“The Disappointment” is a narrative poem in lyric form. It consists of fourteen numbered stanzas of ten lines each, and it tells the story of a single romantic tryst. It is written from the woman’s point of view, explaining her frustration or disappointment when her young “Swain” is unable to make good on his promise.
Sexual dysfunction was a subject of ridicule in erotic poetry long before it became a subject of concern in advice columns. There is a classical precedent for “The Disappointment” in the last book of Ovid’s Amores (Loves, 2 b.c.e.); however, the immediate source is an anonymous French poem, “Sur une Impuissance” (on an impotence, 1661), which Aphra Behn freely translates. Her poem is frankly erotic, and the author would have been called a “libertine” even in the relatively carefree days of King Charles II, affectionately known as the Merry Monarch. Behn was called much worse in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but in the twentieth century was hailed as the first English woman to earn a living as a writer. Today “The Disappointment” tends to amuse readers rather than to shock or to titillate. Behn appeals to feminists as a woman who was comfortable with her sexuality.
The lovers in the poem have Greek names; he is “the Amorous Lysander,” and she is “fair Cloris.” They are said to be a shepherd and a shepherdess who meet...
(The entire section is 408 words.)