The Erotics of Transgression

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


“O brilliant kids, frisk with your dog, /Fondle your shells and sticks, bleached /By time and the elements; but there is a line /You must not cross nor ever trust beyond it /Spry cordage of your bodies to caresses /Too lichen-faithful from too wide a breast. /The bottom of the sea is cruel. ” /A vivid warning about transgression, these lines by the modern American poet Hart Crane conclude the initial poem of 'Voyages', a lyric sequence inspired by his maritime lover Emil Opffer. The penalty for crossing the line here is death, figured as an ineluctable embrace by the sea, whose 'caresses' represent a fatal union. Yet the poemdoes exactly what it warns against, with its strongly enjambed syntax luring readers across the line before we're aware of the transgression ('but there is a line /You must not cross'). As the heavy caesurae of the stanza's opening lines give way to the enjambment of those that follow, so the innocent, earth-bound identities are overtaken by the dark dissolution of the sea. The boundary that is crossed not only separates one line of poetry from another but also divides shore from sea, innocence from experience, childhood from adulthood and this world from the next. The 'line /You must not cross' thus suggests an ontological limit as well as a formal division.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Gay and Lesbian Writing
EditorsHugh Stevens
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780511781704
ISBN (Print)9780521888448
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameCambridge Companions to Literature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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