Sentences Full of Sexual Tension Written by Poets

by Amy
Sentences Full of Sexual Tension Written by Poets

Sexual tension in poetry is a nuanced and powerful literary tool. It involves the subtle and often tantalizing interplay of desire, longing, and restraint. Poets throughout history have skillfully woven this tension into their work, using language to evoke deep emotional and physical responses in their readers. This article delves into how poets create sexual tension in their poetry, examining notable examples and techniques that have defined this evocative aspect of literary expression.

See also: Why Les Fleurs du Mal Was Banned at That Time?

The Nature of Sexual Tension in Poetry

Sexual tension in poetry is often characterized by a sense of anticipation and unfulfilled desire. It thrives on what is unsaid as much as what is explicitly stated, creating a charged atmosphere that keeps the reader engaged. This tension can be expressed through various means, including:

Imagery: Vivid descriptions that evoke the senses and hint at deeper desires.
Metaphor and Symbolism: Using objects or scenarios as stand-ins for sexual themes.
Tone and Mood: The overall emotional atmosphere that suggests underlying passions.
Diction: Choice of words that carry connotations of intimacy and desire.

Historical Context and Evolution

Throughout different literary periods, the expression of sexual tension has evolved, influenced by cultural norms and societal taboos. In some eras, poets had to be particularly inventive to circumvent censorship and moral scrutiny. In others, a more open exploration of sexuality was possible, allowing for a broader range of expression.

Classical Poetry

In classical literature, sexual tension often took the form of mythological allusions and romantic courtships. The poetry of Ancient Greece and Rome frequently explored themes of love and desire with a blend of subtlety and explicitness.

Example: Sappho

He seems to me equal to gods that man
whoever he is who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking.”

Sappho’s poetry, though fragmented, is rich with emotional intensity and longing, capturing the essence of desire through her passionate and personal lens.

Renaissance Poetry

The Renaissance saw a revival of classical themes and a flowering of poetic expression. Love sonnets, in particular, were a popular form, often filled with sexual tension and idealized love.

Example: William Shakespeare

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

While this sonnet (Sonnet 18) focuses on admiration, many of Shakespeare’s other sonnets and plays delve deeper into the complexities of desire and attraction.

Metaphysical Poetry

The metaphysical poets of the 17th century, such as John Donne and Andrew Marvell, were known for their intellectual and often provocative exploration of love and desire.

Example: John Donne

“Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.”

Donne’s religious imagery often interweaves with erotic undertones, creating a powerful juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane.

Techniques for Creating Sexual Tension

Imagery and Sensory Detail

Poets often use rich, sensory language to evoke the physical sensations associated with desire. This can include descriptions of touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell, which together create a vivid and immersive experience.

Example: Pablo Neruda

“I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.”

Neruda’s intense and visceral imagery in his love poems encapsulates the yearning and hunger of desire.

Metaphor and Symbolism

Metaphor and symbolism allow poets to explore sexual themes indirectly, providing layers of meaning and inviting readers to interpret deeper significance.

Example: Emily Dickinson

“Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!”

Dickinson’s use of “wild nights” as a metaphor for passionate encounters is both direct and suggestive, leaving much to the imagination.

Tone and Mood

The tone and mood of a poem set the emotional stage for sexual tension. A sense of longing, melancholy, or even playful teasing can heighten the feeling of desire.

Example: Andrew Marvell

“Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day.”

Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” uses a tone of urgency and playful persuasion to create an atmosphere of anticipation and desire.

Diction and Word Choice

The specific words a poet chooses can carry connotations of intimacy, attraction, and sensuality. This choice of diction is crucial in building the atmosphere of sexual tension.

Example: W.B. Yeats

“The wind is old and still at play
While I must hurry upon my way,
For I am running to Paradise;
Yet never have I lit on a friend
To take my fancy like the wind
That blows from the country into the town,
And when it dies in the heart of the town,
My fancy follows.”

Yeats’s use of “hurry,” “fancy,” and “running” imbues the poem with a sense of movement and urgency, hinting at deeper, more primal desires.

Notable Poets and Their Use of Sexual Tension

John Keats

John Keats’s poetry is renowned for its lush imagery and emotional intensity. His odes and sonnets often convey a deep sense of yearning and unfulfilled desire.

Example: “Bright Star”

“Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.”

Keats’s exploration of steadfastness and desire, intertwined with natural imagery, creates a powerful sense of longing and intimacy.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnets from “Sonnets from the Portuguese” are among the most passionate expressions of love and desire in Victorian literature.

Example: Sonnet 43

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.”

Browning’s diction and the accumulation of different ways of loving create a profound sense of both emotional and physical intimacy.

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath’s poetry is often charged with intense emotions and a sense of underlying tension. Her use of stark, vivid imagery and personal experience creates a raw and compelling exploration of desire and conflict.

Example: “Lady Lazarus”

“Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.”

Plath’s powerful imagery and provocative tone convey a complex mix of attraction, aggression, and defiance.

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich’s poetry explores themes of identity, sexuality, and power. Her work often addresses the complexities of desire and relationships with a candid and unflinching voice.

Example: “Twenty-One Love Poems”

“I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.”

Rich’s exploration of love and intimacy is grounded in a profound sense of reality and mutual support, creating a deep and resonant emotional connection.

Contemporary Voices and Sexual Tension

Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong’s poetry blends tender, sensual imagery with themes of memory, identity, and trauma. His work often captures the delicate interplay of desire and vulnerability.

Example: “Night Sky with Exit Wounds”

“I write from the body
knowing, as it dies, I will
too, take nothing,
but this vision of you.”

Vuong’s intimate and evocative language creates a powerful sense of longing and connection.

Warsan Shire

Warsan Shire’s poetry is known for its raw emotional intensity and exploration of love, loss, and identity. Her work often captures the complexities of desire and intimacy in a deeply personal and relatable way.

Example: “For Women Who Are Difficult to Love”

“You are terrifying
and strange and beautiful.
Something not everyone knows how to love.”

Shire’s direct and poignant language conveys the struggle and beauty of loving and being loved, creating a powerful sense of emotional and sexual tension.


Sexual tension in poetry is a timeless and universal theme that poets have explored in myriad ways. Through imagery, metaphor, tone, and diction, poets create a charged atmosphere that evokes deep emotional and physical responses in their readers. From the classical verses of Sappho to the contemporary works of Ocean Vuong, the expression of sexual tension remains a potent and compelling aspect of poetic expression. As societal norms and cultural contexts evolve, so too does the exploration of desire and intimacy in poetry, continuing to captivate and resonate with readers across generations.

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