Friday, February 16, 2007

Richard Wilbur, "For C."

After the clash of elevator gates
And the long sinking, she emerges where,
A slight thing in the morning's crosstown glare,
She looks up toward the window where he waits,
Then in a fleeting taxi joins the rest
Of the huge traffic bound forever west.

On such grand scale do lovers say good-bye—
Even this other pair whose high romance
Had only the duration of a dance,
And who, now taking leave with stricken eye,
See each in each a whole new life forgone.
For them, above the darkling clubhouse lawn,

Bright Perseids flash and crumble; while for these
Who part now on the dock, weighed down by grief
And baggage, yet with something like relief,
It takes three thousand miles of knitting seas
To cancel out their crossing, and unmake
the amorous rough and tumble of their wake.

We are denied, my love, their fine tristesse
And bittersweet regrets, and cannot share
The frequent vistas of their large despair,
Where love and all are swept to noghtingness;
Still, there's a certain scope in that long love
Which constant spirits are the keepers of,

And which, though taken to be tame and staid,
Is a wild sostenuto of the hear,
A passion joined to courtesy and art
Which has the quality of something made,
Like a good fiddle, like the rose's scent,
Like a rose window or the firmament.


From Mayflies (2000)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Paul Muldoon, "Long Finish"

Ten years since we were married, sine we stood
under a chuppah of pine boughs
in the middle of a little pinewood
and exchanged our wedding vows.
Save me, good thou,
a piece of marhpane, while I fill your glass with Simi
Chardonnay as high as decency allows,
and then some.

Bear with me now as I myself must bear
the scrutiny of a bottle of wine
that boasts of hints of plum and pear,
its muscadine
tempered by an oak backbone. I myself have designs
on the willow-boss
of your breast, on all your waist confines
between longling and loss.

The wonder is that we somehow have withstood
the soars and slumps in the Dow
of ten years of marriage and parenthood,
its summits and its sloughs—
that we've somehow
managed to withstand an almond-blossomy
five years of bitter rapture, five of blissful rows
(and then some

if we count the one or two to spare
when we've been firmly on cloud nine).
Even now, as you turn away from me with your one bare
shoulder, the veer of your neckline,
I glimpse the all-but-cleared-up eczema patch on your spine
and it brings to mind not the Schloss
that stands, transitory, tra la, Triestine,
between longing and loss

but a crude
hip trench in a field, covered with pine boughs,
in which two men in masks and hoods
who have themselves taken vows
wait for a farmer to break a bale for his cows
before opening fire with semi-
automatics, cutting him off slightly above the eyebrows,
and then some.

It brings to mind another, driving out to care
for six white-faced kine
finishing on heather and mountain air,
another who'll shortly divine
the precise whereabouts of a land mine
on the road between Beragh and Sixmilecross,
who'll shortly know what it is to have breasted the line
between longing and loss.

Such forbearance in the face of vicissitude
also brings to mind the little "there, theres" and "now, nows"
of two sisters whose sleeves are imbued
with the constant douse and souse
of salt water through their salt house
in Matsukaze (or Pining Wind), by Zeami,
the salt house through which the wind soughs and soughs,
and then some

of the wind's little "now, nows" and "there, theres"
seem to intertwine
with those of Pining Wind and Autumn Rain, who must forbear
the dolor of their lives of boiling down brine.
For the double meaning of "pine"
is much the same in Japanese as English, coming across
both in the sense of "tree" and the sense we assign
between "longing" and "loss"

as when the ghost of Yukihira, the poet-courteir who wooed
both sisters, appears as a ghostly pine, pining among pine boughs.
Barely have Autumn Rain and Pining Wind renewed
their vows
than you turn back toward me, and your blouse,
while it covers the all-but-cleared-up patch of eczema,
falls as low as decency allows,
and then some.

Princess of Accutane, let's no more try to refine
the pure drop from the dross
than distinguish, good thou, between mine and thine,
between longing and loss,
but rouse
ourselves each dawn, here on the shore at Suma,
with such force and fervor as spouses may yet espouse,
and then some.


From Hay (1998)

(Listen to Muldoon read this poem here:

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Theodore Roethke, "I Knew a Woman"

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I'd have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek).

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand;
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin;
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing we did make).

Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved).

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways).


