Is poetry really the way into a lover’s heart? Here’s the Swan of Avon, Mr. William Shakespeare himself, having a go at it:
But no roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes there is more delight,
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
Here, Master Will is attempting to flatter his swarthy-skinned mistress by underscoring how she doesn’t conform to pale-faced Elizabethan standards of beauty while mocking poets who overstate their lovers’ charms. However, judging by the limited number of women I have courted, I don’t see this strategy working well at all.
For example, I wouldn’t attempt to flatter my beloved with these lines
My mistress’s breasts are fairly flat
And her hair a sort of mousey brown,
Yet she makes my heart go rat-a-tat-tat
Whenever I take her out on the town.
Nor do I think John Donne’s “The Flea” would work with most women. Sure, his comparing flea bites to sexual intercourse is “imaginative” and his “a-ha” comeback at the end of the poem clever, but, really, do you think this argument has even a Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost of a chance:
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou knowst this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead.
Then there’s Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” which at least starts off on the right foot with some extravagant praise.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thine forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But then gets all morbid on us:
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity . . .
As one of my students once said when I told her that faculty members often lie around unclothed in the faculty lounge:
BAD MENTAL PICTURE!
Sir John Suckling, he of the unfortunate name, creates this sure-not-to-please image:
Her feet beneath her petticoat
Like little mice stole in and out,
As if they feared the light;
But oh, she dances such a way!
No sun upon an Easter-day
Is half so fine a sight.
Maybe chicks back then thought vermin cute?
Here’s another from Sir John:
Her lips were red, and one was thin;
Compared with that was next her chin,—
Some bee had stung it newly.