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Old 04-24-2017, 02:52 AM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Default "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" poems

Ralph's nostalgic piece about the love poems of yesteryear made me think of how many so-called love poems are actually about sexual frustration.

A common theme is the older lover, still fixated on the attractions of the young and the beautiful, in vain. (SPOILER ALERT: the young and the beautiful ALSO tend to prefer the attractions of the young and the beautiful. Who knew?)

Piazza Piece
John Crowe Ransom

--I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying
To make you hear. Your ears are soft and small
And listen to an old man not at all;
They want the young men’s whispering and sighing.
But see the roses on your trellis dying
And hear the spectral singing of the moon;
For I must have my lovely lady soon,
I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying.

--I am a lady young in beauty waiting
Until my truelove comes, and then we kiss.
But what grey man among the vines is this
Whose words are dry and faint as in a dream?
Back from my trellis, Sir, before I scream!
I am a lady young in beauty waiting.
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Old 04-24-2017, 03:26 AM
William A. Baurle William A. Baurle is offline
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Deleted all of that.

It couldn't possibly go anywhere but badly.

Last edited by William A. Baurle; 04-24-2017 at 09:17 AM.
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Old 04-24-2017, 11:26 AM
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Richard Meyer Richard Meyer is offline
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This Ransom poem has been a longtime favorite of mine. While the scenario of a lecherous old man propositioning a beautiful young woman is suggested at the surface level of the poem, I see the scene as largely emblematic.

The two characters (the old man and the young lady) seem to represented very different, even opposite, attitudes or philosophical outlooks about life and love and the reality of things. The old man seems to be the voice of death, and he points out that decline, decay, and ruined expectations are laws of nature. The young lady, on the other hand, represents romantic dreams, idealized notions about love and life.

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Old 04-24-2017, 03:35 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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How about Dante's Divine Comedy? It seems to fit the bill, minus the sexual frustration. His love for Beatrice was certainly (per the Vita nuova) unrequited.
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Old 04-24-2017, 05:37 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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I like that more abstract interpretation, Richard.

On a literal level, I don't actually see the man as "old," despite his self-deprecating reference as such, and I don't see him as creepily, inappropriately lecherous, either.

But he's definitely in love with a romantic ideal, not a person. As is the young woman, too, passively "waiting/ until my true love comes, and then we kiss." She may or may not have a particular person in mind, but either way her "true love" seems secondary to her own self-image as a young, beautiful leading lady.

When I was eighteen, a middle-aged man became obsessed with me, or rather with what a man's ability to "win" a young, slim, large-busted blonde represents in our culture; and my boyfriend at the time also seemed obsessed with that same idea of me, rather than with who I really was. Both guys claimed to love me intensely, while demonstrating ZERO interest in my thoughts and feelings and goals and desires. And they were both very big on being seen monopolizing my attention in public. I was a symbol to be flaunted before other men. (In fact, they often seemed to care far more about what random other men might be thinking than what I, their supposed beloved, actually thought.)

At least our y=2x age difference eventually helped the older guy realize how delusional it was to claim to love someone that he didn't even bother to regard as an autonomous, thinking, feeling human being. My boyfriend (y=x+5) never figured that out.

I think the sonnet does a great job of showing that these two characters inhabit separate universes.
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Old 04-24-2017, 05:38 PM
William A. Baurle William A. Baurle is offline
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Certainly, some old geezer panting beneath a young girl's window doesn't paint a very pretty picture, does it? Obviously, in that case - though I agree with Richard that the poem has deeper meaning - the old coot is acting like a creep, though I don't know if I'd consider his behavior predatorial. Predators seek out unwilling victims, while this speaker is seeking consent, though in his wheezy, creepy way.

And I would think anyone with a brain larger than a pea realizes that the young and beautiful prefer the attractions of the young and beautiful?

I think, Julie, that you're failing to make a crucial distinction between love and sexual appetite. If we're going to talk about love poems, then I assume we mean poems written in passion, about a feeling of love for the beloved? Being in love with someone is far more than simply desiring physical intimacy with them. When you love someone, everything about them is rewarding. Their very presence is rewarding, and being apart from them is painful: not because you can't have sex with them, but because their absence is painful. Of course you know this. And I think anyone who posts on this BB knows that. But it bears mentioning.

