Poetic Spotlight: Kisses

Yes, I’m sure the the title has you wondering, but let me assure you there’s no reason for worry: I’m not handing out kisses for the crowd. Awkward moment: evaded. At least, it’s not my kisses I’m handing out, and probably not the sort you’re thinking of. Rather, this week, I’m marking the blogosphere with a delicate literary touch from one of the Netherlands’ finest: Johannes Secundus.

Secundus was a poet of the 16th century, one of many of the time that wrote his works in Latin rather than his own native tongue–a fact stemming from the reality that, in those days, “New Latin” was the language of all things scientific and scholarly. Though his work ran from elegies to epistles, his most prominent contribution to the literary is today known as the collection of Johannes’s kisses (Yes, you see how this is all tying in now, don’t you? Clever devils, you are…). The Kisses–19 poems in all–are all joined in that they explore various matters through the theme of the kiss itself. Fertility, death, healing…the poems run the gamut, just as the emotions they follow.

But I won’t be offering up all 19 today. That would probably be a slight bit of overkill. Rather, the spotlight’s swinging round to the translation of Kiss XII. It should give a fair taste of Secundus’s classic skill:

Kiss XII

Modest Matrons, Maidens, say,
Why thus turn your looks away?
Frolic feats of lawless love,
Of the lustful pow’rs above;
Forms obscene, that shock the sight,
In my verse I ne’er recite;
Verse! where nought indecent reigns;
Guiltless are my tender strains;
Such as pedagogues austere
Might with strict decorum hear,
Might, with no licentious speech,
To their youth reproachless teach.
I, chaste vot’ry of the Nine!
Kisses sing of chaste design:
Maids and Matrons yet, with rage,
Frown upon my blameless page;
Frown, because some wanton word
Here and there by chance occurr’d,
Or the cheated fancy caught
Some obscure, tho’ harmless thought
Hence, ye prudish Matrons! hence,
Squeamish Maids devoid of sense!
And shall these in virtue dare
With my virtuous maid compare?
She! who in the bard will prize
What she’ll in his lays despise;
Wantonness with love agrees,
But reserve in verse must please.

~Johannes Secundus


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