The young Pierre Louÿs was fascinated by women’s bodies, especially the secret, hidden parts, and having a rare facility with words and poetry explored his obsession thoroughly in imaginative and original verse. Between March 1890 and August 1891, almost all within his twentieth year, he wrote a long string of poems, mostly in sonnet form, praising every possible detail and aspect of female anatomy and how to approach it.
He planned a collection on the theme, the first of several lists dated 26 October 1890 comprising:
I: The Head
II: The Body
III: The Vulva
IV: The Ambrosias
V: The Scents
VI: The Pleasures
VII: Sketch of Women
The plan for the collection grew and grew, at one point being for two books, La femme and Les femmes, each with 144 poems, one proposed sequence being:
I: The Vulva
II: The Lower Belly
III: The Thighs
IV: The Anus
V: The Perineum
VI: The Pubic Hair
VII: The Mount of Venus
VIII: The Lips
IX: The Clitoris
X: The Hymen
XI: The Vagina
XII: The Uterus
How many of these poems ever saw the light of day will never be known, but in 1938 the author Louis Perceau edited a collection of 39 original Louÿs manuscripts with the title La femme (The Woman), which were published in facsimile along with sixteen surviving Louÿs pencil sketches. The juxtaposition shows the young Louÿs, while clearly obsessed with the subject, as a sensitive and respectful student of the female body. Here is one of the poems, the manuscript version of which is shown above:
III. Le mont de Vénus
Sous la fauve toison dressée en auréole
À la base du ventre obscène et triomphant,
Le Mont de Vénus, pur ainsi qu’un front d’enfant,
Brille paisiblement dans sa blancheur créole.
J'ose à peine le voir et l’effleurer du doigt;
Sa pulpe a la douceur des paupières baissées
Sa pieuse clarté sublime les pensées
Et sanctifie au coeur ce que la chair y voit.
Ne t’étonne pas si ma pudeur m’empêche
De ternir l'épiderme exquis de cette pêche,
Si j’ai peur, si je veux l’adorer simplement
Et, penché peu à peu dans les cuisses ouvertes,
Baiser ton Vénusberg comme un saint sacrement
Tel que Tannhäuser baisant les branches vertes.
25 mars 1890
III. The Mount of Venus
Under the fawn fleece dressed in a halo,
At the base of the obscene and triumphant belly,
The Mount of Venus, pure as a child’s forehead,
Glows peacefully in its Creole whiteness.
I hardly dare to look and touch it with my finger;
Its pulp has the softness of lowered eyelids,
Its pious clarity sublimates thoughts
And sanctifies in the heart what the flesh sees there.
Don’t be surprised if my modesty prevents me
From tarnishing the exquisite skin of this peach;
If I’m afraid it’s just because I want to worship it;
And, leaning little by little toward the open thighs,
Kiss your Venusberg like a holy sacrament,
Like Tannhäuser kissing the green branches.
25 March 1890
La femme was published A l’inseigne de Bilitis, Mytilène (actually by Georges Briffaut in Paris) in a limited numbered edition of 260 copies.