My reading has been fairly extensive when it comes to poetry, and I can't think of a great deal of love poetry by someone much older seeking a much younger lover, at least not off the top of my head, though no doubt I could find it if I were to look for it.

Think of the Elizabethans, just as an example, when amorous love poetry was so common and ubiquitous: Shakespeare, Sidney, Marlowe, and dozens of others. Sidney wrote one of the greatest, and most passionate, sonnet sequences in English, and he died at 31. Not exactly some pathetic old codger with a case of the hots.

I'll cite one of my favorite poems by Sidney, which I've cited elsewhere:

Astrophel and Stella


Because I breathe not love to every one,
Nor do not use set colours for to wear,
Nor nourish special locks of vowd hair,
Nor give each speech a full point of a groan,
The courtly nymphs, acquainted with the moan
Of them which in their lips Love's standard bear,
"What, he!" say they of me; "now I dare swear
He cannot love; no, no, let him alone."
And think so still, so Stella know my mind!
Profess, indeed, I do not Cupid's art;
But you, fair maids, at length this true shall find,
That his right badge is worn but in the heart.
Dumb swans, not chattering pies, do lovers prove;
They love indeed who quake to say they love.


It was also fashionable, not only among the English poets, but those of other nationalities, to give the beloved a different name, and a very common theme is the author or narrator keeping his/her feelings a secret, for fear of giving offense. This, however, especially nowadays, is viewed as being creepy also. And that's the thing that bothers me.

I don't give a fig if people call out some fool for stalking someone, or for being overly obsessed or fixated on another person - and they especially deserve to be called out if they are acting on their obsession and becoming a nuisance. What I object to is calling someone creepy, or predatorial, simply for having unreturned feelings for another person and expressing that pain in some way, be it in music or poetry, or some other art.

And yes, there is a lot of sexual frustration in the world, but that's a part of being human, more so in some people than in others. We can't all be outgoing, socially apt individuals. Some of us are painfully shy and socially inept, and we're not out to hurt anyone. Well, not all of us, and probably only a relative few of these types are actually a threat to others. If anything, we make a fetish of suffering, and make art out of it - which comes across to others as wrongheaded, and even creepy. I've written only a small handful of poems about my feelings of unrequited love (and posted one here, which went over well), because of the very real concern I have when it comes to expressing those feelings in a way that won't come across as creepy. By and large, I've kept my sexual feelings to myself as a poet, though I've funneled a good deal of my pain into my song lyrics and fiction - and various places online.

Good or bad art, IMO, depends on the nature of the expression of those feelings of frustration and longing for intimacy. It requires delicacy and care, and good taste. Some people got it, some don't.

Last edited by William A. Baurle; 04-24-2017 at 05:55 PM.
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Old 04-24-2017, 05:48 PM
William A. Baurle William A. Baurle is offline
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We cross-posted, Julie.

I can see that you have very justified feelings due to those experiences. Though at the same time, I don't have much experience being the object of someone else's desires. I also don't know what it's like to be a woman or to be regarded as a possession, or some kind of trophy-mate.

As far as I know, only two women have ever loved me (my ex-wife confessed to me that she never loved me). The first was a much older woman, who treated me very well, and whom I treated with great devotion; the other is an old friend I now talk with on Facebook. I never knew that she was in love with me when we were younger. I regret not noticing those feelings, which she never expressed. I don't return the attraction, or the strong sexual feelings, but I was not offended in the least when she unloaded all of this on me. In fact, being that I haven't had sex in 12 years, it was rather flattering, and gave me a new sense of self-worth. (I've only been with 2 women in my whole life, that older woman I mentioned, and my ex-wife, as it happens.)

I will say that being treated as an object for someone's pleasure would never be pleasing to me, I don't care if she was the greatest beauty in the world. I would always expect to be treated with respect and decency.

