Frederick the Great’s Erotic Poem

Kathryn Hadley

An erotic poem written by Frederick the Great was recently discovered amongst some of the king’s letters by the French literature teacher Vanessa de Senarclens at Berlin’s Humboldt University. Frederick the Great wrote the poem entitled ‘La Jouissance’ (‘The Pleasure’, The Orgasm’) in French, in July 1740, shortly after he became ruler of Prussia on May 31st 1740.

Giles MacDonogh provides a rough translation of the poem:

From Königsberg to Monsieur Algarotti, Swan of Padua

This night, vigorous desire in full measure,
Algarotti wallowed in a sea of pleasure.
A body not even a Praxitiles fashions
Redoubled his senses and imbued his passions
Everything that speaks to eyes and touches hearts,
Was found in the fond object that enflamed his parts.
Transported by love and trembling with excitement
In Cloris’ arms he yields himself to contentment
The love that unites them heated their embraces
And tied bodies and arms as tightly as laces.
Divine sensual pleasure! To the world a king!
Mother of their delights, an unstaunchable spring,
Speak through my verses, lend me your voice and tenses
Tell of their fire, acts, the ecstasy of their senses!
Our fortunate lovers, transported high above
Know only themselves in the fury of love:
Kissing, enjoying, feeling, sighing and dying
Reviving, kissing, then back to pleasure flying.
And in Knidos’ grove, breathless and worn out
Was these lovers’ happy destiny, without doubt.
But all joy is finite; in the morning ends the bout.
Fortunate the man whose mind was never the prey
To luxury, or grand airs, one who knows how to say
A moment of climax for a fortunate lover
Is worth so many aeons of star-spangled honour.

MacDonogh also raises questions about Frederick the Great’s relationship with Algarotti and his motives for writing the poem: is the Prussian King describing a liaison he had with Algarotti?

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