From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Many erotic poems have survived from ancient Greece and Rome, the authors including Sappho of Lesbos (lyrics), Catullus, Ovid, Martial and Juvenal and the anonymous Priapeia. Some later Latin authors also wrote erotic verse, e.g Joannes Secundus. In the Renaissance period many poems were not written for publication and merely circulated in manuscript among a relatively limited readership. Many of the authors were anonymous but John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-80) was notorious for obscene verses, many of which were published posthumously in compendiums of poetry by him and other Restoration rakes. Though many of the poems attributed to him were actually by other authors, Rochester's reputation as a libertine was such that his name was used as a selling point by publishers of collections of erotic verse for centuries after. One poem which definitely was by him was "A Ramble in St. James's Park" in which the protagonist's quest for healthy exercise in the park uncovers instead "Bugg'ries, Rapes and Incest" on ground polluted by debauchery from the time when "Ancient Pict began to Whore". This poem was being censored from collections of Rochester's poetry as late as 1953, though, in line with a general change in attitudes to sexuality, it was recently dramatised as a scene in the film The Libertine about his life.
English collections of erotic verse by various hands, include the Drollery collections of the seventeenth century; Pills to Purge Melancholy; the Roxburghe Ballads; Bishop Percy's Folio; The Musical Miscellany; National Ballad and Song: Merry Songs and Ballads Prior to the Year AD 1800 (1895-7) edited by J. S. Farmer; the three volume Poetica Erotica (1921) and its more obscene supplement the Immortalia (1927) both edited by T. R. Smith. French collections include Les Muses gaillardes (1606) Le Cabinet satyrique (1618) and La Parnasse des poetes satyriques (1622).
A famous collection of four erotic poems, was published in England in 1763, called An Essay on Woman. This included the title piece, an obscene parody of Alexander Pope's "An Essay on Man"; "Veni Creator: or, The Maid's Prayer", which is original; the "Universal Prayer", an obscene parody of Pope's poem of the same name, and "The Dying Lover to his Prick", which parodies "A Dying Christian to his Soul" by Pope. These poems have been attributed to John Wilkes and/or Thomas Potter and receive the distinction of being the only works of erotic literature ever read out loud, in their entirety in the House of Lords - before being declared obscene and blasphemous by that august body and the supposed author, Wilkes, declared an outlaw.
More erotic poetry
- Ars Amatoria
- Poetry of Catullus
- Song of Songs
- Sonetti Lussuriosi (1527) - Pietro Aretino
- Songs of Bilitis
- The Cinnamon Peeler
- White Stains