The Love That Dare Not Pique Is Lame

I love language, and she loves me. Entices forever (unless Alzheimer's or apoplexy finally rob me of the family jewels). Continually seduces.  Thinks I'm sexy and I, she. Loves my mind for what it might have been. Never upbraids or flags. She, my language, continually wants to get naked with me.  It's been the love that piques, peaks and peeks, all throughout my life. Goddamn, how I love her!

There. We got that out of the way.

In a steamy summer, ages ago, I struggled through oral examinations (losing twenty pounds in the process via perspiration) and finally had a Master of Arts in hand. Very fortuitously, thanks to my wonderful Committee Chairman and Spiritual Advisor, Harry (he of innumerable beer parties), I also managed to snag a good gig almost immediately.

I was in harness, ready to begin professing.

For the first time in my life, I felt halfway secure. Playing with the East Side Pharaohs had always been hand-to-mouth, with the much more frugal, sensible and always benevolent Flapper often bailing me out with short-term loans to keep me afloat.

As an Assistant Professor, on a tenure track if you please, I could actually loosen the belt a notch now. I mention this, for it was probably the stability the ed-biz provided (to invoke Tom Lehrer's apt phrase) which allowed me to think bigger thoughts now. I knew I had an empty cranium just dying to be glutted, and for the first time in my life, could afford to be expansive and really satisfy the craving.


Which is probably why I fell in with a new gang then: John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. You see, without economic ulcers churning my gut in an endless acid bath as before, I could now spend evenings (in between preparing lessons for courses I had never even taken myself) luxuriating in the world of newly afforded books. My library grew by leaps and bounds.


One of the very first tomes I fell upon in those pre-Amazon days, was a beautiful leather-bound edition of William Cullen Bryant's classic
Library of World Poetry. It's a magical book, soft and squishy binding, deep blue cover (my favorite color), gold embossed titling on the spine, gilt-tipped pages. I found it at B. Dalton's, the best book-seller in town then, as the Readmore sadly had faded away, much like a Hollywood diva subsisting on a single can of Metrecal per day. Or Twiggy.

Driving to my newly acquired little home (courtesy of recently found academic employment and a future free of lying for food stamps--thanks though, Lyndon, for propping me up in the meanwhile!) from the Madison East Shopping center that brisk and dark October night, a gigantic plastic bag stacked full of books tickling me on the front car seat (a sky-blue Plymouth Volare station wagon, with manual transmission and enormous four-on-the-floor stick-shift fitting my temperament), I was excited.


I thought of the sex education retreat the Presbyterian Church I was saddled with threw for us back in junior high. That weekend, about thirty of us punks congregated at a 4-H camp in nearby Boone to be indoctrinated on what sex means. Talk about the blind leading the blind! While it's certainly true that ministers get more sex than the rest of us, they don't really understand its true purpose.


As part of the mesmeric therapy ladled upon us in several incredibly dull sessions--can you imagine that subject lulling a person to sleep!--we were shown a seedy 16mm film, probably made in the 1950's. It was clogged to the hilt with dust, lint and hairballs, numerous amateurish Scotch-tape splices making it skip and jam the projector repeatedly, narrated by your typical dork from back then whom you just knew wore adhesive tape repaired horn-rimmed glasses and probably only attained coition in inky darkness while pretending not to notice, certainly not caring whether the recipient was having a good time or not,  a two-bag job as it were. So, the movie finally got to the spicy part, all about stimulation. And there it was in all its glory: a beautiful Greek statue of a muscular chap, an Hellenic model molded of cheap clay, but with a little coloring added to the nipples for titillation, bulging deltoids and pectorals, but no legs below the all-important naughty bits which were actually there, drooping and appearing quite sad. (No pubic hair, though; apparently Plato espoused epilation two-thousand years ago).

As the erstwhile announcer rattled off his spiel concerning arousal,  believe it or not, the statue became rigid, thanks to the magic of stop-motion animation!

We all burst out laughing, and the retreat was peremptorily brought to a close one day prematurely. We were sent home by the Presbyterian Church in shame. Even back then I thought: what did you expect? Any sane person is going to giggle at a statue getting a...a...well...you know. May I refer you to Priapus in Our Midst, if you're still in the dark? It's hopeless admonishing civilized persons, even kids, that something isn't funny when they're laughing their buns off.


Which brings us back to the darkened car, filled with new books.


Locking the car in the garage, heading inside, finally ensconced on the tweed sofa (a couple years later it would collapse while making out with a band tart I met one night--if furniture could talk...), I pulled out the new acquisitions. Opening the
Library of World Poetry, I randomly struck upon Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats, and immediately emulated that film statue of fifteen years earlier, this time with no mirth.

Keats would come to be one of the more important influences in my life, my philosophy. Beauty, truth, love, senses, the infinite...he knew them all in his short 26 years and magnanimously shared what he found with me.


Someone once said I seem to have been a babe magnet in my steamy past. Well! Maybe, but apparently I'm an equal-opportunity sex-machine. I'm thinking of the day I spent at John Keats house in Hampstead, England, and had to fight off the romantic overtures of the kindly male curator running the shebang. Yeah, he was a nice guy, but sorry, I prefer brunettes...especially if they're curvacious where it counts...and bumps under the jersey don't hurt, either...

Here's the Keats poem that set me on the quest, one of the most beautiful
ever in the English language:
Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
--John Keats, 1820
I was not only hooked on Keats now, but all poetry, for indeed it is nothing less than sex with perennial release. And that's what I wanted.

Next installment: Italy, the Aged and Amore

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