This time it's really quite smutty. More like Shakespearean porn.
For those looking through their tragedies for this work with a puzzled frown on their faces, Venus and Adonis
is one of the narrative poems.
The plot, roughly, is that Venus, goddess of love, pursues Adonis, a young man who's Just Not Interested. She uses all sorts of persuasive language, but he resists. What he wants to do, you see, is to be all manly and go hunting with the other men. He's really keen on doing some communing with wild beasts. So off he goes, and of course he gets killed in the hunt, and Venus is terribly upset and makes a flower out of his blood, which is how the story gets into Ovid.
It's a total genderfuck. To begin with, Adonis is constructed as if he's a girl. He's "Rose-cheek'd Adonis" in l.4, and the first thing Venus says to him is,
'Thrice fairer than myself,' thus she began,
'The field's chief flower, sweet above compare, 8
Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man,
More white and red than doves or roses are;
Nature that made thee, with herself at strife,
Saith that the world hath ending with thy life. 12
He's also "the tender boy, / Who blush'd and pouted in a dull disdain," (32-3), and behaves like the traditional "coy" maiden (95-6). Venus mentions her husband Mars around l.100, and the contrast is very obvious. Adonis, in contrast, is far more like Venus, it's a mirror relationship (Narcissus comes up in 161-2):
Touch but my lips with those falr lips of thine,--
Though mine be not so fair, yet are they red,-- 116
The kiss shall be thine own as well as mine:
The imagery applied to him is both traditionally feminine, such as flower imagery, and downright suggestive of the female body.
'The tender spring upon thy tempting lip 127
Shows thee unripe, yet mayst thou well be tasted:
Make use of time, let not advantage slip;
Beauty within itself should not be wasted:
Fair flowers that are not gather'd in their prime
Rot and consume themselves in little time.
"These lovely caves, these round enchanting pits, / Open'd their mouths to swallow Venus' liking." (248-9) is pretty suggestive. We're talking about the dimples in Adonis' cheeks, in case you couldn't guess: "At this Adonis smiles as in disdain, / That in each cheek appears a pretty dimple:" (241-2). Sounds more like a vagina to me. There's some more later on: "Her other tender hand his fair cheek feels: / His tenderer cheek receives her soft hand's print, / As apt as new-fall'n snow takes any dint." (352-4) I never realised you could grope a cheek.
Venus takes the initiative like a man, and "like a bold-fac'd suitor 'gins to woo him" l.6, the wanton hussy. In some ways she behaves like a man, but she's still very much female, with various early modern misogynistic stereotypes about women floating about. There are a few strange reversals: "Backward she push'd him, as she would be thrust, / And govern'd him in strength, though not in lust." (41-2), and where she's compared to a devouring eagle a couple of stanzas later. She also uses a great deal of rhetoric, traditionally a male device.
Between her being obviously female and his being constructed as a woman, it's sounding fairly lesbian. If you look at her idea of sex, it sounds even more so. There's lots of emphasis on kissing and wrangling about kissing and intertwining, none on more heteroerotic pursuits such as penetration.
'If thou wilt deign this favour, for thy meed
A thousand honey secrets shalt thou know: 16
Here come and sit, where never serpent hisses;
And being set, I'll smother thee with kisses:
'And yet not cloy thy lips with loath'd satiety,
But rather famish them amid their plenty, 20
Making them red and pale with fresh variety;
Ten kisses short as one, one long as twenty:'
So soon was she along, as he was down,
Each leaning on their elbows and their hips: 44
Now doth she stroke his cheek, now doth he frown,
And 'gins to chide, but soon she stops his lips;
And kissing speaks, with lustful language broken,
'If thou wilt chide, thy lips shall never open.' 48
He burns with bashful shame; she with her tears
Doth quench the maiden burning of his cheeks;
Then with her windy sighs and golden hairs
To fan and blow them dry again she seeks: 52
He saith she is immodest, blames her miss;
What follows more she murders with a kiss.
There's a lot of...moisture
Forc'd to content, but never to obey,
Panting he lies, and breatheth in her face;
She feedeth on the steam, as on a prey,
And calls it heavenly moisture, air of grace; 64
Wishing her cheeks were gardens full of flowers
So they were dewd with such distilling showers.
