Top 10 Most Celebrated Erotic Poets: From Sappho to Pablo Neruda
It is a rather difficult task to assort a list of most celebrated poets of erotic literature. I believe many such lists exist today. No such list will appeal to everyone. I am sure, everyone will have a few differences in the choice of selected poets.
With that said (and out of our way), what I present here is my take on this popular subject based on my own research and reading of more than 300 erotic poetry collections.
Most Celebrated Erotic Poets
The three criteria’s that I used were: poet’s popularity (determined by their “popularity coefficient”), influence of the poet’s writings on society (then and now), and the quality of work (this factor was more subjective and therefore I preferred to look for the “passion” element in their writing).
This is going to be a long post with plenty of lovely and enjoyable poems. I, therefore, request you to sit tight and enjoy this lovely journey. Here we go with our top 10 most celebrated erotic poets in chronological order.
Sappho was one of the few female poets of ancient times and wrote lyric poems that could be performed with the accompaniment of a lyre. She was one of the first poets to write in the first person and was known to have romantic feelings mainly for women. Sadly, only fragments of her work are left today and only one of her poems remains in its entirety.
Fragment One:I have not had one word from her Frankly I wish I were dead When she left, she wept great deal; she said to me, This parting must be endured, Sappho, I go unwillingly. I said, Go and be happy but remember (you know well) whom you leave shackled by love If you forget me, think of our gifts to Aphrodite and all the loveliness that we shared.
Fragment Two: To AtthisThough in Sardis now, She thinks of us constantly And of the life we shared. She saw you as a goddess And above all your dancing gave her deep joy. Now she shines among Lydian women like The rose-fingered moon Rising after sundown, erasing all Stars around her, and pouring light equally Across the salt sea.
These fragments convey a tone of sensuality and a deep desire for the women that Sappho felt affection for. They are beautiful examples of early erotic poetry and serve as an example for subsequent poets.
Sappho remains an inspiration to many contemporary poets and continues to be studied by literary scholars.
For more information visit here.
Ovid was a Roman poet who was acclaimed in his time for his poetry. He wrote a number of love poems that were collected in works such as The Art of Love.
He was exiled by the emperor Augustus to the barren seaport of Tomi and remained there for the last nine years of his life until his death.In summer’s heat and, and mid-time of the day, To rest my limbs upon a bed I lay; One window shut, the other open stood, Which gave such light as twinkles in a wood, Like twilight glimpse at setting of the sun, Or night being past, and yet not day begun. Such light to shamefaced maidens must be shown, Where they may sport, and seem to be unknown, Then came Corinna in a long loose gown, Her white neck hid with tresses hanging down, Resembling fair Semiramis going to bed Or Lais of a thousand wooers sped. I snatched her gown: being thin, the harm was small, Yet strived she to be covered there withal. And striving thus, as one that would be cast, Betraying herself, and yielded at the last.
Either she was foolEither she was fool, or her attire was bad, Or she was not the wench I wished to have had. Idly I lay with her, as if I loved not, And like a burden grieved the bed that moved not. Though both of us performed our true intent, Yet could I not cast anchor where I meant. She on my neck her ivory arms did throw, Her arms far whiter than the Scythian snow. And eagerly she kissed me with her tongue, And under mine her wanton thigh she flung, Yes, and she soothed me up, and called me Sir, And used all speech that might provoke or stir. Yet like as if cold hemlock I had drunk, It mocked me, hung down the head and sunk.
As is evident by these poems Ovid was able to convey the more psychological aspects of love while still using physical imagery.
His poetry is beautiful and a milder form of erotic poetry. Ovid remained a significant literary figure long after his death and was very influential to writers in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
For more information visit here.
He wrote 366 poems based on his love for Laura. He is best known for this sequence which was collected in a song-book entitled Rime Sparse or Scattered Rhymes in English. He was the earliest poet to write using the sonnet.
I’d sing of love in such a novel fashionI’d sing of love in such a novel fashion That from her cruel side I would draw by force A thousand sighs a day, kindling again In her cold mind a thousand high desires; I’d see her lovely face transform quite often Her eyes grow wet and more compassionate, Like one who feels regret, when it’s too late For causing someone’s sorrow by mistake;
Alas, so all things now do hold their peaceAlas, so all things now do hold their peace, Heaven and earth disturbed in no thing; The beasts, the air, the birds their song do cease; The nightes car the stars about doth bring. Calm is the sea, the waves work less and less. So am not I, whom love, alas, doth wring, Bringing before my face the great increase Of my desires, whereat I weep and sing In joy and woe, as in a doubtful ease. For my sweet thoughts sometimes do pleasure bring. But by and by the cause of my disease Gives me a pang that inwardly doth sting, When that I think what grief it is again To live and lack the thing should rid my pain.
