We might suppose, from what we’re mostly told,
That sex for people in the days of old
Was crude and swift, and kept from prying view,
And done in silence, bar a grunt or two.
It’s our conceit to think that we know more
About all things, than those who came before.
But then (and now, in less affluent nations),
With little privacy or sanitation,
There’d be no way to escape life’s facts,
No doubt including all the sexual acts.
A firstborn child, while lying in her bed,
Would see her siblings made, and born, and dead.
And, similarly, we should understand
In sexual drive, the ancients were like us, and
As varied in the pleasures they enjoyed,
As skilful in the techniques they deployed.
Our minds expand through scientific tools,
But sex abides by corporeal rules.
Through classical poets we can see
That this was true in their society.
Yet even then, the words that they employ
To mention sexual parts and acts are coy.
Its true, Catullus wrote explicit rhymes
And yet his dirty, often angry lines
Say nothing of a love that is divine.
Then when he writes of sexual love, he too
Turns coy. He likes, he says, to sit and view
His Mistress Lesbia with her pet bird play
Upon her lap; and hints–but will not say–
The bird is not the place her fingers lay.
In early English culture, Chaucer’s tales,
Reveal the bawdy language that prevails;
But though in most things he said what he meant,
His language for a lady’s parts was quaint.
When high art began once more to flower,
It was subdued by Catholic power.
Great artists put much pretty flesh on view,
But, in their splendid paintings, always drew
The females passive; men in soft repose,
With drapes to limit what they would expose.
The poet Marvell gets distressed
Because his lady, coyly, won’t undress.
He wants to gaze upon her naked flesh,
Declaring that he’d like an age to stare
Upon each bit; but shyly won’t say where,
And cannot bring himself to list the parts,
He wants to see beside the breast and heart.
Free speech has been the trend in history’s course,
But arts have suffered from another force.
Our view of history has been distorted:
Plain speech suppressed, and not reported,
By Puritans, Victorians, and prudes
Dictating what was rightly said and viewed.
It’s true that poets have a fondness for
Allusions, word play, and for metaphor.
It might be argued that, therefore,
The absence of plain words is not denial
But simply one small consequence of style.
To borrow such devices, one might say
The hawk that falls at random on its prey
Does not leave only mice at end of day.
If bards can name the eyes, the brow, the hair
Then let them plainly name the parts elsewhere.
You’d think that in the western hemisphere,
Where scenes of sex are nearly everywhere
In film, TV, and on the internet,
The words that match the acts would not upset;
But next time listen, even with averted eyes,
And you’ll hear little more than grunts and sighs.
In Hollywood, when that first kiss is done
The sex is sweaty, fast edited, and dumb.
While porn, in seeking international reach
By policy denies its stars the use of speech,
Except for something really corny, maybe,
like Come on, give it to me, Baby.
And thus a billion boys think it’s ok
To go ahead and have their selfish way,
While never asking if it pleases her.
What is the awful truth we should infer
When men accused of rape on dates profess
They just assumed their victim had said Yes?
Meanwhile, rejected both from porn and politesse,
The words evoking beauties of the flesh
Are thieved by coarse and woman-fearing louts
Who use them for the insults that they shout
Across the street, and on the bus and train,
Thus poisoning their use in love’s domain.
But they are needed, to be freely said
In life, in verse, and in the lovers’ bed.
A language that is frank yet also sweet
Enables lovers, firstly, to complete
A shared ascent, that’s not too fast or slow
If that’s the way they jointly choose to go;
A guide that those who seek to please should heed;
A reward to the giver when they succeed.
Such as, That’s nice, but up a bit, my dear;
Or, Christ, don’t change – that’s really great, I’m near!
For BDSM fans, one word means Halt!
And separates enjoyment from assault.
But speech in sex not only serves to seek
Consent, and chase sensation’s highest peak.
Transcendent ecstasy goes even higher.
Its brief attainment, however, requires
A rare convergence of the disparate,
Against the force that keep them separate.
Two lovers, collapsing to one whole,
Become a unity of flesh and soul,
Of love and lust, of lofty heaven and earth;
Of carnal pleasure, tenderness, and mirth.
It is with fearless, loving words we bind
All these together for one pinch of time –
A mass that’s critical, a bomb sublime;
And so, surrendering ourselves, by this
Become a singularity of bliss.
So rouse all poets, and especially those
Reduced to passing time by slicing prose.
Rise up as lions, or as pussy cats.
For here’s a small, but worthwhile, mission that’s
A way to exit from irrelevance,
Vain cleverness, and empty elegance.
Banish the thought that sex means sin,
Smash the chapel, and in love’s garden sing.
Write plainly, being neither forced, nor coy;
Add lust, without excluding love or joy.
That we may use the words of love’s full song–
Refreshed, renewed, where they belong.
Thus armed, we’ll swiftly leave on our crusade
To show how love with words is plainly made.
Whether they be at their artful enterprise
Or, wet faced, between their lover’s thighs,
The poet may one day feel free to rise
Declaring, with no fear they’ll cause affront,
How much they delight in their lover’s cunt.
|Long poems in heroic couplets – rhyming pairs of lines in iambic pentameter – have a noble history, including use for didactic and political purposes. On the other hand they’re very old fashioned. I thought it might be fun to use a fuddy-duddy form for a slightly racy topic, and to embed a few serious thoughts in some mild humour.|