Verse > Anthologies > T. R. Smith, ed. > Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse
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T. R. Smith, comp.  Poetica Erotica: Rare and Curious Amatory Verse.  1921–22.
 
Maidenhead
By Abraham Cowley (1618–1667)
 
(From The Mistress, 1668)

1.
THOU worst estate ev’n of the sex that’s worst;
  Therefore by Nature made at first,
  T’ attend the weakness of our birth!
Slight outward Curtain to the Nuptial Bed!
Thou Case to buildings not yet finished!        5
  Who like the Center of the Earth,
  Dost heaviest things attract to thee,
Though Thou a point imaginary be.
 
2.
A thing God thought for Mankind so unfit,
  That his first Blessing ruin’d it.        10
  Cold frozen Nurse of fiercest fires!
Who, like the parched plains of Africk’s sand,
(A sterile and a wild unlovely Land)
  Art always scorch’d with hot desires,
  Yet barren quite, didst thou not bring        15
Monsters and Serpents forth, thy self to sting!
 
3.
Thou that bewitchest men, whilst thou dost dwell
  Like a close Conjurer in his Cell!
  And fear’st the day’s discov’ring Eye!
No wonder ’tis at all that thou shouldst be        20
Such tedious and unpleasant Company,
  Who liv’st so Melancholily!
  Thou thing of subtle, slippery kind,
Which Women lose, and yet no Man can find.
 
4.
Although I think thou never found wilt be,
        25
  Yet I’m resolv’d to search for thee;
  The search it self rewards the pains;
So, though the Chymick his great secret miss,
(For neither it in Art nor Nature is)
  Yet things well worth his toil he gains:        30
  And does his Charge and Labour pay
With good unsought experiments by the way.
 
5.
Say what thou wilt, Chastity is no more
  Thee, than a Porter is his Door.
  In vain to honour they pretend,        35
Who guard themselves with Ramparts and with Walls;
Them only Fame the truly valiant calls,
  Who can an open breach defend.
  Of thy quick loss can be no doubt,
Within so Hated, and so Lov’d without.        40
 
 
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