This week’s Naughty Bit, a twelfth-century French poem by Thibaut de Champagne, asks an important and difficult question: When alighting on your beloved’s doorstep, what should you kiss first, her lips or her feet? Though the question seems a little dated by the last eight hundred years of sexual relations, the issue of how best to express devotion is not yet cut and dried. Devotion is a dicey thing, different women require different kinds of signs, and anybody who wants a fast and steady rule might as well stay home memorizing it; it ain’t gonna be worth much in the real world.
For a long time, I was obsessed with a not dissimilar question: Which should you kiss first, a woman’s breasts or between her legs? Now conventional wisdom tells you that one kisses the breasts before in Monty Python’s fine phrasing “stampeding toward the clitoris.” But it was precisely that conventionality that irritated me, back in those years when I thought the bedroom a fine site for personal politics. So I made it my one-man mission to invert the conventional kissing narrative and refuse to kiss the breasts before crossing the Mason-Dixon. This form of political resistance met with no small confusion from the women so implicated, you can be sure. As we were all in college, my partners were a bit too young to know to say something along the lines of, Son, what in the bejesus are you up to muff-diving me before you give my sweet rack the slightest consideration? But that’s really what I needed to hear. Because, and I say this to would-be iconoclasts everywhere, sexual conventions evolved that way for a reason. As most people know, a bit of prepping goes a long way, and gentle/rough breast attention however anticipated is still welcomed by most women. While I thought that my partners would think of me as a truly independent-minded lover, unfettered by everyone else’s precedents, Lewis-and-Clarking my way up the proverbial flood, no, they just thought I was a twit who didn’t know what the hell he was doing. And they were right.* * *
“Une Chose, Baudoÿ” by Thibaut de Champagne
Translated by Jack Murnighan
One thing I want to ask you, Baudoin:
If a true, loyal lover
Who has loved his woman a long time
And long prayed that she’d take pity on him
Is written to and told to come to her
In order to finally do what he wishes,
What should he do first to please her
When she says, “Welcome, my love,”
Kiss her on the mouth or the feet?
Sir, I believe that first
One kisses her on the mouth
As such a kiss makes descend
To the heart a sweetness which embodies
The great desire they have for each other.
A joy lights her heart
That no lover can conceal or suppress
So he will thus make himself happy
When he kisses the mouth of his love.
Look, Baudoin, I won’t lie to you,
Whoever wants first to kiss his woman
On the mouth does not love from the heart
For that is how you’d kiss a shepherd’s daughter.
I think it better to kiss her feet and thank her
Than to do something so outrageous.
You have to believe your lady is wise,
And good sense tells us that humility
Will help to make you better loved.
But sir, I’ve heard many times that
Humility helps the lover along,
But when the lover through humility
Is enough advanced that she gives him his reward,
And he has what he loves and holds dear,
Then I’d say he’d be foolish
Not to pay his homage on her mouth,
For I have also heard, and you know well,
To bypass the mouth for the feet is a bit precious.
Baudoin, look, I’m not saying
That one should neglect the mouth for the feet,
Only that I want to kiss her feet right away
And then, when I’m ready, I’ll kiss her mouth
And her beautiful body, which should never be in the dark,
And her beautiful eyes and face
And her blond head, next to which spun gold is nothing.
But you are brash and mix everything up;
It’s pretty clear you know little of love.
Sir, you’d have to be both cowardly and lax
Having been allowed to kiss and enjoy
The sweet solace of a long, plump body
To remain nonchalant near the mouth’s sweetness
In order to kiss the feet; it makes no sense.
God only wants us to do whatever
One must to win a lady’s grace,
And it is a thousand times better to savor
Her mouth than her feet!
Baudoin, whoever keeps up the chase
Until he gets what he wants, errs
If he does not choose to fall at her feet;
I say he’s a devil who does not.
Sir, a man who is bound up in love
Can’t help but forget given the room
To realize all that he wishes
All about the feet in favor of the mouth.
© Jack Murnighan