10 Memorable Poetic Pick-Up Lines

 Felix Friedrich Von Ende,  "Courtship"

Felix Friedrich Von Ende, “Courtship”

I submitted my final grades yesterday, which means that I can finally plunge full time into my next book project. Since my students’ essays are still dancing in my head, however, over the next few weeks you will be introduced to some of the many ways that they have incorporated literature into their lives.

One of my students, currently head over heels in love with another of my students (they make a lovely couple), has taken the love poetry of John Donne to heart. There’s nothing like discovering that a famous poet understands what it’s like to wake up in bed with your loved one.

Jacob particularly likes Donne’s “Good Morrow” and “Sun Rising.” He too has seen the Sun as a “busy old fool” interrupting the perfect world he was experiencing–a world that, among other things, demanded that, like Donne’s “late school boys,” he attend my class.

Jacob got me thinking about poems that can be used as pick-up lines. A lot of poetry has been written with that in mind. Tell me if the following passages would work on you.

First, there’s the straightforward carpe diem, “gather ye rosebuds while ye may” approach:

Then be not coy, but use your time,
   And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
   You may forever tarry.

                          Robert Herrick, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Andrew Marvell also uses carpe diem reasoning but goes for a more power-packed metaphor than gathering flowers:

      Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.

                                       “To His Coy Mistress”

Then there is carpe diem reasoning that concludes with a disturbing threat, this by England’s most notorious rake:

Phillis, be gentler, I advise;
     Make up for Time mis-spent,
When Beauty on its Death-bed lyes,
     ‘Tis high time to repent.

Such is the Malice of your Fate,
     That makes you old so soon;
Your Pleasure ever comes too late,
     How early e’er begun.

Think what a wretched Thing is she,
     Whose Stars contrive, in spight,
The Morning of her Love should be
     Her fading Beauty’s Night.

Then if, to make your Ruin more,
     You’ll peevishly be coy,
Die with the Scandal of a Whore,
     And never know the Joy.

                              John Wilmot, “Song”

Ugh, I hear you say. Unless you like bad boys.

Donne uses intricate wit to woo women but one is not sure whether he thinks his logic will work or whether he’s trying to convince the lady that he’s got a great sense of humor. Maybe you’re half way home if you at least capture her attention, which surely he would have done with “The Flea”:

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,   
How little that which thou deniest me is;   
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be…

                                   Donne, “The Flea” 

And then there’s Donne making a bad pun:

   To teach thee, I am naked first; why then
What needst thou have more covering than a man.

                                       “Elegy 19: On His Mistress Going to Bed”

Aphra Behn imagines “the rover” in her play by that name persuading a high-priced courtesan to waive her fees:

Yes, I am poor—but I’m a Gentleman,
And one that scorns this Baseness which you practise.
Poor as I am, I would not sell my self,
No, not to gain your charming high-priz’d Person.
Tho I admire you strangely for your Beauty,
Yet I contemn your Mind.
—And yet I wou’d at any rate enjoy you;
At your own rate—but cannot—See here
The only Sum I can command on Earth;
I know not where to eat when this is gone:
Yet such a Slave I am to Love and Beauty,
This last reserve I’ll sacrifice to enjoy you.

To the horror of Angellica’s handler, the rover is successful. Then, like a bee (his simile), he leaves her and flies off to taste another flower.

Here’s a pick-up speech that is meant as a hypothetical but that wins the heart of the lady, to Viola’s great distress:

[I would] Make me a willow cabin at your gate
And call upon my soul within the house.
Write loyal cantons of contemned love
And sing them loud even in the dead of night.
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out “Olivia!” Oh, you should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth,
But you should pity me.

                                         Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

And here’s a passage that achieves its aim, but unfortunately not to the advantage of the man who is delivering it:

Cyrano: Each look of yours excites a new virtue,
a new courage in me! Now at last do you,
begin to see? For you yourself, do you allow?
Can you feel my soul, at all, rise through the shadow…
Oh! But truly this night’s too beautiful, too sweet!
I saying all this to you, you listening, you, to me!
Too sweet! In my dreams, even the least humble
I never hoped for such! There’s nothing else
to do but die now! It’s through words alone, I know,
that I say you tremble in the blue branches, though.
For you do tremble, like a leaf among the leaves!
For you do tremble! Whether you wish it so, I feel
your hand’s adorable trembling as it plays,
down the whole net of the jasmine sprays!

                                        Edmond de Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac

On the other hand, here is a pick-up line that definitely does not work:

In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.

Even if this had any chance of success, Darcy immediately undercuts it with what follows:

He spoke well, but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority — of its being a degradation — of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.

Austen’s concluding remark is classic understatement.

In fact, once women start answering back, we see the limitations of some of the other lines as well. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu makes this clear in “The Lover: A Ballad”:

This stupid indiff’rence so often you blame,
Is not owing to nature, to fear, or to shame:
I am not as cold as a virgin in lead,
Nor is Sunday’s sermon so strong in my head:
I know but too well how time flies along,
That we live but few years, and yet fewer are young.

But I hate to be cheated, and never will buy
Long years of repentance for moments of joy…

And what would work with Lady Mary? It’s simple: just be the perfect man:

And that my delight may be solidly fix’d,
Let the friend and the lover be handsomely mix’d;
In whose tender bosom my soul may confide,
Whose kindness can soothe me, whose counsel can guide.
From such a dear lover as here I describe,
No danger should fright me, no millions should bribe;
But till this astonishing creature I know,
As I long have liv’d chaste, I will keep myself so.

Although that being said, Lady Mary later fell for Franceso Algarotti, who then dumped her. Who knows what line he used on her.

This entry was posted in Austen (Jane), Behn (Aphra), Donne (John), Herrick (Robert), Marvell (Andrew), Montagu (Lady Mary Wortley), Rostand (Edmond de), Shakespeare (William), Wilmot (John) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
  • Did I miss ‘Oh, come with me and be my love-and we will all the pleasures pruv (‘prove’ in the original but it don’t rhyme…..)

  • Linda Stewart

    “And the sunlight clasps the earth,
    And the moonbeams kiss the sea;–
    What are all these kissings worth,
    If thou kiss not me?”
    Ah, Shelley!
    William Snow mixes this one with a little humor in Snow’s Run, p. 161.

  • Robin

    I’m kicking myself for having forgotten Marlowe, johnproblem. And of course, it drew Sir Walter Raleigh’s famous riposte, which anticipates Montagu:

    Thy gowns, they shoes, thy beds of roses,
    They cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies,
    Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten,–
    In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

    Donne’s play on Marlowe’s poem (“The Bait”) is also worth
    mentioning: if the lady comes with him to be his love, she can serve as bait for all the enamored fishes. How’s that for incentive?

  • Robin

    I didn’t know “Love’s Philosophy” until now, Linda. Thanks for sharing it. I’ll go back and look it up in your novel.


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