Poetry and Sex
Since the beginning of human existence, there has been once practice,
one instinct, one single obsession that we cannot escape. Some may
call it necessary; others say it’s a gift. It can be controlling,
enlightening but it’s oh so powerful. It isn’t the need for food,
safety or shelter. It isn’t love nor greed nor vanity, but sex, ladies
With the evolution of human communication poets have been using the
power of words to describe the practice of sex, and the emotions that
come with it. As a guest speaker invited to this years festival, I
have explored how sex is expressed through poetry from a multitude of
cultures and eras. It has become apparent that the traditions and
values of a society shapes the form, right down to the style of
language and words used, of poetry from its respective era. While
values have and will continue to change, sex is a universal practice,
and therefore a universal theme of poets the world over.
To demonstrate this, I will analyze three poems: ‘Kubla Khan,’ by
Samuel Coleridge, ‘Sexual Healing,’ by Marvin Gaye and David Ritz and
‘Adultery’ by Carol Ann Duffy. Although all poems have the same
central theme of sex, the way they express it differs quite radically.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
These are the opening lines of Kubla Khan, in which the era of its
poet is made clear. Samuel Coleridge was from the Romantic period, an
era in which freedom, simplicity and the humble life were reflected
through poetry. Above all else though, Romantic poetry featured a
strong presence of nature, wild and untamed, the opposite to the stiff
formal gardens of Victorian England.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
The influence of Romanticism is immediately apparent in the first two
stanzas of Kubla Khan, alongside a feeling of the east and a touch of
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills
Where blossomed many an incense- bearing tree;
Coleridge constantly relates to nature within Kubla Khan, making it
inherent to Romantic poetry, yet this poem is not strictly about
nature. At first glance it is description of Coleridge’s drug-induced
version of Paradise, but a common interpretation of Kubla Khan is that
it is an allegory for Coleridge’s repressed sexual desires and
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A holy place! As holy and enchanted
At this point of the poem, connections can be made between his words
and sexuality, such as ‘fertile ground’ and potency, or ‘deep romantic
chasm,’ a metaphor for a part of the female anatomy. He refers to this
chasm as holy and enchanted, alluding to the mystery of women. It is
almost as if Coleridge himself is mystified and awed up until...