- Let Me Let Me Let Me
"What sounds will your body make against mine?" asks Jessica Jacobs in "Stridulation Sonnet," which begins with the seduction songs of insects and, at its volta, invites the duet into consideration, since "sometimes a lone body is insufficient."
Indeed. The most erotic poems are addressed to a singular you, the object of affection. The word "addressed" is too cold, "sung" embarrassingly groovy, but erotic poetry is the human animal's seduction song and too much self-conscious artifice is like gingerbread lingerie. It spoils the view, the view, in erotic poems, being one of a possible future in which the poet—let's just use I for "the poet," Reader, shall we? And let's use you for "you"—in which I am going to give you your pleasure in full measure if you'll just let me, let me, let me, let me, let me, let me.
As in John Donne's classic erotic poem, "To His Mistress Going to Bed," which begins, "Come, madam, come, all rest my powers defy, / Until I labour, I in labour lie." It is repellently charming to be told you're giving someone blue balls: it's transgressive, regressive, complimentary, selfish, self-mocking, shameless. And it can be a pretty effective confession when the only cure for what ails your tortured paramour is to get to work on you, pronto. The speaker, who could be any number of Hims, goes on to command the removal of His Mistress's day-clothes in a kind of blazon, made more erotic than romantic through its use of the imperative rather than the comparative.
Most blazons, like the contemporary examples Camille Guthrie's "My Boyfriend," or Matthew Dickman's "Getting It Right," are whizzo showcases of simile and metaphor. They also exemplify the difference between romantic philosophizing and erotic appeals. Guthrie's lover is the third person in her address to the reader, a triangulation which is more intellectual and examinatory; Dickman's is the second, a you, automatically making the poem lustier through intimacy and immediacy. Yet both of them come off as love poems rather than sex poems because they worship at a respectful distance. Their verbs do not make things happen.
Not so the Reverend's. Donne's demander urges "Off with that girdle," "Unlace yourself," "Off with that happy busk, which I envy." His envy of that corset, so near his beloved's lovely form, brings to mind Jane Kenyon's "Lucky shirt," which gets to go down into her lover's pants in her short, sexy delight, "The Shirt." After the corset, the gown. Then, finally, crown and shoes, as though this mistress were a twenty-first century burlesque dancer performing to "You Can Leave Your Hat On."
The most memorable point in the poem comes midway through, in his plea to "License my roving hands, and let them go / Before, behind, between, above, below." Oh, the implication in that string of prepositions! She may be in "Full nakedness!," but what wonders is she sitting on? The suggestions Donne moves on to in the latter half of the poem are weighed down for most of us by their dependence on colonial metaphors, all discovery and possession. His speaker really seems to forget who he's talking to, even using "you women" while attempting a philosophical argument that he's not like the other guys.
Until he returns to the present again—and how!—at the end of the poem. He pivots from all that blather into "Then, since that I may know, / As liberally as to a midwife, show / Thyself," which I've heard innocently interpreted as Naked as you came, but which sounds to me more like Let me get my colposcope. What wonders. Donne pulls back immediately from awkwardness and vulnerability with polysemy, humor and a little teasing condescension, asserting "To teach thee, I am naked first; why than, / What need'st thou have more covering than a man?" before he climbs on.
Is this erotic? It's goofy, it's chauvinist. It's not romantic. But it's not a locker room boast, either, like Donald Hall's "Villanelle...