Verse > Anthologies > T. R. Smith, ed. > Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse
T. R. Smith, comp.  Poetica Erotica: Rare and Curious Amatory Verse.  1921–22.
Don Juan’s Note Book (Coplas de Don Juan)
By Harry Kemp (1883–1960)
(After the Old Spanish. 1922)

TO lose in love, Love holds the least of crimes;
Even I, Don Juan, was crossed in love at times….
Be calm in everything you do or say—
The sudden motion scares the bird away …
Wait till you see she wants you, then be bold:        5
Your force is now increased a hundredfold …
Though you pretend to hang on every phrase,
Don’t listen to her words, but to her face;
Hear her eyes’ “yes” when her lips falter “no”—
And then be quick—for love blows cold when slow:        10
Though Woman yearns to make the sacrifice,
Snatch at the moment or you’ll lose the prize …
Love cannot thrive, like sound, in empty space;
Time must be opportune, as well as place;
Else all in vain the long, assiduous art,        15
The yielding body and the softened heart….
A young man may be amorous, yet no fool;
An old man’s love is life’s last ridicule….
No mortal pain can strike with deeper smart
Than memory stabs the newly widowed heart;        20
But the best healing force yet known to men
For broken hearts, it is to love again….
If an ill act its punishment impose,
Caress with wrath, and strike with playful blows:
To be the perfect lover, you must learn        25
To practice sternness without being stern….
The headlong suitor proves an easy prey—
Women and statesmen conquer by delay….
Though doctors know the virgin from the whore,
Beauty is still that little less or more:        30
Learn then, before your lips in scorn be curled,
There’s scarce an ugly woman in the world;
Much love I’ve had, and much love have I missed—
But every woman’s beautiful when kissed….
Ponder my axioms well, but let none bind:        35
Each woman is a different womankind….
Nor follow blindly like a groping fool—
For time, life, circumstance change every rule …
Though she be beautiful as fairyland,
She’s still a woman as her maker planned,        40
Subject to moonlight, kisses, and sweet lies—
Assail her; shun the folly of the Wise …
Though heaven above be doubtful, here below
Woman’s the only paradise I know …
There’s nothing so uncertain as a kiss,        45
Yet nowhere is there found more certain bliss …
A king’s descendant is the prince, his son:
In love, a dairymaid and queen are one:
If she affect aloofness, dare, nor fear:
One scratch of passion shows it’s but veneer …        50
If you’d preserve the thrilling zest of love,
Remain where nature placed the man—above!…
Though many paths of blandishment I’ve trod,
A virtuous woman’s heart belongs to God,
With her the devil himself can nothing do—        55
But, Lord, how few she is, O, Lord, how few!
Whatever code she follow, creed profess,
It is a woman’s nature to transgress,
For, though they smite him with a thousand rods,
The god of love remains the god of gods!…        60
Men differ in the titles that they wear:
A woman’s just a woman everywhere;
Give her a necklace, sweetmeat, poem, flower,
A kiss, YOURSELF—but never give her power!…
For love, for health, a man may walk abroad,        65
For business, or the worship of his God:
A woman’s acts of being are but two:
She’s either loitering for a rendezvous,
Or—making haste to keep a rendezvous!…
Poetry, history, commerce, music, art,        70
Lead, as all roads to Rome, to Woman’s heart;
Warriors, statesmen, painters, poets, kings—
Woman loves Man for many varied things
That differ as the dusk does from the day—
But to Man’s heart Beauty is her one way—        75
Beauty that holds a little time in trust
Then with her sister rose descends to dust:
Man triumphs still on wings of wealth, strength, fame,
But Woman’s ever is the losing game—
A winged defeat even at its highest power—        80
A masque that leaves its music in an hour!…
Clothed in eternity and perfectness,
Love, while it lasts, must know nor More nor Less …
I’ve loved my thousand women in my time,
Wooed them with lies and madness, prose and rhyme,        85
And, loyal still to all, I’ll not admit
That any lacked in beauty or in wit!
A thousand women, and not one was dull!
A thousand women, and all beautiful!