Petrarch’s sonnets are ones of unrequited love and desire. He was never able to be with the woman of his heart’s desires which is reflected in his many sonnets.
His poetry remained influential after his death in 1374 and was translated by Geoffrey Chaucer who incorporated the translations into his own work.
For more information please visit here.
IV: William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an influential poet and playwright who wrote erotic poems such as Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. He was recognized in his time for his plays and sonnets that were published in a collection entitled The Sonnets of Shakespeare.
Venus and Adonis (But, lo! From worth a copse)But, lo! from forth a copse that neighbours by, A breeding jennet, lusty, young, and proud, Adonis’ trampling courser doth espy, And forth she rushes, snorts and neighs aloud; The strong-neck’d steed, being tied unto a tree, Breaketh his rein, and to her straight goes he. Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds, And now his woven girths he breaks asunder; The bearing earth with his hard hoof he wounds, Whose hollow womb resounds like heaven’s thunder; The iron bit he crushes ‘tween his teeth Controlling what he was controlled with.
Sonnet 98: From you I have been absent in the springFrom you I have been absent in the spring When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim, Hath put a spirit of youth in everything, That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him, Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell Of different flowers in odor and in hue, Could make me any summer’s story tell, Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew. Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white, Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose; They were but sweet, but figures of delight, Drawn after you, you pattern of all those. Yet seemed it winter still, and you away. As with your shadow I with these did play.
These poems are filled with beautiful physical and natural imagery. Shakespeare’s poems are ones filled with desire and flirtation. His poetry although not very erotic in nature remains great testaments to love to this day.
For more information please visit here.
V: Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift was best known in his time for publishing Gulliver’s Travels. He had many romantic relationships in his life but wrote primarily about two of his partners in his love poems.
A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to BedCorinna, pride of Drury-Lane, For whom no shepherd sighs in vain; Never did Covent-Garden boast So bright a batter’d strolling toast! No drunken rake to pick her up, No cellar where on tick to sup; Returning at the midnight hour, Four stories climbing to her bower; Then, seated on a three-legg’d chair, Takes off her artificial hair; Now picking out a crystal eye, She wipes it clean, and lays it by.
To LoveIn all I wish, how happy should I be, Thou grand Deluder, were it not for thee! So weak thou art, that fools thy power despise; And yet so strong, thou triumph’st o’er the wise. Thy traps are laid with such peculiar art, They catch the cautious, let the rash depart. Most nets are fill’d by want of thought and care But too much thinking brings us to thy snare; Where, held by thee, in slavery we stay, And throw the pleasing part of life away. But, what does most my indignation move, Discretion! thou wert ne’er a friend to Love: Thy chief delight is to defeat those arts, By which he kindles mutual flames in hearts; While the blind loitering God is at his play, Thou steal’st his golden pointed darts away: Those darts which never fail; and in their stead Convey’st malignant arrows tipt with lead
These poems reveal Jonathan Swift’s conflicting views on love. The first is very sensual in nature with descriptions of a woman undressing while the second is his perspective on love. Both poems reveal a darker side to romance.
VI: Robert Burns
Robert Burns was a Scottish poet who wrote prolifically about love and had multiple romantic partners. Some of his most famous poems about love include My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose, and My Girl, She’s Airy.O my luve’s like a red, red rose, That’s newly sprung in June; O my luve’s like the melodie That’s sweetly played in tune. As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, So deep in luve am I; And I will luve thee still, my dear, Till the seas gang dry.
Anna, Thy CharmsAnna, thy charms my bosom fire, And waste my soul with care; But ah! how bootless to admire, When fated to despair! Yet in thy presence, lovely Fair, To hope may be forgiven; For sure â€˜twere impious to despair So much in sight of heaven.
Robert Burns’s love poems show that he was a romantic who loved deeply and thought of his partners with great affection. His poetry is still very popular to this day.
The poems referenced can be found by visiting here at poets.org.
VII: Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman was one of the first major American poets. He wrote a number of poems on the subject of love and helped to make sex an acceptable topic in mainstream literature.Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams, I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands, Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners, troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you, Your true soul and body appear before me, They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work, farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking, suffering, dying. Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem, I whisper with my lips close to your ear, I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.
