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Jack’s Naughty Bits: Silentiarius

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Jack's Naughty Bits
 In my last column, I attempted to explain mankind’s desire for a certain amount of tantalization, arguing in the process for the virtues of deferring pleasure. Who was I kidding? I’ve got to get my head examined. Upon momentarily greater reflection, I’ve changed my tune: give me the here and now, baby, and later on, at the moment you thought you might wait for, just give it to me again.

    

Sound philosophy, no? The only problem is, the more desire gets realized, the less literature gets produced. For one of the great motives for the spilling of ink is to try to get one’s beloved to give it up (don’t think I haven’t tried it). From The Wife of Bath’s “ Prologue” (forerunner to Bessie Smith’s “Do Your Duty”), to Shakespeare’s famous procreation sonnets, to Marvell’s Bath’s “ To His Coy Mistress,” to the Earl of Rochester’s racy entreaties, the history of naughty bits has been in large part a history of frustration. The fulfilled lover is too busy basking to write, right? So it’s up to the hankering hack to get anything actually accomplished.

    

And thank goodness they do, for often the sexiest of scribbles come from the least sexed of authors. Take the short lyric below, line for line probably one of the smokingest things you’ll ever read. Written in Greek in the late sixth century (when Christianity had all but stamped out such literature), it’s a moving chronicle of an emphatic No. But, read aloud to the right person, it just might help get you to Yes.


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“Tantalos” by Paulus Silentiarius

Mouth to mouth joined we lie, her naked breasts
Curved to my fingers, my fury grazing deep
On the silver plain of her throat,
    
And then: no more.
She denies me her bed. Half of her body to Love
She has given, half to Prudence.
    
I die between.