Though loved an hour, each one was God to me,        90
And all that angels know of ecstacy;
Though but an hour until we drew apart,
That hour I gave up all my soul, my heart;
Not dawdling from slack year to tedious year,
For that brief space, at least, I burned sincere:        95
That’s why, when centuries have come and gone,
I will be famous still, as Don Juan!…
With burning pencil I have shaped these verses—
Not as a student midnight calm immerses
With open folios on every side,        100
But champing like the Devil in his pride
While waiting for the frequent rendezvous
At times when I had nothing else to do….
Women are apt for love, lust, lies, and crime,—
But God Himself can’t make them be on time:        105
I owned my women, body, life, and soul—
But here was one thing I could not control!…
Some write for wealth, power, fame, or even spite—
Myself? The truth compels me, and I write!…
I said I never lied, yet I essayed        110
Often, where pity or affection bade,
The easy lie: when love still lingered on
In hers, though in my heart its pulse was gone,
I lied to save her heartbreak till delay
And life’s affairs had smoothed the ache away,        115
And oft affection bade me, ’gainst my will,
Still swear I loved the pretty creature still!…
No woman sticks at close adultery:
All women stick for outward decency;
Seeming is all the virtue that they know:        120
Since virtue’s fame depends on outward show.
Give her all time to eat, dance, pray, prate, drink—
But never, never give her time to think
Lest she should think of rivals, not of you:
’Tis lack of thought oft keeps her passion true …        125
Half accident and half stupidity
Is most of the world’s virtue that we see….
I loved an actress who could act IN LIFE
ACTING, her mind and body stood at strife:
A man can, drunk or sober, face a fact—        130
But every woman thinks that she can act:
In life there is no doubt all women can,
The world her stage, her chief spectator, Man;
She weeps, she loves, she hates, she laughs, she preens,—
With God and Fate the shifters of the scenes….        135
At times I’ve loved two, three, or four, or five—
The surest way to keep one’s love alive—
For many eggs are laid where few survive—
For many birds are hatched that do not thrive …
With virgin, matron, mother, widow, wife,        140
I have not been more pitiless than life;
I have betrayed no more than years betray:
Disease strikes down and old age brings decay—
And Don Juan has followed nature’s way….
Spare no one you desire, for, soon or late,        145
Her frailty must accept the woman’s fate;
Make speedily the secret rendezvous,
Nor for another leave what waits for you …
I am a force of nature like the blight
That fell upon the field of corn last night….        150
Often I’ve schemed some clever, amorous plan
While through the solemn chant the choir boys ran:
Ah, how I’ve tried to be a pious man:
But to track women’s hearts down is my use,
As the hound scents the fox, the fox, the goose!        155
Though God, the Pope, and Satan join to damn
My soul, they cannot alter what I am!…
A Third—I had an instinct for the same;
Another Third—for practice taught the game;
A Third succumbed because they knew my fame.        160
Some sought me for I had an easy laugh,
And some, because I knew good wine to quaff,
Some bartered virtue for my autograph;
For though I was no sonneteer of note
There moved persuasion in the way I wrote.        165
Some liked the interesting way I talked;
Others, the way I moved my hands or walked—
Up in the Devil’s Inn their score is chalked!
That small events lead on to actions great
Ask any king or minister of state,        170
Ask the good Lord who made me what I am;
A rose, an idle hour, an epigram,
An act performed too ill, perhaps too well,
May cause a kingdom’s fall, or send a soul to hell!
Ah, whether I’m condemned to freeze or burn        175
The Devil’s got me every way I turn….
Although denied and yet again denied,
The certain issue of your suit abide,
Yes, even though she be God’s faith-sworn bride.
Time will put by her coldness and her pride,        180
For nature fights upon the lover’s side….
Although I’ve cast my net both far and wide
The fish I have not caught still irk my pride
And to my day of death I shall regret
The rainbowed beings that escaped my net        185
Despite the skill with which its web was set …
Although so infinite the moving Deep
That the sky’s edges on its bosom sleep,
My thirst is just as infinite to win
With my small net the multitudes therein …        190
O, if I were as mighty as my mind
And my desire, I’d love all womankind—
O, if I were as mighty as my mind
I’d plunge into this sea of womenkind,
Go on and out until my last, large breath        195
And gladly find what God intends by death …
No passion ever thrived in vacuo:
For every kiss, you gain another foe;
Love is a ceaseless warfare to the knife:
Say that she comes to you, a faithless wife,        200
Her husband’s wrath brings danger to your life
If he perceive, as, soon or late, he will.
