Sex in Poetry
I’m always amused by how younger generations are convinced that the poetry of the past was stolid and conservative, that the people of 400 years ago certainly would never have mentioned sex, and if it did, with only the mildest euphemisms. One of my first-day-of-class activities every semester is to give my students a handout of poems, names removed, and have them try to place them in chronological order. Last fall, I gave them a surprise in the form of Robert Herrick. Here’s the poem:
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.
The class discussion that day was, ahem, vibrant.
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