From Words for the Wind (1958)

The mode of today's love poem might best be described as 'adoration.' I had thought of posting something by Neruda, in the mode of 'passion', but I don't have access to a volume of Neruda. Anyway, perhaps better to stick to favorites in the English tongue, though it would be fitting to quote from a Romance language. Perhaps others will provide a few choice examples from that Spanish master of love poetry.
A bit like Cummings, Roethke sometimes verges on nonsense, his language rarely operating as literal reference. At the same time, he echoes traditional tropes of romantic devotion - enumerating his lover's exceptional qualities, boasting of the fervor of their passion - but the content of these tropes is something more evocative than referential or even hyperbolic description. Roethke's statements participate in a rarefied, almost fairy-tale world - the other plane which is the realm of love. Such sweet musing is supported by the sing-song cadences and rhymes. The poem expresses a love that has gone deeper than particulars of appearance or personality, to manifest the metaphysical influence the being of the other person has on the speaker: "(She moved in circles, and those circles moved)"; "I'm martyr to a motion not my own".

(More about Roethke here:

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

e. e. cummings double feature

my girl's tall with hard long eyes
as she stands, with her long hard hands keeping
silence on her dress, good for sleeping
is her long hard body filled with surprise
like a white shocking wire, when she smiles
a hard long smile it sometimes makes
gaily go clean through me tickling aches,
and the weak noise of her eyes easily files
my impatience to an edge—my girl's tall
and taut, with thin legs just like a vine
that's spent all of its life on a garden-wall,
and is going to die. When we grimly go to bed
with these legs she begins to heave and twine
about me, and to kiss my face and head.


i like my body when it is with your
body. It is 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


From & [and] (1925)

The erotic contribution to TPQ's week of love poetry comes in the form of two poems by e.e. cummings, which appear next to each other in the Selected Poems I have, and which I couldn't choose between. Cummings is well know for his re-structuring of syntax, parts of speech, and punctuation, but does tend to be known as well for his erotic verse as he should. As shown above, I believe, his style allows him to write about sensuality and sex without being, on the one hand, flowery, cliché, or saccharine, or on the other ribald, explicit, or merely clever in his implications. His language is full of energy, jostling against itself, stripped of pretense or conventions, coming to new, stimulating arrangements. It displays experimental brinksmanship, the needful thrust towards the death of sense to articulate that experience which goes beyond language.

Post your favorite erotic verse below!

(More on e.e. cummings here:

Monday, February 12, 2007

John Donne, "Elegy: To his Mistress Going to Bed"

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 tired with standing though they 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 'tis your 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 beatueous state reveals,
As when from flowery meads th' hill's shadow steals.
Off with your wiry coronet and show
The hairy diadem which on you doth grow.
Off with those shoes: and then safely tread
In this love's hallowed temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes heaven's angels used to be
Received by men; thou angel bring'st with thee
A heaven like Mahomet's paradise; and though
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know
By this these agnels from an evil sprite,
They set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
Licence my roving hands, and let them go
Behind, before, above, between, below.
O my America, my new found land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned,
My mine of precious stones, my empery,
How blessed 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 unclothed 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 laymen, are all women thus arrayed;
Themselves are mystic books, which only we
Whom their imputed grace will dignify
Must see revealed. Then since I may know,
As liberally as to a midwife show
Thyself; cast all, yea this white linen hence,
Here is no penance, much less innocence.
To teach thee, I am naked first: why then
What needst thou have more covering than a man?


John Donne (1572-1631). Poem first published 1654.

To lead off this love-themed week in honor of Valentine's Day, a poem of seduction by the Metaphysical master of libidinal logic: John Donne. Donne is one of the great treasures of the English canon, one of the best poets not only on seduction and love, but also on spirituality and religion. Once you get accustomed to the manners of his phrasing (which are no more difficult than modernist or some contemporary writers) his work, though written 400 years ago, is energetic and utterly relevant.
"To his Mistress Going to Bed" is, for my money, one of the sexiest poems in English. In order to seduce his mistress, the speaker narrates such a seduction, praising her various attributes while also explaining how reasonable and right it is for her to be so liberal. His argument changes tactics several times, always with utter conviction, though the fact that the need to double-back shows that progress is not actually being made. The poem is always double-leveled, a narrated success (also of two levels thanks to the smattering of puns and double entendre) proven to be fictional by the use of its own fiction as a means of pursuing such success. The final couplet serves as an epigrammatic culmination for his cunning linguistic coercion. And yet, though all this saucy cleverness is delightful, I think the finest lines are the coyest, the direct object of his lust implied by the string of prepositions: "Licence my roving hands, and let them go / Behind, before, above, between, below."

Post your own favorite poems of seduction below!

(Read more about Donne: