Happy birthday to 20th-century poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay. A master sonneteer, Millay is also known as an iconoclast and libertine. Her works exploring the nature of romantic and erotic desire (especially between women) inspired us to search for other sexy poems for literary lovers. There is a wellspring of naughty verse, so be sure to mention your personal favorites, below.
The tender, rapturous longing and eroticism of Rich’s “The Floating Poem, Unnumbered” in Twenty-one Love Poems (written between 1974 and 1976) brought lesbian sexuality to the forefront of poetic discourse:
Whatever happens with us, your body will haunt mine — tender, delicate your lovemaking… the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth — your touch on me, firm, protective, searching me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers reaching where I had been waiting years for you in my rose-wet cave — whatever happens, this is.
The prolific 20th-century poet created a series of playful, curious, erotic poems and sketches that he hoped would shock his puritanical peers:
Lady,i will touch you with my mind. Touch you and touch and touch until you give me suddenly a smile,shyly obscene
Read the full poem, and others (with drawings), over here.
The once Poet Laureate of Maryland has been making spirituality sexy since 1974’s “To A Dark Moses”:
You are the one I am lit for.
Come with your rod that twists and is a serpent.
Even Allen Ginsberg blushed when he read “Please Master” to a crowd:
Wrote one fantastical poem about being screwed in ass with repeated refrain ‘please master’ which really got me a little embarrassed, but read it at last S.F. Poesy Renaissance big reading and it turned out to be, as usual, universal, one hole or another, one sex or another. Really amazing year after year I stumble onto areas of shame or fear and then catharsis of community awareness takes off the red-cheeked bane.
He sets the stage for erotic power exchange in the work reportedly written for fellow poet Gary Snyder:
please master can I have your thighs bare to my eyes please master can I take off your clothes below your chair please master can I kiss your ankles and soul
On doing it, the Donne way:
His celebration of his mistress’s body is free, happy, entirely without shame or guilt, and expresses itself in language so active and sensual that it not only reproduces, as far as language can, his own energy and excitement, but attempts to transfer that energy, with its kinetic rhythms. . . .
“To His Mistress Going to Bed” is just one of many early erotic poems by Donne:
Licence my roving hands, and let them go, Before, behind, between, above, below.
On the erotic landscapes of H.D.:
Permeating H.D.’s early revisionary exploration of female identity is an austere sensuality, an erotic dimension of repressed yet explosive sexuality that is nonreferential in nature. Like the potent flowers in Lawrence’s early novels and Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, H.D.’s flowers indirectly suggest an intense eroticism, whose power comes precisely from its elusive, nonhuman expression.
From “Sea Poppies”:
Beautiful, wide-spread, fire upon leaf, what meadow yields so fragrant a leaf as your bright leaf?
W. H. Auden
Behold W. H. Auden’s occasionally Penthouse Forum–esque “The Platonic Blow”:
We aligned mouths. We entwined. All act was clutch, All fact contact, the attack and the interlock Of tongues, the charms of arms. I shook at the touch Of his fresh flesh, I rocked at the shock of his cock.
William Carlos Williams
Williams never shied away from poems of a sexier nature. “I am extremely sexual in my desires; I carry them everywhere and at all times,” he once wrote. “Arrival” is ten lines of sex and mortality:
And yet one arrives somehow, finds himself loosening the hooks of her dress in a strange bedroom — feels the autumn dropping its silk and linen leaves about her ankles.
The Latin poet Catullus could craft erotic tension and longing in his sleep. His works dedicated to his lover, nicknamed Lesbia (Clodia), reveal this. An unexpectedly sexy moment in his work arises in a poem to fellow scribe Licinius Macer Calvus after a day of composing erotic verse together:
And when I left you, I was so on fire with all your brilliant & ironic humor that after dinner I was still excited, and sleep refused to touch my eyes with quiet. In bed & totally unstrung by passion, tossing in agony, I prayed for sunrise, when I could be with you in conversation. But when my limbs, exhausted by their labor, lay on the bed in nearly fatal stillness, I made this poem for you, my beloved…
Whitman’s sprawling opus, Leaves of Grass, is filled with melodious eroticism, particularly in “I Sing the Body Electric”:
This is the female form, A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot, It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction, I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor, all falls aside but myself and it…