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Chinese Erotic Poems



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The ancient Chinese tradition of erotic poetry has been largely ignored in the west. Now, a vast continent of sensual verse is opened to us with this glorious collection spanning nearly three thousand years and including many poems never before translated into English.

Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping have brought together poems about deep love and pure lust, enticement and seduction, ecstasy and disappointment. Here are poems that express need, hunger, grief, and longing—for husbands and wives and for concubines and lovers; poems by turns explicit or subtle, light-hearted or desperate, written from both men’s and women’s points of view. The editors have drawn on a wide range of sources from 600 BCE to the present, including highly literary poems, popular verse, and folk songs, as well as poems that appeared in ancient Daoist sex manuals, in classical novels of the Ming Dynasty, and in collections of erotic prints. The result is a dazzling array of voices that speak the universal language of desire.


Book Excerpt:


The Boat


Having an affair is like a boat.

You raise the sail and toss in the waves.

The woman tells him,

"I know how to handle these wind-and-water storms;

keep a firm grip on the rudder and don't fall asleep."




Footsteps! It must be my fatal foe.

I poke a hole in the window paper

and steal a look at him.

He stands quietly for so long.

Why doesn't he say anything?

Dew drops wet his clothes

till they hang drenched.

Why does he hesitate so long?

Is he starting to freeze? Good.


ANONYMOUS EROTIC POETRY COLLECTED BY FENG MENGLONG (1574-1646) Feng Menglong was a Ming Dynasty scholar who compiled collections of erotic folk verse. He was a prolific writer, well-known for his short stories, and his deep interest in folklore manifested not only his collection of folk poems but also in compilations of practical cultural artifacts and practices, such as of proper ways to address people, different forms of letters, and strategies for winning in certain gambling games. Here is a quote from his preface to the "Mountain Songs": "Folk songs are indeed very vulgar; however, aren't they the descendants of Zheng and Wei songs from the Book of Songs? Now we are in a deteriorated dynasty, there are phony poetry and essays, but no phony folk songs -- this is because folk songs do not compete with poems and essays for a reputation, therefore there is no need to fake anything. Since they do not bother to be pretentious, I collect them to preserve authenticity. Isn't that something reasonable?"


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