Rosemary and Reading Glasses

“Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee”: John Donne, Sexy Poetry, and Making Valentine’s Day Fun Again

Advertisements

Back in the waning days of 2013, I promised that I’d devote February’s Tuesday poetry posts to sexy poems by dead poets.

I’m here to deliver.

I kinda hate Valentine’s Day, for all the usual reasons, I suppose. Pink looks sickly to me, overpriced roses do not smell as nice as regularly priced roses, and Victoria’s Secret is pretty gross.It’s all so generic and impersonal, and nothing epitomizes the sorry state of Valentine’s Day like the Hallmark card.

So I propose that we bring sexy back with real, honest-to-goodness poetry. Grab some steamy lines from some esteemed wordsmiths and write those in your card to your significant person.

Love poem anthologies there are a-plenty (just search for wedding poems and prepare for the deluge), so I shall take it upon myself this month to point you toward the sexiest poems in English. No hearts, no mushy stuff.

There may even be a list.

To start things off, here’s John Donne’s elegy “To His Mistress Going to Bed” (I know I wrote about John Donne last year, but that was a Holy Sonnet. This is not.).

In the poem, the speaker encourages his inamorata to shed her clothes, piece by piece, because, well, being naked is fun. And only John Donne can manage to convey that the woman being seduced is rich (she has a pocket watch and a tres chic outfit), refer to England’s new colonies, and bring up a midwife in an erotic poem that sparkles with wit, puns, and the most charming sophistry you’ve ever read. Bonus: women are compared to books to explain their sex appeal.

What a guy.

For those who don’t want to write out the whole poem in their Valentine’s Day cards, I’ve excerpted the funniest/raunchiest bit at the end of the post.

Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed
John Donne

Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
Until I labour, I in labour lie.
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tir’d with standing though he never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heaven’s Zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,
That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime,
Tells me from you, that now it is bed time.
Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals,
As when from flowery meads th’hill’s shadow steals.
Off with that wiry Coronet and shew
The hairy Diadem which on you doth grow:
Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread
In this love’s hallow’d temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes, heaven’s Angels used to be
Received by men; Thou Angel bringst with thee
A heaven like Mahomet’s Paradise; and though
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know,
By this these Angels from an evil sprite,
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
Licence my roving hands, and let them go,
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d,
My Mine of precious stones, My Empirie,
How blest am I in this discovering thee!
To enter in these bonds, is to be free;
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.
Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies uncloth’d must be,
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
Are like Atlanta’s balls, cast in men’s views,
That when a fool’s eye lighteth on a Gem,
His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them.
Like pictures, or like books’ gay coverings made
For lay-men, are all women thus array’d;
Themselves are mystic books, which only we
(Whom their imputed grace will dignify)
Must see reveal’d. Then since that I may know;
As liberally, as to a Midwife, shew
Thy self: cast all, yea, this white linen hence,
There is no penance due to innocence.
To teach thee, I am naked first; why then
What needst thou have more covering than a man?

 

As promised, the funniest/naughtiest lines (you may need to alter some pronouns to fit your situation. I won’t tell John Donne, but give him a h/t, ok?)

Licence my roving hands, and let them go,
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d,
My Mine of precious stones, My Empirie,
How blest am I in this discovering thee!

Advertisements