The Erotic Spirit: An Anthology of Poems of Sensuality, Love, and Longing [NOOK Book]

Overview

This extraordinary collection of poems—covering thirty centuries of poetry from around the world—celebrates the erotic spirit in all its forms, from the passion of sexual desire to the intense longing for spiritual union. Beginning with anonymous Egyptian love songs from the fifteenth century BCE and continuing up to today's finest poets, the book draws on a broad range of cultural and spiritual traditions, including ancient Greek and Roman erotic poems, ecstatic Sufi songs, Chinese elegies for lost lovers, and ...

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The Erotic Spirit: An Anthology of Poems of Sensuality, Love, and Longing

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Overview

This extraordinary collection of poems—covering thirty centuries of poetry from around the world—celebrates the erotic spirit in all its forms, from the passion of sexual desire to the intense longing for spiritual union. Beginning with anonymous Egyptian love songs from the fifteenth century BCE and continuing up to today's finest poets, the book draws on a broad range of cultural and spiritual traditions, including ancient Greek and Roman erotic poems, ecstatic Sufi songs, Chinese elegies for lost lovers, and bawdy English satires. Many of the poems are presented here in new translations by the editor, Sam Hamill, one of America's premier poet translators.

From the passion of sexual desire to the intense longing for spiritual union, this extraordinary collection of poems celebrates the erotic spirit in all of its forms from Egyptian love songs of the 15th century to today's finest poets. This book draws on an extraordinary range of cultural and spiritual traditions.

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Editorial Reviews

Donna Seaman
Hamill, poet and translator, has created a ravishing anthology of poetry celebrating the spiritual aspect of eros, the longing not only to merge one's body with another, but to join souls. This sacred eroticism, expressed in such poems as the "Song of Songs," has been experienced through the ages and around the world as a path to a perfect love, to God no less. Hamill has chosen poems from various cultures expressing this soulful passion, but he hasn't neglected the wry side of eros, that is, the often disappointing conflict between idealized desire and the complex realities of corporal love. Hamill begins with Sappho and other early Greeks and moves on to the ever-teasing Catullus and, of course, Ovid. His selections of love poems by T'ang dynasty Chinese poets and Japanese poets are either gentle or piquant, balancing the rarefied view of Buddhists with the practiced physicality of the Taoists. Sufi love poems stand in interesting contrast to such teasing British bards as Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvell, who in turn, seem quite facile in comparison to such earthy romantics as Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda. Other poets include Charles Baudelaire, Anna Akhmatova, Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley, Lucille Clifton, and Adrienne Rich.
From the Publisher
"Hamill, poet and translator, has created a ravishing anthology of poetry celebrating the spiritual aspect of eros, the longing not only to merge one's body with another, but to join souls."—Booklist

"From the swift grip and succor of today's Dorianne Laux to the flowers-in-a-shell plums of ancient Tzu Yeh, these are voices echoing off the walls of a cave, becoming one voice, one song of eros. I've seen no better collection."—Lily Pond, editor of Yellow Silk: A Journal of the Erotic Arts

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780834823976
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/29/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 864,654
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Sam Hamill has translated more than two dozen books from ancient Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Latin, and Estonian. He has published fourteen volumes of original poetry. He has been the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Mellon Fund. He was awarded the Decoración de la Universidad de Carabobo in Venezuela, the Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry from Washington Poets Association, and the PEN American Freedom to Write Award. He cofounded and served as Editor at Copper Canyon Press for thirty-two years and is the Director of Poets Against War.

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Read an Excerpt

From
the Preface

Thirty-five centuries ago, an Egyptian poet sat down under a sycamore tree and gazed out at a river where hungry crocodiles were sunning themselves on sandbars. And as he thought about his feelings for his beloved, who lived on the other shore, he composed a poem:

The little sycamore she planted

prepares to speak—the sound of rustling leaves


sweeter than honey.

On
its
lovely limbs

is new fruit and ripe fruit red as blood jasper,

and leaves of green jasper.