Unmarried if she be, there remain still
Sweethearts and brothers, cursed kith and kin,—
And skilled is he whose feet escape the gin:        205
Early I served beneath dear Venus’ star,
And I have borne away full many a scar—
For war is peace compared with love’s imperilled war …
Rein her in close or you will strike disaster:
Women and dogs both love and need a master …        210
Like ill-played music or an ape’s grimace,
So is a woman when she’s out of place.
More exquisite than a gazelle in grace,
So shines the woman in her fitting place….
Although I break the rules of every school—        215
I’m all for regularity and rule….
The girls to whom my love has brought delight—
I feel their power upon me in the night;
With passionate thought and dream, with love, hate, grief—
I feel their power upon me past belief;        220
And I perceive that they are all my brides,
In dream I couch once more by all their sides
Unnumbered, and breathe back the tender vow:
Such latitude do sleep and dreams allow….
They talk as if a law can change the wrong        225
That falls on womankind, or make them strong:
Ere the first priest taught the first woman shame
Nature herself decreed the losing game,
For heaven in primordial days decreed
Women should be as of a different breed        230
From men, a race as from another world
Into the common camps of Adam hurled
Which fell straightway into that variance
That, since, has led the world its sorry dance,—
For, somewhat more the problem to perplex,        235
God gave two foes the common need of sex;
But still, when for a space that need departs,
The lulled distrust awakens in the hearts
Of lover and beloved, though side by side,
The old strangeness falls between the groom and bride        240
That nothing can assuage or wholly end
Till God himself embrace the Devil as friend….
Teach her the wisdom of the court and school—
She will talk wisely yet prove thrice the fool.
The only thing that she can understand,        245
A will that wavers not in its command;
She’ll love you while you keep the upper hand:
Too weak for the dominion she desires,
Like to a slave, unquestioned mastery she requires:
For slaves’ and women’s constant dream is power;        250
Yet woe to such as sue them in their hour,
For neither help nor mercy shall they see:
The feeble use no rule by tyranny,
Enslaved the more in that they know not to be free …
Where love is sown some tares of hate must grow:        255
Full many an enemy the heart shall know—
But love rejected makes the greatest foe …
You’ll find some women wise and merciful—
But the exception certifies the rule
That they are savage, wanton, and unwise,        260
And should be held as warriors seize a prize …
Harnessed and trussed by ribbons, hooks, and stays,
Strutting and chattering like popingays,
Art, books, religion using as a blind,
To love alone they give their life, soul, body, mind!…        265
Don Louis is my friend though I enjoy
His wife, why should that add the least alloy
Unto our friendship’s gold? The ways we go
Don Louis never knows, nor need he know;
And since he shares both heart and wife with me,        270
I’m twice as jealous for his fame as he:
In his repute I’ll wield a ready sword
Let Slander look askance or breathe one doubtful word….
Beneath Convention’s strict, observed parade
The Devil and his people ply their trade,        275
And Laws the foolish break the wise evade—
Evade, but, in their wisdom, never break,
Enjoy the theft, yet leave the thing they take—
To smell the rose one need not pluck at all—
Such nice distinctions to the worldly fall!…        280
Marrying her whose virtue you’ve destroyed
Is paying for a luxury enjoyed
And twice as hateful; better give her over
Into the convoy of another lover
Than into such sure shipwreck to be drawn—        285
Then hoist the good black flag and voyage on!…
After the second year, when wives begin
To meditate the pleasantness of sin
Like ripe fruit at the easy touch they fall,
Like silly birds that heed the fowler’s call….        290
Learn well the value of the passing hour
And the quick thrust that sweeps the heart to power …
Women are hungry-minded everywhere
Or for their first or sixtieth affair,
And soon the mistress cracks the cold veneer—        295
But every time the first, sheer plunge they fear:
Maid, wife, or harlot, she will bid you wait:
The female’s instinct is to hesitate;
To dilatory stratagem inclined,
’Tis you must help her to make up her mind;        300
Each time she has to overcome the fear
That nature planted in the little dear,
A fear by age-long misadventure taught
That love by final bitterness is bought—
Yet, though love do her hurt with every breath,        305
A loveless life to her is worse than death;
So, since the fatal cast depends on you,
Help her to choose the better of the two….