Last edited by William A. Baurle; 04-24-2017 at 05:51 PM.
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Old 04-25-2017, 01:33 AM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Definitions of love vary widely. The Greeks tried to narrow things down with their four different words for four different kinds of love--C.S. Lewis wrote about this. But even from a classical perspective, the difference between love and lust seems to be in the eye of the beholder.

It seems clear to me that we don't have much choice over whom or what we find sexually attractive. (Cupid's carelessness or naughtiness with his arrows, from which not even the king of the gods was immune, is an obvious classical metaphor for this.) The best we can manage is some level of conscious control over whether we will pursue what attracts us, and if so, how.

The subconscious still has an unruly will of its own, though. Witness Chip Livingston's excruciatingly awkward "Nocturnal Admissions".

I like how Bill Knott discusses a lack of sexual chemistry in "The Consolations of Sociobiology":

—Then you explained your DNA calls for
Meaner genes than mine and since you are merely

So to speak its external expression etcet
Ergo among your lovers I’ll never be ...


                              I see: it’s not you
Who is not requiting me, it’s something in you
Over which you have no say says no to me.
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Old 04-25-2017, 03:04 AM
William A. Baurle William A. Baurle is offline
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I have been wracking my brains, shuffling through books, looking for what I mean when I refer to the expression of a sacred, even divine love, which is not just lust. Every animal feels lust, the hardwired imperative to procreate, the itch. That is not what I refer to when I refer to passionate love poems or poetry. It's manifestly evident that some people don't give a tinker's damn about love when it comes to getting their rocks off. As for those people: fine, whatever floats your boat. Have a blast.

But there are also people who see a necessary co-dependence between love and the urge for physical, sexual intimacy. Like myself. I don't go after one-nite-stands, and I would never be with a prostitute. It's all or nuthin' for me. And I know from having many acquaintances that I'm not the only person who feels this way.

Anyway, finally, this beautiful poem popped into my arena of consciousness, and yes, it's about as delicate, as careful, and dare I say, as gentlemanly a way to express devotional love that I can currently bring to mind:


He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

— William Butler Yeats

I don't know what to make of the Bill Knott poem. I don't quite grasp it. But it seems intensely-felt.

I have not clicked the Lewis or the Livingston links yet, but I will tomorrow.

Last edited by William A. Baurle; 04-25-2017 at 03:07 AM.
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Old 04-25-2017, 01:56 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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The Yeats is lovely, Bill.

Below, a forty-seven-year-old narrator grieves that the woman he loves isn't able to fall in love with a man with "My hundred of gray hairs...My mountain belly and my rocky face," despite his having poured out his heart and soul to her in poetry.

It's poignant, but I suspect that the real problem here is the man's own apparent inability to fall in love with an available woman his own age, with a similarly time-worn body, who would presumably be more receptive to his poetic charms.

My Picture Left in Scotland
by Ben Jonson

I now think Love is rather deaf than blind,
For else it could not be
That she,
Whom I adore so much, should so slight me
And cast my love behind.
I'm sure my language to her was as sweet,
And every close did meet
In sentence of as subtle feet,
As hath the youngest He
That sits in shadow of Apollo's tree.

O, but my conscious fears,
That fly my thoughts between,
Tell me that she hath seen
My hundred of gray hairs,
Told seven and forty years
Read so much waste, as she cannot embrace
My mountain belly and my rocky face;
And all these through her eyes have stopp'd her ears.

A few poets celebrate the joys of longstanding, stable relationships--I recently ran across a charming one in Spanish that I should probably try to translate at some point--but the mood swings of the initial infatuation definitely make more dramatic material for a poet to work with. Which is probably why Ronsard kept moving on to new mistresses so often--Pregnancy has now changed those perfect, perky little tits I used to write sonnets about, so it's time again to turn my attention to another teenaged muse!

Longstanding, stable relationships mainly get poeticized, if they are at all, only in retrospect, when the spouse is no longer around to appreciate the resulting poem. This may be due in part to the widespread misconception that the whole point of getting married is to be able to take one's partner for granted, and dispense with the bother of having to woo her (or him) anymore.
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