Her love awaits me on the distant shore.

The river flows between us,

crocodiles on the sandbars.

Yet
I plunge into the river,

my heart slicing currents, steady


as if I were walking.

O
my love,
it
is love


that gives me strength and courage,

love that fords the river.

A
thousand years after the writing of this poem, a Greek thinker would observe:
"The soul, to know itself, must gaze into a soul." And that is exactly the place to begin a reading of poems articulating the erotic spirit,
poetry rooted in the experience of interpenetrating fleshly and spiritual delight.

The word
erotic
comes from Eros, ancient Greek god of love, a mischievous trickster given to indulging in cruel pranks, but who remains forever seductive, young, and beautiful. Eros was a major deity in a number of mystery cults and represented the embodiment of desire. He was the son of the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility, Aphrodite, whom Hesiod said rose up from the seafoam
(aphros);
Homer called her "the Kyprian"; Plato said she symbolizes intellectual as well as sexual love; modern scholars trace her origins back to the Asian goddess Astarte.

Our
Egyptian poet discovers within himself a love so profound it moves him to risk life and limb, a love larger than life. He's never heard of the Greek god or goddess of love, and has his own gods and goddesses and little godlets of adoration to attend. He longs to let his body and her body become one, unified by love as soul searches soul until self is transcended and they come to know,
in a moment of passion and tender compassion, the very face of God. But how to know the self-indulgent desires of the flesh from the truest spiritual connections that transcend selfish impulses? Poets have wrestled with this equation since the dawn of language. One way to attempt resolution is to explore poetry of the erotic spirit as a handbook, a guidebook for care of the lover's soul.

Desire confounds us, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, pantheist, agnostic .
. . desire confounds us. Our vocabulary of the erotic spirit is often impoverished. Denis de Rougemont, in
Love in the Western World,
divides love into two types: "Christian love," or agape, a love between equals concluding in a marriage for the purpose of procreation; and eros, a love between "unequal" persons, rooted in passion, rejecting marriage, and growing ever more passionate through separation of the lovers. De
Rougemont claims eros entered Western civilization only through the Catharist heresy of the twelfth century. By my reckoning, he missed the mark by about eighteen centuries. Still, he is right when he claims a devotional foundation for the poetry, a poetics in which the Lady of the poem is representative of
Sancta Maria Sophia, figure of eternal wisdom and "bride of God." In this context, the longing for the perfection of love, for its spiritual realization as well as for its embodiment, is a longing for a physical manifestation of God's love and follows an attitude of adoration established in the "Song of Songs." It took an Inquisition to expel belief in such
"heresies."

The most universally influential anthology of poems of the erotic spirit, "The
Song of Songs," a collection with roots in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and
Egyptian, is an epithalamion, a marriage ceremony in verse, a celebration of the sanctity of the erotic spirit of love between partners. The lovers are
"equal"
and
erotically inspired. More than just a collection of poems, "The Song of Songs"
has come to be a single suite that is larger than the sum of its parts,
sequential in gathering power as phrases or images recur. It establishes familial connections. The bride is also a "sister," as are the women who bear witness; and the groom is a "brother," as are all men present. The bride says:

I
return from the wilderness

on the arm of my beloved whom I awakened


under the apple tree

where his mother bore him.

The groom then is a son of Eve who ate the apple of knowledge and was suddenly shamed by her nakedness and expelled from the perfect garden. The bride has found her groom not in Eden, but in the "wilderness" that is also a wilderness of the imagination. She returns with him to her family and its own garden, the praises of which both shall sing. The garden in such a context becomes a replica or an interpretation of Eden. The bride marries the son of the first mother, the mother of all mothers. The bride is variously described as a "wall" and a "door" and offers the "vineyard of
[herself]." She becomes the embodiment of the garden as wife (
wyf
originating in "veiled woman") and is joined to husband (a
husbandman
is
"one who patrols boundaries"). Her veil represents the mystery of the garden before love's labors inform its many possibilities. She is a door opening a future, a wall defining boundaries.

