"And Never Know the Joy": Sex and the Erotic in English Poetry

"And Never Know the Joy": Sex and the Erotic in English Poetry

"And Never Know the Joy": Sex and the Erotic in English Poetry

"And Never Know the Joy": Sex and the Erotic in English Poetry

Excerpt

Several of the participants in the 2003 Leiden October Conference, whose articles form the kernel of this book, remarked how difficult it was to get their colleagues to take seriously the theme of sex and eroticism in English poetry. Surely, the response of their peers seemed to be, there must be weightier and more philosophical issues involved in the canon of English poetry than sex, and its pleasure and pains? And so there are, but erotic expressions and concerns are part of the substantial fabric of English poetry, from the highest to the lowest, from Shakespeare passim and Milton in Books IV and IX of Paradise Lost to the raunchiest street ballads. Since one of the earliest and most prized English lyrics in the canon is Sir Thomas Wyatt's "They flee from me", with its erotic middle stanza, and the unforgettable culminating voice of the unexpected but welcome visitor speaking directly out of the poem to poet and reader alike, "Dear heart, how like you this?", it is all more astonishing that this vein of English poetry is so neglected as a topic of discussion and research.

Regrettably, this volume does not have the space to cover the whole range of what might be considered sexual and erotic texts in English poetry and there are some notable omissions – no other mention of Wyatt, for instance, nor anything on Shakespeare, which is something of a surprise, nothing on Wordsworth, although an article was promised but failed to materialize (and had it appeared that might have been an even greater surprise). At certain points articles cluster around a number of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts, around Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion, and around Christina Rossetti. There is nothing very much in this book about popular poetry, poetry of the salon or of the street. There are many gaps to be filled by future volumes that are to be looked forward to.

Perhaps this volume ought to be entitled "How Like You This", but the title of the book, like that of the conference, is taken from a poet usually first thought of when one utters the two words "sex" and "poetry", the renowned Earl of Rochester. Tactically, perhaps, this . . .

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