'Fondling,' she saith, 'since I have hemm'd thee here
Within the circuit of this ivory pale,
I'll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;
Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale: 232
Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry,
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.'
'Within this limit is relief enough,
Sweet bottom-grass and high delightful plain, 236
Round rising hillocks, brakes obscure and rough,
To shelter thee from tempest and from rain:
Then be my deer, since I am such a park; 239
No dog shall rouse thee, though a thousand bark.'
I think we can all tell what that's suggesting. Later on she's describing him as a prospective "banquet...to the taste" (445)
It goes on. There's a pause for some sex between a horse and a mare, which Venus uses to illustrate to Adonis what they should be getting up to, but it doesn't convince. Then we get into what can only be described, quite frankly, as bestiality. "'I know not love,' quoth he, 'nor will not know it, / Unless it be a boar, and then I chase it;'" (409-10). This next passage manages to combine feminising Adonis with bestiality in just six lines:
Once more the ruby-colour'd portal open'd,
Which to his speech did honey passage yield, 452
Like a red morn, that ever yet betoken'd
Wrack to the seaman, tempest to the field,
Sorrow to shepherds, woe unto the birds,
Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds. 456
He's a bit odd, that boy. He "wrings her nose" in l.475, and she seems to respond with multiple orgasms. There's a weird sort of implied oral rape:
Till, breathless, he disjoin'd, and backward drew
The heavenly moisture, that sweet coral mouth,
Whose precious taste her thirsty lips well knew,
Whereon they surfeit, yet complain on drouth: 544
He with her plenty press'd, she faint with dearth,
Their lips together glu'd, fall to the earth.
Now quick desire hath caught the yielding prey,
And glutton-like she feeds, yet never filleth; 548
Her lips are conquerors, his lips obey,
Paying what ransom the insulter willeth;
Whose vulture thought doth pitch the price so high,
That she will draw his lips' rich treasure dry... 552
When he did frown, O! had she then gave over,
Such nectar from his lips she had not suck'd. 572
Foul words and frowns must not repel a lover;
What though the rose have prickles, yet 'tis pluck'd:
Were beauty under twenty locks kept fast,
Yet love breaks through and picks them all at last.
Then the boar is mentioned. It's very male. The tusks are described at length. Venus does not like the idea of this At All:
'And more than so, presenteth to mine eye
The picture of an angry-chafing boar,
Under whose sharp fangs on his back doth lie
An image like thyself, all stain'd with gore; 664
Whose blood upon the fresh flowers being shed
Doth make them droop with grief and hang the head.
Adonis whinges on about shame a bit more (isn't that something female virgins are meant to be preoccupied with?), and goes off to hunt the boar. Venus moans a bit more, there's the dodgiest description of a sunrise that I've ever read (lark/morning/sun OT3!!!1!!), and then a paragraph which defies description. Bestiality I can recognise, but what do you call sex between a goddess and the shrubbery?
And as she runs, the bushes in the way
Some catch her by the neck, some kiss her face, 872
Some twine about her thigh to make her stay:
She wildly breaketh from their strict embrace,
Like a milch doe, whose swelling dugs do ache,
Hasting to feed her fawn hid in some brake.
The hunted boar appears - "Whose frothy mouth bepainted all with red, / Like milk and blood being mingled both together," (901-2), evidently not kosher - and finally we have the only penetrative act of the poem:
''Tis true, 'tis true; thus was Adonis slain:
He ran upon the boar with his sharp spear, 1112
Who did not whet his teeth at him again,
But by a kiss thought to persuade him there;
And nuzzling in his flank, the loving swine
Sheath'd unaware the tusk in his soft groin. 1116
Venus' verdict (she was narrating the last bit):
'Had I been tooth'd like him, I must confess,
With kissing him I should have kill'd him first;
But he is dead, and never did he bless
My youth with his; the more am I accurst.' 1120
With this she falleth in the place she stood,
And stains her face with his congealed blood.
What can I say? Dodgiest poem I've ever read, and they're all queer as well as batty. Polymorphous perversity doesn't even begin to cover it.