The faithful is repaid with faithlessness—
The latter end of love is bitterness.        310
Though each his days at sundry tasks employ
Life’s greatest pleasure is love’s passing joy …
Between embraces guard the ready whip
And like the Turk retain your mastership …
Remember, though she bears no certain mind        315
And no strong oath her wandering moods can bind,
The surest pathway to persuaded sin
And to illicit passion, is to win
Her confidences, never giving yours—
This conquers o’er a thousand subtler lures….        320
If she has given herself for ease and wealth
She’ll find the greater charm in lover’s stealth;
Strong-guarded towers the rich man’s wealth may hold—
Woman’s a subtler element than gold:
She can be bought, yet still remain unsold.        325
Like quicksilver burning with quenchless fire
She seeks the level of her own desire,
Nor will be long confined to one sure spot,
But where men’s wish would find her she is not …
Invent elaborate lies if you would stir        330
The eagerness of love that waits in her;
There is a certain texture in the lie
That, like the bold and glittering fisher’s fly,
Has charms the harmless worm of truth holds not—
By the eye’s appetite the wary trout is caught …        335
Or curiosity will lure her on,
As by a fluttering rag the deer is drawn …
At twenty scarcely dry behind the ears,
At thirty I had far outstripped my peers,
But I beguiled them best at forty years …        340
At forty years a woman’s day is past;
A man, well-kept, has ten more years to last….
What long delay the slave just raised to power
Subjects the worthy to, what exquisite flower
Of insult does he pluck when set above        345
His betters! So does Woman, sure of love,
Torture the hearts of men as on a rack!…
Give much but, somehow, hold a little back,
And, rendered plaint by uncertainty,
She’ll kiss and weep and gladly yield the mastery …        350
The greatest joy of misers is to creep
At midnight to count o’er their glittering heap.
Midnight’s the lover’s hour, too, when he finds
That wealth that’s shared by mutual hearts and minds:
But lovers to the top of heaven mount        355
By kisses that the miser cannot count….
Each knows the base beginnings of his trade:
I climbed from kitchen wench and chamber maid,
From height to gradual height, until I laid
For the great queen herself successful ambuscade!…        360
All song and art and beauty hold their root
In love’s delays, in love’s prolonged pursuit …
When I was true to one I possessed none;
When true to none all womenkind I won,
To whom the lie tastes sweeter than the truth,        365
Who far prefer the lust that knows no ruth
To the considerate heart, o’er which they pass
As the ox treads the daisy in the grass….
All simple honesty they scourge with hate;
They whip sincerity without the gate        370
Yet yield like water when men simulate
The blunt, plain virtues; under flattery’s stroke
They bow their necks down to the Devil’s yoke….
Art has its place,—song she will gladly hear,
But praise her to herself, she is all ear;        375
Then lay art, song, and learning on the shelf:
There is one subject never bores—HERSELF!…
There’s no one way to bring the captive home—
For all ways lead to love, as well as Rome….
They say I’ve ruined women, when the sun        380
Sinking in gold, ensnared the pretty one,
When forest moons or floated music played,
Or scent of roses, sprung the ambuscade—
When I MY feast upon THEIR victims made;
I’ve used all earth and heaven for my aid:        385
Even God’s rituals have aided me—
The holy cassock and the bended knee—
For lust will find a path where devils flee….
The duel has its code which men declare—
But in love’s actions foul itself is fair….        390
In vain the greybeards who forgot their youth
Would check my headlong course with bitter truth
For all ill that has been or yet shall be
Cannot outweigh love’s briefest ecstacy….
Though I’m a nobleman of great renown        395
I’ve often brushed a rival in some clown
Or wooed a cottage maid of base descent
Yet from her kisses drained such rich content
As many a titled lady could not give.
Love yields to no one his prerogative,        400
And a page often holds a queen in fee,
And, though he’s absolute in tyranny,
Love proves your only true democracy!…

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