Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Walt Whitman's Disturbing Sex Poetry

When I was writing the essays that would never just be DONE already last week, I spent a lot of time Facebook messaging my lovely friend Christine from my course, sharing woes and Harry Potterness and all that good stuff (seriously, she's like meeting a person from the internet in real life, THAT'S HOW GOOD). One of our many discussions started with my complete fatigue with Sylvia Plath (I can't talk anymore about how you shouldn't use biography as a method of criticism in poetry, you guys, I just CAN'T) and how I kind of hate poetry, but then I remembered I liked much of the sexy poetry in this Book Riot post.

And then Christine told me that Walt Whitman wrote sexy (the various meanings of which we will discuss in a minute...) and I was super interested because I read some Whitman as an undergrad (19th Century American Lit ftw) and if I'm going to say I like a poet, he's probably up there, and also because this:
I can't.
So, I dug out my old copy of Leaves of Grass and read some Whitman sex poetry, and Oh. My. God. You guys. It's so incredibly unsexy that I could hardly bear to read it, but I also couldn't look away from it. It was like an incredibly unerotic car crash that was trying to be erotic and I don't really know where I'm going with this sentence.

But anyway. Please observe:

I am stern, acrid, large, undissuadable, but I love you,
I do not hurt any more than is necessary for you,
I pour the stuff to start sons and daughters fit for these states, I press with slow rude muscle
I brace myself effectually, I listen to no entreaties,
I dare not withdraw till I deposit what has so long accumulated within me

I DARE NOT WITHDRAW TILL I DEPOSIT WHAT HAS SO LONG ACCUMULATED WITHIN ME?! That sentence has to be among the top 10 sentences that you don't want to hear anyone say, ever. Probably the number one response to that would be 'actually, you're withdrawing RIGHT NOW, you freak' because, ew. 

It got better though. This is an entire poem about hymens.

O Hymen! O hymenee! Why do you tantalise me thus?
O why sting me for a swift moment only? 
Why can you not continue? O why do you now cease?
Is it because if you continued beyond the swift moment you would soon certainly kill me?
I texted Frances throughout this entire revelatory episode (because, obviously), and her only response to this poem was 'WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?' I mean, answers in the comments, obviously you guys, but seriously... Has anyone ever been killed by a hymen? Is there something they're not telling us about their murderousness. And sure, I know, it's a metaphor. But WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

And that's not all. In my important Whitman investigations (I read his disgusting sex poems so you don't have to!), I encountered the following words, phrases and lines that made me shudder:

"phallic thumb of love"

"the full-grown lady-flower"

"love-flesh tremulous aching" (love-flesh may be the worst thing I've ever read)

"Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delicious juice" (NO)

"This poem, drooping shy and unseen that I always carry, that all men carry." (A MILLION TRILLION NOES)

There is a point to this, apart from sharing with you some truly horrifying lines of poetry (I think basically the section 'Children of Adam' in Leaves of Grass is all the sex stuff, if you want to cringe some more) and that point is this. There's a difference between sexy, and just sex. Whitman's poems are about sex, but that doesn't make them... Pleasing in any way. It's similar to the difference between watching actual hardcore porn (sex) and having sex generously implied but not necessarily seen (sexy). Now, far be it from me to tell you what you find sexy, and if you find that porn and these poems (God help you) really ring your bell, so to speak, then you go with that and godspeed. But, I think I need a little more sexy implications, and a little less 'quivering jelly of love' and 'love flesh' from my poetry, and I don't think that's a bad thing.

Shakespeare? He can write some good sexy poetry. The sonnets aren't really amazing for it, but there's this bit in Romeo and Juliet where Juliet is waiting for night so Romeo can come and bone her, and just...

Come, gentle night, come, loving black-browed night.
Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night.

I mean, right? I'm not alone in this, right? Shakespeare is totally hot, let's just deal with that fact together. And then, also, this:
 Unspeakably. Amazingly. Erotic.


  1. I feel physically sick after that hymen poem. So so not sexy. Agree about Shakespeare though, dude can do sexy verrry well!

    1. But what DOES it even mean?! I honestly don't know! Shakespeare can talk dirty to me anytime haha

  2. So, this is going on MY top 10 list of sentences I never thought I'd read on the internet:
    "Actually, you're withdrawing RIGHT NOW, you freak."
    Thanks for ensuring that I will never, ever both reading Whitman - I'll stick with Shakespeare, thanks. >:(

    1. SEE I AM SO GRATEFUL I ACCIDENTALLY WROTE THANKS TWICE. *applies mind bleach liberally to brain*

    2. hahaha, you're so welcome! My theory behind this post: If I had to read them, I get to share. DEMS THE RULES.

  3. "So, I dug out my old copy of Leaves of Grass and read some Whitman sex poetry, and Oh. My. God. You guys. It's so incredibly unsexy that I could hardly bear to read it, but I also couldn't look away from it. It was like an incredibly unerotic car crash that was trying to be erotic and I don't really know where I'm going with this sentence."

    Hahahaha I thought you were going to say Whitman was secretly sexy or something and this was 100x better than that.

    It's sort of unfair to compare Shakespeare's sexy poetry to Whitman. Or anyone. Cos Shakespeare is THE BEST.

    1. Haha, I feel like if that had been the case I would have been too shy to talk about how sexy it was? I dunno. BUT IT'S SO BAD THAT IT'S HILARIOUS/DISGUSTING!

      It is pretty unfair to compare anything Shakespeare with anything anyone else does. But I think it was a good counterpoint. Sexy sexy Shakespeare

  4. Haha I love Whitman's sex poetry. It's so mechanical. It's the poetry version of sex Ed "then you put your phallic thumb of love in her love flesh
    Then pour in the stuff to make sons and daughters. Boom. Baby."

    1. No no no Kayleigh- the phallic thumb of love and the love flesh are BOTH penis euphemisms, please pay attention! He puts his love flesh in the full grown lady flower and then I DIE. Some more. But yes, yes, you are very correct. AND IT IS HORRIBLE haha.

  5. ...Haha, oh dear. Maybe the poems would have been sexier at the time they were written?? Possibly?

    Anyway, this post amused me greatly! Not sure I am ever going to really try reading any Whitman now, although I am sooo not into poetry so it wasn't that likely to happen anyway.

    1. I'm not sure they were ever sexy- maybe Kayleigh's onto something and he was trying to write a poetic sex manual... Haha

      I'm really not very into poetry (which is what spurred the whole reading of Whitman in the first place!) but then whenever I say that I also go "apart from Emily Dickinson of course. And Shakespeare's ok. And actually Sylvia Plath is amazing." And then I kind of have to admit that I sort of do like poetry and saying I don't is kind of bullshit lol

  6. Hahahahahaha, totally worth putting off minithonning to read this. Bless you.