Erotic poetry is about sex and sexual love. It concentrates on the more physical aspects of love and passion while love poetry tends to avoid sexual details, though there are exceptions, like some of Donne’s love poems. Love poetry dwells more on the nobler manifestations of love, the higher feelings.
Much erotic poetry comes from the Indian and Arab cultures. In early Sanskrit literature, there is the Medhaduta (5th c.). To the 7th or 8th c. belongs the collection of quatrains known as the Sringasataka. A third important series of erotic poems is the Pancacika. From Arab civilization, we have two major collections of poems: the Hamasa and the Muallakat, of the 10th c. The lyric form of the ghazel was widely used for the expression of erotic feelings in Persian, Arabic, and Turkish verses in the Middle Ages.
There is also a considerable body of Greek erotic verse, particularly by Sappho and Anacreon; also a number of erotic epigrams in the Greek Anthology (compiled c. 925). Most Greek erotic poetry is lyrical. The major Roman authors are Catullus, Propertius, and Ovid. Ovid’s Amores and Ars Amatoria are important since they had a considerable influence on medieval literature, and in particular on the concept of courtly love.
Medieval Latin lyric poetry was often erotic, and the Goliards made a notable contribution. Their work is extant in the Carmina Burana. Memorable examples of the treatment of erotic love are also to be found in Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan (13th c.) and Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (late 14th c.). Less exalted erotic themes are worked out in the medieval fabliaux and in stories like Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale (late 14th c.).
During the Renaissance period, many poets wrote what can be regarded as erotic poetry, especially Boiardo, Tasso, Ariosto, Spenser, Marlowe, and Shakespeare. Marlowe and Chapman’s Hero and Leander (1598) and Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis (1593) are outstanding examples. The Italian Renaissance poets of the humanistic movement composed erotic verse, especially Giovanni Pontano and Marino. The last half of the 19th c. sees a noticeable increase in this kind of poetry, especially by the French symbolist poets – Gautier, Baudelaire, Mallarme, and Verlaine. In England, the Pre-Raphaelite movement encouraged an interest in erotic themes. Both Dante Gabriel Rossetti and A.C.Swinburne wrote erotic verse. Famous examples are The House of Life (1881), and Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads (1866).
Even the close relationship between love poetry and devotional religious poetry has produced what may be called religious love poetry in which the poet uses worldly and secular imagery and language to express divine love.
Also read: Elegy: Definition, Features and Examples