Editor’s note: This post was originally published in February 2015. We’ve selected it as one of the posts we’re republishing for our 10th anniversary celebrations in May 2017.
It would be unwise, unfair, and impossible to list the sexiest poems in the Western tradition. Sex, you don’t need me to tell you, is variable, personal, and subjective. “Greatness is, too,” you might add. Maybe it is. But there is something about the poetry on this list that transcends the merely “good.” These poems, which span from antiquity to today, are great poems. There is something egalitarian, too, about this selection, which more or less chose itself. Sex as a poetic subject has a way of equalizing discourse by way of its universality.
I will only add that many of these poems are from antiquity, though, because the more you look at it, there is a kind of Hollywood pre-code logic at work: the Greek and Latin poets featured here were unencumbered by Judeo-Christian norms. As always, too, it’s not possible to include everything. Add your sex poem candidates in the comments. Also: I’ve gone light on the commentary — choosing instead to feature snippets of each poem — because nothing kills the joy of a sex poem like gratuitous notation.
“Fresh Cheese and Cream,” Robert Herrick
Note: This is the entire poem.
WOULD ye have fresh cheese and cream?
Julia’s breast can give you them.
And, if more, each nipple cries
To your cream here’s strawberries.