A Question Answered

What is it men in women do require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
What is it women do in men require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire.

In 29 words (and, given the repetitions, fewer than 20 different words!), William Blake makes a shrewd, unsettling observation, expressing it in a form that is, precisely, unforgettable. (You have memorized this poem, once you have read it.) Writing in the late 18th century, Blake observes something about sexual manners on a level that does not apparently change much with the centuries. Note that it is not gratification in the other, but the sight or appearance of visible gratification that each requires. This sight may mean bodily expression of what is within or it may signify a mere gesture or a feigning: the lineaments, says Blake, are what is required. Even the cold urgency of “require” is in contrast with the relatively innocent warmth of its rhyme “desire.” More monumental than mere cynicism, more wise than mere idealism, Blake’s poem shows how much can be done in a little space.

–Robert Pinsky