Bringing Sexy Back (To Valentine’s Day): 17 Steamy Poems by Esteemed Poets

17-steamy-poems-for-valentines-day

Valentine’s Day is upon us, friends, and in its original form (featuring fifteen poems), this has been one of the most popular posts over the last few years. For 2017, I’ve added two poems, for seventeen total. Do you have a favorite I should feature next year?


Toss that teddy bear and give your significant person the gift of verse this Valentine’s Day.

That poet everyone reads at weddings is actually much more appropriate for the bedroom:

e. e. cummings, “i like my body when it is with your” 

An unsexy title for a very sexy poem (check out those ellipses!): 

Li-young Lee, “This Room and Everything In It”

The “Oh, snap” kind of sexy:

Edna St. Vincent Millay, “I, being born a woman and distressed”

Wistful sexy:

C. P. Cavafy, “Body, remember”

Bitter sexy:

Thomas Wyatt. “They Flee from Me”

Literate sexy:

Robert Hass, “Etymology” (start watching at 18:42)

Damn sexy:

Audre Lorde, “Recreation

Desire, frustration, and jewelry. Also: socioeconomic tension. (And the first overtly lesbian poem I read as a teenager. Bit of a lightbulb moment, there.)

Carol Ann Duffy, “Warming her Pearls”

Difficult to choose just one Donne poem, but hey, let’s go with the salute to nakedness:

John Donne, “To His Mistress Going to Bed”

Restraint and abandonment, all at once:

Emily Dickinson, “Wild Nights – Wild Nights! (269)”

For the Dear Readers who are also parents: 

Galway Kinnell, “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”

Maybe this is where they got the title for Blue is the Warmest Color:

May Swenson, “Blue”

I hate birds, but this poem is still amazing: 

Henri Cole, “Loons”

You’ll never look at roses the same way again, I promise:

D.H. Lawrence, “Gloire de Dijon”

And yes, a Neruda poem. But I can’t find it anywhere on the interwebs, so you’ll have to go find a copy of World’s End or Late and Posthumous Poems for yourself. 

Pablo Neruda, “Física”/”Physics”

Sexy in translation: 

León Salvatierra (trans. Javier O. Huerta), “Act”

Desire in list form: 

Major Jackson, “Superfluities”

 

Your turn: what’s the sexiest poem you’ve ever read?

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Bringing Sexy Back (To Valentine’s Day): 15 Steamy Poems by Esteemed Poets

Dear Readers,

This post was a big hit last year, and so it’s back (It’s 2015, there are 15 poems . . . it works, right?). I hope you’ll post in the comments so I can get a head start on 2016’s Valentine’s poetry post.

Happy Valentine’s Day in advance!

(Special mention to our friends J and D, celebrating their first anniversary this week, and our friends D and E, whose birthdays are on Valentine’s Day.)


 

Toss that teddy bear and give your significant person the gift of verse this Valentine’s Day.

Red Rose Petals by Victor Habbick, courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

Red Rose Petals by Victor Habbick, courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

That poet everyone reads at weddings is actually much more appropriate for the bedroom:

e. e. cummings, “i like my body when it is with your” 

An unsexy title for a very sexy poem (check out those ellipses!): 

Li-young Lee, “This Room and Everything In It”

The “Oh, snap” kind of sexy:

Edna St. Vincent Millay, “I, being born a woman and distressed”:

Wistful sexy:

C. P. Cavafy, “Body, remember”

Bitter sexy:

Thomas Wyatt. “They Flee from Me”

Literate sexy:

Robert Hass, “Etymology” (start watching at 18:42)

Damn sexy:

Audre Lorde, “Recreation

Desire, frustration, and jewelry. Also: socioeconomic tension. (And the first overtly lesbian poem I read as a teenager. Bit of a lightbulb moment, there.)

Carol Ann Duffy, “Warming her Pearls”

Difficult to choose just one Donne poem, but hey, let’s go with the salute to nakedness:

John Donne, “To His Mistress Going to Bed”

Restraint and abandonment, all at once:

Emily Dickinson, “Wild Nights – Wild Nights! (269)”

For the Dear Readers who are also parents: 

Galway Kinnel, “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”

Maybe this is where they got the title for Blue is the Warmest Color:

May Swenson, “Blue”

I hate birds, but this poem is still amazing: 

Henri Cole, “Loons”

You’ll never look at roses the same way again, I promise:

D.H. Lawrence, “Gloire de Dijon”

And yes, a Neruda poem. But I can’t find it anywhere on the interwebs, so you’ll have to go find a copy of World’s End or Late and Posthumous Poems for yourself. 

Pablo Neruda, “Física”/”Physics”

Your turn: what’s the sexiest poem you’ve ever read?

“charged and waiting”: Audre Lorde’s “Recreation”

Audre Lorde Collected WorksAudre Lorde’s poem “Recreation” is simultaneously about sex and writing — the act of love and the act of creating. The title itself suggests doubleness: “recreation” in the sense of play (as in, Parks and) and “recreation” as in the repeated act of creating.

Reciprocity is one of the poem’s themes, as the poet/lover both gives to and takes from writing and her lover. At the same time, writing and sex are reciprocal, too:

 
 
moving through our word countries
my body
writes into your flesh
the poem
you make of me.
 
 

One of the many things I like about this poem is its specificity; it doesn’t claim a universal love, or generalize about pleasure. It’s about a particular speaker in a particular moment, which is deliberate, given Lorde’s views on the relationships among power, creativity, and the erotic.

