Jack’s Naughty Bits: Swinburne, Part Two

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Jack's Naughty Bits
Ah, the hickey. Such a marker, such a brand, more symbolic and defiant even than a tattoo. A hickey says, I’ve been messing around and I’m not afraid to show it, not to mention that I’m also rather crass and probably in deep economic hardship and I’m not afraid to show that either. Being where I’m from, the corn country of Illinois, hickeys were a pretty big part of the social economy of my high school. I remember proud Camaro-drivers in the locker room describing to us, their captive audience of weenies, the necklace of hickeys they had left on their loved ones the night before in the church parking lot. I remember seeing enormous, purplebrownorangecrimson splotches like phantasmagoric blood-sucking sea flowers grafted onto the necks of my P.E. mates. I heard tales of initials being spelled on asses, of hearts crudely sketched, of yellow and brick-colored roads leading from clavicle to cunny, left by the champing lips of rear-seat Romeos. And I thought, This is romance.


I would not receive my first hickey till senior year — and it proved to be a force of history. But, as Marx reminds us, history is as much farce as it is tragedy, and this tale has equal dollops. It was a summer evening, one of my friend’s parents were away, the party was raging and I snuck out the back with someone else’s girlfriend. We were lying in the wet grass making out and I thought, This is the most beautiful woman I will ever kiss. And then came the voice of her boyfriend. She jumped up and went back while I slinked into the night. The next day, I was to meet friends at the pool. I woke to find a half-dollar-shaped mottled bruise just below my right ear. Impossible to hide. I arrived at the pool to find not only my friends, but the young woman I had been long-courting, the one I really wanted, Junior Miss Right, ready to set her towel down next to mine. And then she saw it. There was no not seeing it, and I knew it. I sheepishly tried to explain, but she didn’t say anything. She just turned, as little tears started to form in her eyes, and went back to the changing rooms. There was never another chance.


So, marked as my life has been by hickeys, I never really noticed them coming up in the literature I’d read. Not, that is, until Swinburne. Based on the frequency of references, it would appear that old A.C. was not capable of kissing without marking, of osculating without masticating. For this week’s excerpt, I’m going to reprint the examples I found from Swinburne’s most important book of poetry, Poems and Ballads. This may not be a comprehensive list, but I think it’s more than enough to crown Swinburne “Poet of the Hickey.”


Poems and Ballads by A.C. Swinburne

From “Laus Veneris”

Asleep or waking is it? For her neck,
Kissed over close, wears yet a purple speck
Wherein the pained blood falters and goes out;
Soft, and stung softly — fairer for a fleck.

[ . . . ]

There is a feverish famine in my veins;
Below her bosom, where a crushed grape stains
The white and blue, there my lips caught and clove
An hour since, and what mark of me remains?

[ . . . ]

Alas! For sorrow is all the end of this.
O sad kissed mouth, how sorrowful it is!
O breast whereat some suckling sorrow clings,
Red with the bitter blossom of a kiss!

From “Fragoletta”

Mine arms are close about thine head,
My lips are fervent on thy face,
And where my kiss hath fed
Thy flower-like blood leaps red
To the kissed place.

From “Dolores: Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs”

By the ravenous teeth that have smitten
Through the kisses that blossom and bud

[ . . . ]

The white wealth of a body made brighter
By the blushes of amorous blows,
And seamed with sharp lips and fierce fingers,
And branded by kisses that bruise

[ . . . ]

The skin changes country and color
And shrivels or swells to a snake’s
Let it brighten and bloat and grow duller,
We know it, the flames and the flakes,
Red brands on it smitten and bitten,
Round skies where a star is a stain,
And the leaves with thy litanies written,
Our Lady of Pain.