Beyond the beauty of rich procreative metaphor in the poem lies the intricate web of devotional love—between lovers, family, community, and God. The garden of the poem is not Eden, but a vineyard, a garden that must be a focus of labor to produce and sustain the wealth and happiness of the household. The garden interprets Eden, the work preparing the couple for the heavenly garden of the next life.

But if there is a heaven, there is also a hell, and there is also a terrible side of the erotic spirit. Few express it as well as Gaius Valerius Catullus
(84–54 CE) who is fond of echoing the ecstatic lines of Sappho while turning them to his own ends, often in an expression of frustration or plainspoken anger.

Your sins have brought my mind so low,

my
Lesbia, you damn even my devotion.

I
can neither praise your rare benevolence,


nor love you less for your excesses.

Catullus understands something about the nature of devotion, a lot about passion, but he cannot master the sacred. He becomes a paradigm for all the tortured lovers who will follow him down the centuries, passionately proclaiming his love while simultaneously complaining that his beloved will not change her behavior to his satisfaction. In his own way, Catullus accepts her as she is, happily complaining and proclaiming his devotion all the way, a brilliant albeit decadent poet in a decadent time.

All cultures produce "erotic art" of many kinds, expressing the erotic spirit in poetry, visual arts, music, and dance. From the tantric Buddhist texts of India to Taoist love manuals to the
Gnostic
Gospels,
the erotic spirit has been expressed in inventiveness, in constant discovery in the play of ceremonial (religious) devotion. In the love of the dark lord Krishna for the milkmaid Radha or of the ecstatic Mirabai for Krishna, in the love of
Zen master lkkyu for his Lady Mori or the poems of Robert Herrick, we find again and again the expression of love in which any distinction between the religious or spiritual and the carnal are utterly obliterated. Kenneth Rexroth has written, "Erotic love is one of the highest forms of contemplation."



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Table of Contents

Preface xiv

ANONYMOUS
EGYPTIAN (ca. 15
th–10th centuries BCE)

The little sycamore she planted
1
My lover is a lotus blossom
2
He is the love-wolf
3

SAPPHO
(6th century BCE)

He is almost a god, a man beside you
4
I
love
5
Eros seizes and shakes my very soul
6

ANAKREON
(ca. 570 BCE)

Weaving a garland long ago
7

ASKLEPIADOS
(ca. 320 BCE)

Think how unspeakably sweet
8
Didyme waved an olive branch at me
9

from
THE SONG OF SONGS (ca. 3rd century BCE)
10

PRAXILLA
(ca. 2nd century BCE?)

Peeking in through
19

ANONYMOUS
GREEK (ca. 2nd century BCE?)

Whether
I see you now
20

RUFINUS
(ca. 2nd century BCE?)

Her foot sparkled like silver
21
How could I have known
22

MARCUS
ARGENTARIUS (ca. 60 BCE)

I
can't bear to watch your hips
23
Her perfect naked breast
24

CATULLUS
(ca. 84–54 BCE)

He is like a god
25
My woman says she'd rather have me
26
Sweet sparrow, my lover's pet
27
Your sins have brought my mind so low
28
My lovely, sweet Ipsithilla
29

PHILODEMOS
(fl. 75–35 BCE)

Xanthippe,
singing at her lyre
30

OVID
(43 BCE–17 CE)

Elegy to His Mistress
31

PETRONIUS
ARBITER (d. 66 CE)

Doing,
a Filthy Pleasure Is, and Short
33

TZU
YEN (4th century)

Busy in the Spring
34
A
Smile
35
Song 36

AGATHIAS
SCHOLASTICUS (ca. 531–580)

Beautiful
Melite, in the throes of middle age
37

COMETAS
CHARTULARIUS (ca. 6th century)

Phyllis,
loving Demophoon
38

PAULUS
SILENTIARIUS (d. ca. 575)