Bringing Sexy Back (To Valentine’s Day): 15 Steamy Poems by Esteemed Poets

Toss that teddy bear and give your significant person the gift of verse this Valentine’s Day.

Red Rose Petals by Victor Habbick, courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

Red Rose Petals by Victor Habbick, courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

That poet everyone reads at weddings is actually much more appropriate for the bedroom:

e. e. cummings, “i like my body when it is with your” 

An unsexy title for a very sexy poem (check out those ellipses!): 

Li-young Lee, “This Room and Everything In It”

The “Oh, snap” kind of sexy:

Edna St. Vincent Millay, “I, being born a woman and distressed”:

Wistful sexy:

C. P. Cavafy, “Body, remember”

Bitter sexy:

Thomas Wyatt. “They Flee from Me”

Literate sexy:

Robert Hass, “Etymology” (start watching at 18:42)

Damn sexy:

Audre Lorde, “Recreation

Desire, frustration, and jewelry. Also: socioeconomic tension. (And the first overtly lesbian poem I read as a teenager. Bit of a lightbulb moment, there.)

Carol Ann Duffy, “Warming her Pearls”

Difficult to choose just one Donne poem, but hey, let’s go with the salute to nakedness:

John Donne, “To His Mistress Going to Bed”

Restraint and abandonment, all at once:

Emily Dickinson, “Wild Nights – Wild Nights! (269)”

For the Dear Readers who are also parents: 

Galway Kinnel, “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”

Maybe this is where they got the title for Blue is the Warmest Color:

May Swenson, “Blue”

I hate birds, but this poem is still amazing: 

Henri Cole, “Loons”

You’ll never look at roses the same way again, I promise:

D.H. Lawrence, “Gloire de Dijon”

And yes, a Neruda poem. But I can’t find it anywhere on the interwebs, so you’ll have to go find a copy of World’s End or Late and Posthumous Poems for yourself. 

Pablo Neruda, “Física”/”Physics”

Your turn: what’s the sexiest poem you’ve ever read?

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

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.

John DonneTo 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!

“I want you and you are not here. I pause”

Tomorrow, someone I love would have turned 31.Carol Ann Duffy, Selected Poems

I bought my first Carol Ann Duffy book when he was twenty-three and I was twenty-one and we were friends. He was out in California, studying poetry, and I was visiting Paris, and bought a beautiful paperback version of Ms. Duffy’s Selected Poems at Shakespeare and Co., perhaps the most storied independent bookstore ever, a feast for the imagination of literary types (I also bought Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, if you were wondering). I bought her Selected Poems because I already loved (and sill do) the sexy, glowing “Warming Her Pearls,” but I didn’t know then that the book will always fall open on another page.

“I want you and you are not here.” That’s the first, plaintive sentence of Carol Ann Duffy’s wonderful poem “Miles Away,” which is about conjuring up the presence of the absent beloved in thought and language. It’s such a perfect rendering of what I felt so keenly for so many months, and still sometimes, that I can only point toward the poem itself:

                        I have got your mouth wrong,
but still it smiles. I hold you closer, miles away,
inventing love, until the calls of nightjars
interrupt and turn what was to come, was certain,
into memory.

This one’s for you, EVC.

“Sweet love, renew thy force”

After the awful and exhausting events of last week, I felt drained just contemplating the search for this week’s poem. Then I realized that today is the Bard’s birthday, and my dear Aunt Rita’s, and the choice was clear.

A sonnet!

Who doesn’t love fourteen lines of love poetry? I’ve taught the sonnets whenever I could, and students are always amazed at just how much meaning Will packs into those lines (and that the first cycle is addressed to a man — that’s mind-blowing to them, and perhaps unsurprising, since some editions “regularize” the pronouns in the earlier poem. Don’t get me started.).

My favorite is 116, which we asked a friend to read at our wedding, and which is probably one of the five most famous. I remember hearing it (or rather, part of it) first in Sense and Sensibility (adapted by Emma Thompson, bless her, and directed by Ang Lee), and that’s one of my favorite literary combinations.

But that’s not the first time I heard a sonnet. I can precisely date my first memory of one of the poems: my tenth birthday. At the time, my father was working out of state, but he and my uncle (my mother’s brother) took the time to sit in my uncle’s kitchen and record a tape (yes, I’m that old) of songs and poems for me. I treasure it; it’s on my desk as we speak. My uncle played the guitar and my dad attempted the drums, and they both sang and read. Simon and Garfunkel, Gordon Lightfoot, Robert Frost, Shakespeare, and even a few originals made it on to the tape. I listen to it every year on my birthday, but it’s been so long that I can hear clips of the tape in my mind if I choose to.  The banter and the squeaky chair are hilarious.

My father is an excellent reader (more on that some other time), and so I’m choosing to memorize the sonnet he read for me, “Sonnet 6–Number 56,” as he corrected himself.

William Shakespeare

Sonnet 56

Sweet love, renew thy force, be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but to-day by feeding is allay’d,
To-morrow sharp’ned in his former might:
So, love, be thou: although to-day thou fill
Thy hungry eyes even till they wink with fullness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love with a perpetual dullness:
Let this sad int’rim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that, when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view;
As call it winter, which being full of care
Makes summer’s welcome thrice more wish’d, more rare.

 

Happy birthday Shakespeare!