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the kisses you owe (revised)

Rating: 2 votes, 3.50 average.
English seems particularly poor in its grasp of kissing. We have a hundred synonyms ("smooch"), some unattractive ("snog") but precious little subtlety. The Romans knew that the kiss on my child's forehead doesn't even come from the same universe as the kiss my lover hopes to spray across me.

osculum: a friendship kiss
basium: an affectionate kiss on the lips
suavium: a lover’s kiss

The Germans are even more inventive, knowing that even lovers' kisses come in flavors.

nachtküssen: the kiss at night
wachküssen: the kiss with which you wake a lover
nachküssen: a kiss to make up for all the kisses you haven't offered
schmetterlingkuss: a butterfly kiss (those fluttery eyelash things)
zungenjuss: I'm not sure what the French call it, but in the English-speaking world it's a French kiss. Likewise seelenkuss, dignified as "soul kiss," under the apparent assumption that one's soul resides awfully close to one's tonsils.

Ahh, imagine the possibilities. Perhaps a game? Make her find and name a whole new type of kiss for you every day for a week, and then impose a particularly rigorous final exam? You describe the kiss ("a nibbling kiss that makes your nipples feel like fireworks"), she gets one minute to name it and do it? Might it work by country? "Australian, wench!" (presumably something . . . uhh, down-under?). Or by species? "chipmunk me!"

But, in English, we seem condemned to the simple fate of being inundated by mad, worshipful lips. The most famous of those celebrations comes from the English poet Robert Herrick:

Give me a kiss, and to that kiss a score;
Then to that twenty, add a hundred more;
A thousand to that hundred; so kiss on,
To make that thousand up a million;
Treble that million, and when that is done,
Let's kiss afresh, as when we first begun.

But yet, though love likes well such scenes as these,
There is an act that will more fully please:
Kissing and glancing, soothing, all make way
But to the acting of this private play:
Name it I would; but, being blushing red,
The rest I'll speak when we meet both in bed.
Robert Herrick (1591-1674). “To Anthea."

Anthea may have been a fictional lover; he seemed to have many such (see “Upon the Loss of His Mistresses”). Herrick either was Anthea’s sub, or he desperately wished he was. He dedicated a half dozen poems to her, including “To Anthea, who may command him Anything”

Thou art my life, my love my heart,
The very eyes of me:
And hast command of every part
To live and die for thee.
And another (“The Shoe-Tying”) in which she commanded him to tie her shoe, inspiring him to begin kissing her foot and ankle while he was down there.

On top of being a sub with a foot fetish, it's also possible that he was a plagiarist. Okay, perhaps just "excessively inspired by" the works of another poet, Catallus.

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love . . .
Give me a thousand kisses, then another hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
then yet another thousand more, then another hundred.
Then, when we have made many thousands,
we will mix them all up so that we don't know,
and so that no one can be jealous of us when he finds out
how many kisses we have shared.
Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca. 84 BC – ca. 54 BC), “Catullus 5”

We know little of Catullus except what’s revealed in his surviving poems (he was a horny, sharp-tongued bastard) and less about Lesbia except that their relationships was exceptionally stormy. It’s a pseudonym, possibly for a Senator’s wife, possibly for his best friend’s former lover, “a Sapphic girl, more learned than the Muse.”


  1. chipmunk_'s Avatar
    "chipmunk me?" Hmmm....


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