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.
 
From Prologue to “The Wife of Bath”
By Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
 

YE sov’reign Wives! give ear, and understand:
Thus shall ye speak, and exercise command;
For never was it given to mortal man
To lie so boldly as we women can:
Forswear the fact, tho’ seen with both his eyes,        5
And call your maids to witness how he lies.
  Hark, old Sir Paul! (it was thus I used to say)
Whence is our neighbour’s wife so rich and gay?
Treated, caress’d, where’er she’s pleased to roam—
I sit in tatters, and immured at home.        10
Why to her house dost thou so oft repair?
Art thou so am’rous? and is she so fair?
If I but see a cousin or a friend,
Lord! how you swell and rage like any fiend!
But you reel home, a drunken beastly bear,        15
Then preach till midnight in your easy chair;
Cry, wives are false, and every woman evil,
And give up all that’s female to the devil.
  If poor (you say), she drains her husband’s purse;
If rich, she keeps her priest, or something worse;        20
If highly born, intolerably vain,
Vapours and pride by turns possess her brain;
Now gaily mad, now sourly splenetic,
Freakish when well, and fretful when she’s sick.
If fair, then chaste she cannot long abide,        25
By pressing youth attack’d on every side;
If foul, her wealth the lusty lover lures,
Or else her wit some fool-gallant procures,
Or else she dances with becoming grace,
Or shape excuses the defects of face.
*        *        *        *        *
        30
Take all the freedoms of a married life;
I know thee for a virtuous, faithful wife.
  Lord! when you have enough, what need you care
How merrily soever others fare?
Tho’ all the day I give and take delight,        35
Doubt not sufficient will be left at night.
’Tis but a just and rational desire
To light a taper at a neighbour’s fire.
There’s danger too, you think, in rich array,
And none can long be modest that are gay.        40
The cat, if you but singe her tabby skin,
The chimney keeps, and sits content within:
But once grown sleek, will from her corner run,
Sport with her tail, and wanton in the sun:
She licks her fair round face, and frisks abroad        45
To show her fur, and to be catterwaw’d.
*        *        *        *        *
If once my husband’s arm was o’er my side,
“What! so familiar with your spouse?” I cried:
I levied first a tax upon his need;
Then let him—’t was a nicety indeed!        50
Let all mankind this certain maxim hold;
Marry who will, our sex is to be sold.
With empty hands no tassels you can lure,
But fulsome love for gain we can endure;
For gold we love the impotent and old,        55
And heave, and pant, and kiss, and cling, for gold.
Yet with embraces curses oft I mixt,
Then kiss’d again, and chid, and rail’d betwixt.
Well, I may make my will in peace, and die,
For not one word in man’s arrears am I.        60
To drop a dear dispute I was unable,
Ev’n though the Pope himself had sat at table;
But when my point was gain’d, then thus I spoke:
“Billy, my dear, how sheepishly you look!
Approach, my spouse, and let me kiss thy cheek;        65
Thou shouldst be always thus resign’d and meek!”
*        *        *        *        *
The wives of all my family have ruled
Their tender husbands, and their passions cool’d.
Fie! ’t is unmanly thus to sigh and groan:
What! would you have me to yourself alone?        70
Why, take me, love! take all and every part!
Here’s your revenge! you love it at your heart.
Would I vouchsafe to sell what Nature gave,
You little think what custom I could have.
But see! I’m all your own—nay hold—for shame!        75
What means my dear?—indeed—you are to blame.
  Thus with my first three lords I pass’d my life,
A very woman and a very wife.
What sums from these old spouses I could raise
Procur’d young husbands in my riper days.        80
Tho’ past my bloom, not yet decay’d was I,
Wanton and wild, and chatter’d like a pie.
In country dances still I bore the bell,
And sung as sweet as evening Philomel.
To clear my quail-pipe, and refresh my soul,        85
Full oft I drain’d the spicy nut-brown bowl;
Rich luscious wines, that youthful blood improve,
And warm the swelling veins to feats of love:
For ’t is as sure as cold engenders hail,
A liquorish mouth must have a lech’rous tail:        90
Wine lets no lover unrewarded go,
As all true gamesters by experience know.
*        *        *        *        *
  My fourth spouse was not exceeding true;
He kept, ’t was thought, a private miss or two;
But all that score I paid—As how? you’ll say:        95
Not with my body, in a filthy way;
But I so dress’d, and danc’d, and drank, and din’d
And view’d a friend with eyes so very kind,
As stung his heart, and made his marrow fry,
With burning rage and frantic jealousy.        100
His soul, I hope, enjoys eternal glory,
For here on earth I was his purgatory.
*        *        *        *        *
  Now for my fifth lov’d lord, the last and best;
(Kind Heav’n afford him everlasting rest!)
Full hearty was his love, and I can show        105
The tokens on my ribs in black and blue;
Yet with a knack my heart he could have won,
While yet the smart was shooting in the bone.
How quaint an appetite in women reigns!
Free gifts we scorn, and love what costs us pains.        110
Let men avoid us, and on them we leap;
A glutted market makes provision cheap.
  In pure good will I took this jovial spark,
Of Oxford he, a most egregious clerk.
He boarded with a widow in the town,        115
A trusty gossip, one dame Alison;
Full well the secrets of my soul she knew,
Better than e’er our parish priest could do.
*        *        *        *        *
This clerk, myself, and my good neighbour Alse,
To see, be seen, to tell, and gather tales.        120
Visits to every church we daily paid,
And march’d in every holy masquerade;
The stations duly and the vigils kept;
Not much we fasted, but scarce ever slept.
At sermons, too, I shone in scarlet gay:        125
The wasting moth ne’er spoil’d my best array;
The cause was this, I wore it every day.
  ’Twas when fresh May her early blossoms yields,
This clerk and I were walking in the fields.
We grew so intimate, I can’t tell how,        130
I pawn’d my honour, and engaged my vow,
If e’er I laid my husband in his urn,
That he, and only he, should serve my turn.
We straight struck hands, the bargain was agreed;
I still have shifts against a time of need.        135
The mouse that always trusts to one poor hole
Can never be a mouse of any soul.
  I vow’d I scarce could sleep since first I knew him,
And durst be sworn he had bewitch’d me to him;
If e’er I slept I dream’d of him alone,        140
And dreams foretell, as learned men have shown.
All this I said; but dreams, Sirs, I had none:
I follow’d but my crafty crony’s lore,
Who bid me tell this lie—and twenty more.
*        *        *        *        *
 
 
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