R12 S04 H22

Office hours: By Zoom appointment

Phone: 183-2162


Love, Lust, Broken Hearts: The Erotic Impulse in British and American Poetry

Mondays 12-14

R11 T04 C84

From the English Renaissance masters to the American heart, sometimes in the same poem (“O my America! My new-found land,/My kingdom, safelist when with one man mann’d”) this course will proceed historically, starting with Shakespeare, Donne, Johnson, and Marvell and ending with Billy Collins, Ross Gay, Sharon Olds Frederick Seidel and Patricia Lockwood. Earlier sources will be drawn from the Internet.  Students should purchase The Best American Erotic Poems: From 1800 to the Present (2008) Ed. David Lehman from the university bookstore. 

Requirements: Come to class and do all readings. Each week, select one poem (or, if it is a long poem, one part of a poem) and write it out in your own words, as if you were explaining it to someone who has no idea what it means. You will hand this in, typed and double-spaced, with a brief title expressing the meaning of the poem. (For example: “Dickenson’s Lonely Passion”). Every student will teach one poem to the class (five minutes).

4 April Introduction to the course. Excerpts from the works we will read. But first, just to give you an idea of how far back the celebration of the body, and with it, the erotic impulse in poetry goes, here’s a famous, probably the oldest recorded secular music in England from the mid-thirteen century: “Sumer is Icumin in”:

11 April Shakespeare (1564-1616) sonnets, especially “My Mistress’s Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun,” and “Th’Expense of Spirit in a Waste of Shame,” and Donne (1572-1631) “To His Mistress Going to Bed,” “The Sun Rising, “The Good Morrow,” and “The Flea.” Suggested (NOT required) reading: All readings are online.

 18 April HOLIDAY

25 April Robert Herrick (1591-1674) “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” “Delight in Disorder,” “Upon Julia’s Clothes,” “Corinna’s Going a Maying,” “His Farewell to Sack,” Richard Lovelace, (1617-1657) Song to Amarantha, that she would Dishevel her Hair,” “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars.” 

 2 May Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) “To His Coy Mistress,” John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680) “I Rise at Eleven.” In Lehmann, Erotic Poems: Francis Scott Key, Edgar Allan Poe, and Walt Whitman (at least SOME of the Whitman. This last one is long. Notice, in these poems, plenty of Greek mythology (names of gods and nymphs) and plenty of nature. Alternate Whiteman poems: “Spontaneous Me,” “Song of Myself XI” (online)

Lehman, Emily Dickinson, Amy Lowell, Gertrude Stein. If time, Emma Lazarus.

9 May Lehman, H. Phelps Putnam, Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, Kenneth Rexroth.

16  May Lehman, Elizabeth Bishop, J.V Cunningham, Tennessee Williams, Muriel Rukeyser.

23 May Lehman, Ruth Stone, Robert Duncan, Charles Bukowski.

30 May  Lehman, Richard Wilbur, Kenneth Koch, A.R. Ammons, Paul Blackburn.

6  June NO CLASS—HOLIDAY (But try any poet in the book!)

13 June Lehman, Allen Ginsberg, David Wagoner, Anne Sexton.

20 June Lehman, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, John Updike.

27 June  Lehman, Mark Strand, Ted Berrigan, Russell Edson,

4 July Lehman, Dana Gioia, Amy Gerstler, Lucille Clifton, Frederick Seidel.

11 July Olena Kalytiak Davis, Sharon Olds, “The Sisters of Sexual Treasure” and, online, “The Pope’s Penis,




Love, Lust, Broken Hearts: Excerpts from the reading


Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Is lust in action; and till action, lust

Is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,

Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,

Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,

Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had

Past reason hated as a swallowed bait

On purpose laid to make the taker mad;

Mad in pursuit and in possession so,

Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;

A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe;

Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.

    All this the world well knows; yet none knows well

    To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell. Shakespeare, 1564-1616


Amarantha sweet and fair

Ah braid no more that shining hair!

As my curious hand or eye

Hovering round thee let it fly. Richard Lovelace, 1618-1657


One failure on

Top of another. A.R. Ammons (1926-2001) “Their Sex Life”


Whatever happens with us, your body

Will haunt mine—tender, delicate

Your lovemaking, like the half-curled front

Of the fiddlehead fern in the forest . . .  Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)


Lie there, in sweat and dream, I do, and “there”

Is here, my bed, on which I dream

You, lying there, on yours, locked, pouring love,

While I tormented here see in my reins

You, perfectly at climax. And the lion strikes.

I want you with whatever obsessions come . . .  Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980)



You could be sitting now in a carrel

Turning some liver-spotted page,

Or rising in an elevator-cage

Toward Ladies Apparel.


You could be planting a raucous bed

Of salvia, in rubber gloves,

Or lunching through a screed of someone’s loves

With pitying head,


Or making some unhappy setter

Heel, or listening to bleak

Lecture on Schoenberg’s serial technique.

Isn’t this better? Richard Wilber (1921-2017)


A man is masturbating his heart out,

Swimming in the hammock of the Internet.

He rocks back and forth, his cursor points

And selects. He swings between repetitive extremes

Among the come-ons in the chat rooms.

But finally he clicks on one

World Wide Web woman who cares. Frederick Seidel (born 1936)


I have heard about the civilized,

the marriages run on talk, elegant and

honest, rational. But you and I are

savages. You come in with a bag,

hold it out to me in silence.

I know Moo Shu Pork when I smell it

and understand the message: I have

greatly pleased you last night. We sit

quietly side by side to eat,

the long pancakes dangling and spilling,

fragrant sauce dripping out,

and glance at each other askance, wordless,

the corners of our eyes clear as spear points

laid along the sill to show

a friend sits with a friend here. Sharon Olds (born 1942)