Asking someone to name the sexiest poem ever if like asking them to name the most beautiful place in the world … the choice is just too vast and, besides, isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? Similarly, poetry in all its forms is already very subjective, so add to the mix the abstract concept of ‘sexiness’ and it becomes an impossibility.
There are more verses about love and romance than there are grains of sand on a beach and, if you take a look at the many opinion polls on the internet, many of these poems are considered sexy.
‘Romance’ by Edgar Allen Poe is one such poem, referring very subtly as it does to “forbidden things.” Emily Dickinson’s ‘If those I loved were lost’ also ranks highly in the opinion polls, although many would find it hard to describe what they perceived as ‘sexiness’ among its eight lines. Even more mysterious is ‘Skunk Hour’ by Robert Lowell, which tells how a man in his prime living in the small town of Maine is unable to find love.
E.E. Cummings is also a firm favourite in terms of sexiness. In his curiously entitled “because i love you)last night”, for instance, he enjoys using an imagery that rolls and tumbles like the woman of his dreams, whose “face smile breasts gargled.”
“The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” by T S Eliot, this time referring to a man approaching old age, is also highly ranked as a sexy poem. Perhaps because its opening six lines are delivered in Italian?
Some poems almost defy categorisation. For example, in one internet poll, Christina Rossetti’s narrative ‘Goblin Market’ ranks top of the list. In this lengthy pre-Raphaelite tale, the sinister goblins lure Laura and Lizzie with their refrain to “Come buy, come buy, our orchard fruits.” What begins as a seemingly innocent pastoral verse leads into the girls’ precipitous situation, with Lizzie eventually being overcome by the goblins. Its many double-entendre references to juicy peaches, plums and figs are mingled with a menace that results in this poem becoming the topic of many an academic discussion. Is it a feminist poem or a religious allegory? Many would clearly say it’s just downright sexy.
Then there is blatantly erotic verse, which takes the concept of love poetry and drags it kicking and screaming to the end of the spectrum. Neil Rollinson’s poetry, for instance, makes no bones about which category it belongs in. In ‘French’, with the eroticism totally unmasked by any of the devices used by Rossetti, he describes “extra-curricular” activities with the private tutor in the “cool expanse of her bed.”
Erotic literature or romantic verse, it seems the discussion about what makes a poem sexy will continue for as long as there is poetry.