And there lay the lovers, lip-locked
39
Come,
give me kisses, Rhodope
40
Take off your clothes, my love!
41
Even clothed in wrinkles, dear Philinna
42

LI
PO (701–762)


Women of Yueh
43

Blue Water
44

Resentment Near the Jade Steps
45

Longing for Someone
46

OTOMO
NO YAKAMOCHI (718–785)


Late evening finally comes
47

When my wife left home
48

ANONYMOUS
CHINESE (T'ang dynasty)

Lament 49

YUAN
CHEN (779–831)

Remembering 50
Bamboo
Mat
51
Elegy 52
Empty
House
54

LI
HO (791–817)

Melancholic
55

ARIWARA
NO NARIHIRA (825–880)

Is that the same moon?
56

LI
HSUN (855–930)

To the Tune: The Wine Spring ("Eternal autumn rain—")
57
To the Tune: The Wine Spring ("Rain falls . . .")
58

ANONYMOUS
JAPANESE (10th century)

Early morning glows
59
As night follows night
60

ONO
NO KOMACHI (fl. 9th century)

I
long for him most
61

IZUMI
SHIKIBU (970–1030)

My black hair tangled
62
When
I think of you
63

LIU
YUNG (987–1053)

Song 64

SAMUEL
HA-NAGID (993–1056)

I'd sell my soul for that fawn 65

That's it—I love that fawn
66

OU-YANG
HSIU (1007–1072)

Faint
Thunder Drifts beneath the Willow
67
The
Pool Is Full of Autumn Sky, Rippled by Gentle Breezes
68
Deep,
Deep in the Shade of the Court
69

SU
TUNG-P'O (1037–1101)

Remembering
My Wife
70

LI
CH'ING-CHAO (1084–1154)

Plum
Blossoms
71
Spring at Wu Ling
72
Butterflies
Love Flowers
73
The
Washing Stream
74
Boat of Stars
75

MAHADEVIYAKKA
(12th century)

On
Her Decision to Stop Wearing Clothes
76

JELALUDDIN
RUMI (1207–1273)

Like
This
77
You
That Love Lovers
80
When
I See Your Face
81
What
I want is to see your face
82

HSU
TSAI-SSU (ca. 1300)

On
Love
84

FRANCESCO
PETRARCH (1304–1374)

If constancy in love . . .
85
Love delivers to me its sweetest thoughts
86

IKKYU
SOJUN (1394–1481)

Face to Face with My Lover on Daito's Birthday
87
Song of the Dream Garden
88
My
Hand Is Lady Mon's Hand
89
Night
Talk in a Dream Chamber
90
My
Love's Dark Place Is Fragrant like Narcissus
91
Elegy 92

KABIR
(1398–1448)

Give up erotic games, Kabir
93
Sometimes,
everywhere I look
94

VIDYAPATI
(15th century)

First
Love
95

MIRABAI
(1498–1550)

Dark
One
96
Don't block my way, friend
97
Having wet me with love
98
A
glimpse of your body
99

WILLIAM
SHAKESPEARE (1564–1616)

Sonnet
CXXIX
100

BIHARI
(1595–1664)

As if to lift my babe-in-arms
101
When
I found her in the bathing pool
102
All day she studies her new love-bite in the mirror
103
Loveliness beyond words
104

ROBERT
HERRICK (1591–1674)

Delight in Disorder
105
Clothes
Do but Cheat and Cozen Us
106
Upon the Nipples of Julia's Breast
107
To
His Mistress
108

ANNE
BRADSTREET (1612–1672)

To
My Dear and Loving Husband
109

SE
PRAJ (17th century)

Your breasts will not fall
110

ANDREW
MARVELL (1621–1678)

To
His Coy Mistress
111

JOHN
DRYDEN (1631–1700)

Song for a Girl
113

SOR
JUANA INES DE LA CRUZ (1651–1695)

