pangs of amorous delight
      I hear strange voices calling through the night. 
       
       
Love Sonnet I

By Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973)

I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.


I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.


I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,


And I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.


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