A Woman Waits For MeA woman waits for me, she contains all, nothing is lacking, Yet all were lacking if sex were lacking, or if the moisture of the right man were lacking. Sex contains all, bodies, souls, Meanings, proofs, purities, delicacies, results, promulgations, Songs, commands, health, pride, the maternal mystery, the seminal milk, All hopes, benefactions, bestowals, all the passions, loves, beauties, delights of the earth, All the governments, judges, gods, follow’d persons of the earth, These are contain’d in sex as parts of itself and justifications of itself. Without shame the man I like knows and avows the deliciousness of his sex, Without shame the woman I like knows and avows hers.
These poems are filled with passion and great sentiment for the ones that Whitman loved. The first poem describes the beauty of a woman he was in a relationship with while the second describes the wonders of sex.
The poems referenced can be found by visiting here.
VIII: Lord Byron
When We Two Parted
When we two parted
In silence and tears,
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.
The dew of the morning
Sank chill on my brow –
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame:
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.
Epistle to AugustaMy sister! my sweet sister! if a name Dearer and purer were, it should be thine; Mountains and seas divide us, but I claim No tears, but tenderness to answer mine: Go where I will, to me thou art the same – A loved regret which I would not resign. There yet are two things in my destiny, – A world to roam through, and a home with thee. The first were nothing -had I still the last, It were the haven of my happiness; But other claims and other ties thou hast, And mine is not the wish to make them less. A strange doom is thy father’s sons’s, and past Recalling, as it lies beyond redress; Reversed for him our grandsire’s fate of yore, He had no rest at sea, nor I on shore.
These poems reflect some of the turmoil and despair of love. They are filled with beautiful imagery and enable the reader to empathize with him. The poems referenced can be found by visiting here.
IX: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an English poet whose poetry was intensely sexual. He was a passionate lover who was responsible for the suicide of his wife. Irony?Master of the murmuring courts Where the shapes of sleep convene! Lo! my spirit here exhorts All the powers of thy demesne For their aid to woo my queen. What reports Yield thy jealous courts unseen? Vaporous, unaccountable, Dreamland lies forlorn of light, Hollow like a breathing shell. Ah! that from all dreams I might Choose one dream and guide its flight! I know well What her sleep should tell to-night.
The Stream’s SecretWhat thing unto mine ear Wouldst thou convey, what secret thing, O wandering water ever whispering? Surely thy speech shall be of her. Thou water, O thou whispering wanderer, What message dost thou bring? Say, hath not Love leaned low This hour beside thy far well-head, And there through jealous hollowed fingers said The thing that most I long to know Murmuring with curls all dabbled in thy flow And washed lips rosy red?
These poems reflect some of the heartache and despair of love. In these poems, Rossetti was able to convey the emotional turmoil of love and use beautiful natural imagery to describe how he felt about love.
The poems referenced can be found by visiting here.
Pablo Neruda was one of the first major Hispanic poets.
He wrote heavily about love in collections such as Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair) and Cien sonetas de amor (One Hundred Love Sonnets).
One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVIII don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz, or arrow of carnations that propagate fire: I love you as one loves certain obscure things, secretly, between the shadow and the soul. I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself, and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose from the earth lives dimly in my body. I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where, I love you directly without problems or pride: I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love, except in this form in which I am not nor are you, so close that your hand upon my chest is mine, so close that your eyes close with my dreams.
The Song of DespairThe memory of you emerges from the night around me. The river mingles its stubborn lament with the sea. Deserted like the wharves at dawn. It is the hour of departure, oh deserted one! You swallowed everything, like distance. Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank! It was the happy hour of assault and the kiss. The hour of the spell that blazed like a lighthouse. In the childhood of mist my soul, winged and wounded. Lost discoverer, in you everything sank! You girdled sorrow, you clung to desire, sadness stunned you, in you everything sank! I made the wall of shadow draw back, beyond desire and act, I walked on. Oh flesh, my own flesh, woman whom I loved and lost, I summon you in the moist hour, I raise my song to you.
These poems are filled with desire for the women of Neruda’s affections and show how passionate Neruda was about love. These poems convey a sense of unconditional love and are great sentiments to the power of love.
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What do you think about these poets and erotic poems? Do you agree or do you have alternative suggestions or poets I should look into? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.