Which
Contains a Fantasy Satisfied with a Love Befitting It
114

JONATHAN
SWIFT (1667–1745)

Oysters 115

WILLIAM
BLAKE (1757–1827)

from
Visions
116
The
Question Answer'd
117

JOHN
KEATS (1795–1821)

Sharing
Eve's Apple
118

ANONYMOUS
SOMALI (ca. 19th century)

Woman's
Love Song
119

WALT
WHITMAN (1819–1892)

from
I Sing the Body Electric
120
from
I Sing the Body Electric
122
A
Woman Waits for Me
124
I
Am He That Aches with Love
127
City of Orgies
128

CHARLES
BAUDELAIRE (1821–1867)

Possessed 129

ANONYMOUS
CHINOOK (ca. 1888)

I
won't care
130

EMILY
DICKINSON (1830–1886)

Wild
Nights
131

ANONYMOUS
KWAKIUTL (ca. 1896)

Fires run through my body . . .
132

ANONYMOUS
INUIT (ca. 1894–97)

Oxaitoq's
Song
133

PAUL
LAURENCE DUNBAR (1872–1906)

Passion and Love
134
Longing 135

ANTONIO
MACHADO (1875–1939)

If
I were a poet
136

YOSANO
AKIKO (1878–1942)

Spring quickly passes
137
A
thousand strands
138
Are you still longing
139

ANNA
AKHMATOVA (1889–1966)

The
Guest
140

FEDERICO
GARCIA-LORCA (1898–1936)

The
Unfaithful Wife
142

PABLO
NERUDA (1904–1973)

Body of a woman 145

Love
Song
146

KENNETH
REXROTH (1905–1982)

Sottoportico
San Zaccana
147
Quietly 148

SA'ID
'AQL (b. 1912)

More
Beautiful than Your Eyes
149

THOMAS
MCGRATH (1916–1990)

A
Coal Fire in Winter
151

HAYDEN
CARRUTH (b. 1921)

Two
Sonnets
152

DENISE
LEVERTOV (b. 1923)

Our
Bodies
154
The
Mutes
156

CAROLYN
KIZER (b. 1925)

The
Glass
158

ROBERT
CREELEY (b. 1926)

A
Form of Women
159
The
Rain 161

ADRIENNE
RICH (b. 1929)

from
Twenty-one Love Poems
162

ROBERTO
SOSA (b. 1930)

The
Most Ancient Names of Fire
163

ROBERT
KELLY (b. 1935)

Poem for Easter
165

LUCILLE
CLIFTON (b. 1936)

the women you are accustomed to
167
song at midnight
168

JAAN
KAPLINSKI (b. 1941)

Night comes and extinguishes the numbers . . .
170

SAM
HAMILL (b. 1943)

Ten
Thousand Sutras
171

GIOCONDA
BELL (b. 1948)

from
Brief Lessons in Eroticism I
177

OLGA
BROUMAS (b. 1949)

For
Every Heart
177
Perpetua
178

MAURYA
SIMON (b. 1950)

Shiva's
Prowess
179

DORIANNE
LAUX (b. 1952)

The
Lovers
181
The
Thief
183

Notes on the Poets
185
Credits 198



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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2013

    A wonderful collection of beautiful poetry.

    A must have for all poetic souls

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2005

    For the True Romantic

    This book smutty or cheap. The poetry runs from physical longing to sexual passion to spiritual love and all points in between. The poems are carefully selected to highlight how much the human spirit has remained the same through the centuries when it comes to love and passion. Especially moving are the poems of everyday observations -- missing someone because their shoes are there but they're not -- which may have been made yesterday or 1,000 years ago. I highly recommend this book for the romantic at heart. I gave this book to my husband shortly before our marriage when he had to go out of the country for a few months. I slipped it into his suitcase and he found it when he unpacked. Each day, he typed out one of the poems and emailed it to me with his thoughts so that we could read the book 'together.' By the time we got through the book, it was time for him to come home again.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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