The Art of Love

The Art of Love

An anthology of poems of romantic and sexual love

Men and women have enjoyed making love since humankind first stood on two legs – and very possibly even earlier than that. And even before the invention of writing they have made up rhymes about that particular pleasure. But the poems don’t just celebrate the pleasure – they show us (as if we didn’t suspect it) that there’s nothing new where sex is concerned.

Time and again, the poet imagines an insatiable mistress. When he has fucked the girl almost to death, the country lover imagines her wanting more: ‘My joys do now begin:/ Oh, dearest, quickly, to’t again.’ And if it was the lover who couldn’t get it up for a third or fourth time, the voracious mistress had her ways of enlivening the recalcitrant cock: ‘the nymph found her pleasure too great to restrain/ And with kindness excessive, she killed me again.’

There really is nothing we can teach our forebears: though sometimes disguised, almost everything a man can or would do with or to a woman – and vice verse – is somewhere in these verses, though perhaps disguised: an eighteenth century poet would have been chary of describing anal sex in so many words, or for instance his desire to ejaculate on his mistress’s breasts – but both cravings are there if you look for them. And the language is often amazingly unrestrained – so frank, indeed, that the poems would sometimes not be published until three centuries after the poet’s death. Finally, the beauty and lovingness of good sex is celebrated on every other page, and its fulfilment:

‘Were the bright day no more to visit us,
Oh, then for ever would I hold thee thus,
Naked, enchained, empty of idle fear,
As the first lovers in the garden were.’

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