Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is probably better known for her letters from Istanbul, where her husband was Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early 1700s, and for campaigning for childhood smallpox vaccination, than she was for her poetry. But she seems to have been a remarkable woman on many counts, and her poetry is certainly worth paying attention to.
This is a love poem, and it is unusual in that there are not many love poems written by women, and even more so because it is about the joys of physical love, not spiritual love or admiration from afar. The title, “Between your sheets”, leaves no doubt about the subject matter, and I am guessing this would be unusual even if the poet was male, let alone a woman writer.
Between Your Sheets
Between your sheets you soundly sleep
Nor dreams of vigils that we lovers keep
While all the night, I waking sign your name,
The tender sound does every nerve inflame,
Imagination shows me all your charms,
The plenteous silken hair, and waxen arms,
The well turned neck, and snowy rising breast
And all the beauties that supinely rest
between your sheets.
Ah Lindamira, could you see my heart,
How fond, how true, how free from fraudful art,
The warmest glances poorly do explain
The eager wish, the melting throbbing pain
Which through my very blood and soul I feel,
Which you cannot believe nor I reveal,
Which every metaphor must render less
And yet (methinks) which I could well express
between your sheets.
Mary Wortley Montagu
The first stanza has the poet awake in bed, looking at her lover, sound asleep beside her. She cannot sleep for admiring his features and his body, and presumably replaying their love-making in her mind. She is captivated by the love she feels for this man.
The second stanza begins with a reference to Lindamira, a romantic novel of the very early eighteenth century and compares the poet’s own heart with that of the romantic heroine. The force of the poet’s feelings and desires burstd of the page as she proclaims the inadequacy of words to express her feelings and desires. She can only really express them with her body, between the sheets.
The Poetry Dude