O that you would kiss me with the
Kisses of your mouth…
And your kisses like the best wine
That goes down smoothly,
Gliding over lips and teeth. — Song of Solomon
It has the magic of the night, the quiet of the mountains, the cool freshness of a freshwater spring, the beguiling grace of Delilah, the inflamed dazzle of rubies, the raging of a tumultuous sea. It is perhaps the best expression of love and affection, so reassuring, so full of warmth and tenderness, so therapeutic.
Writes Charles Baudelaire:
To drown my sorrow
There is no abyss
However deep, that can
Compare with your bed.
Forgetfulness has made
Its country your red
Mouth, and the flowing
Of Lethe is in your kiss.
Nothing can carry the power of conviction more fully than the kiss.
Lord Byron recognised its strength when he wrote:
A long, long kiss of youth and love
And beauty, all concentrating like rays
Into one focus, kindled from above;
Such kisses as belong to early days,
Where heart and soul and sense in concert move,
And the blood’s lava, and the pulse a blaze,
Each kiss a heart-quake, for a kiss’s strength,
I think, it must be reckoned by its length.
Inspired by this mysterious sensation, Hardy writes:
That kiss is gone where none can tell—
Not even those who felt its spell:
It cannot have died; that know we well.
Somewhere it pursues its flight,
One of a long procession of sounds
Travelling aethereal rounds
Far from earth’s bounds
In the infinite.
Austin Dobson also treasures it:
Rose kissed me today
Will she kiss me tomorrow?
Let it be as it may,
Rose kissed me today,
But the pleasure gives way
To a savour of sorrow—
Rose kissed me today
Will she kiss me tomorrow?
The literature of the West is unlimited in its treatment of the subject of osculation. In The Garden of Eden Ernest Hemingway writes: “When she finished reading, Marita put her arms around David and kissed him so hard that she drew blood from his lip. He looked at her and tasted his blood absentmindedly and smiled.” In fact, osculatory judo has come to become the nitty-gritty of much popular romantic fiction of today. Margaret Pargeter and other authors of her ilk even go to the extent of presenting a rather unreal and far-fetched picture of the kiss. Consider the following extract from Pargeter’s Chains of Regret (published by Mills and Boon): “It was nothing like his previous kisses. Pressed hard against him, she felt the demands of his body, commanding and receiving her response. She found it impossible to struggle against the authority and expertise he was wielding and blindly surrendered to both.” Whether kisses really entail such turbulence and surrender is something that James Belshaw and Sophia Severin, who kissed continuously for around 31 and a half hours, could tell us better.
Not only poets and authors, but also sculptors, painters and filmmakers have celebrated the kiss. The Kiss (1886), one of Auguste Rodin’s most moving sculptures, contains all the poignancy and magic of osculation. Gustav Klimt, the most famous painter of the turn-of-the-century Vienna, also found the kiss extremely wondrous. His chef-d'oeuvre The Kiss (1907) is a powerful statement on the theme of embrace. Needless to say, the motion picture has played a vital role in popularising the so-called Hollywood kiss. As most of us already know, the most prolonged osculatory marathon in the history of cinema is one of 195 seconds by Regis Toomey and Jane Wyman (later Mrs. Ronald Reagan) in You’re in the Army Now released in 1940.
Kissing as a means of expressing affection and sexual love seems to be a concomitant mainly of Western cultures. It may be mentioned here that the kissing heritage of the West comes primarily from Rome. The Romans had three terms for the custom: basium for the kiss between acquaintances; osculum for the kiss among friends; and suavium for the kiss between lovers. On the other hand, peoples of non-Western societies never had a penchant for the kiss. Some of them even considered it disgusting and devilish. Winwoode Reade (1838-1875), who was a British historian, explorer, and philosopher, once offered his lips to a nubile African girl, Ananga, The girl fiercely pushed him away. “Ananga knew that the serpent moistens its victim with its lips before it begins its repast…The poor child had thought that I was going to dine of her,” writes Winwoode.
The Chinese trace the European kiss to ravenous cannibals and, therefore, consider it highly objectionable from the aesthetic standpoint. Native mothers in some parts of China frighten their children by threatening to give them a white man’s kiss! The Chinese regard their form of kiss as an expression of sexuality, appropriate only to lovers. It is said that Chinese fathers desist from kissing grown-up children. Even mothers rarely indulge in the act and if they do, they do it rather stealthily.
The Japanese also do not celebrate the kiss. Kisses and embraces simply do not exist in their literatures. Japanese mothers may hug and caress their young children, but after babyhood, there is no more hugging and lipping. Only in the case of infants such actions are not regarded immodest.
In tribal Southeast India, tribesmen, instead of saying to the loved one, “kiss me”, say in the native vernacular, “smell me”. However, it would be wrong to say that all Indians have been strangers to the kiss. The existence of Kama Sutra and other handbooks of physical love testifies that the act was practised as far back as A.D. 100. Vatsyayana described several forms of kisses and observed that the main object of the kiss was to heighten the pleasure of love. He asked every lover to thoroughly master the art of kissing and recommended a kissing combat by lovers as a welcome form of diversion that enhanced the delights of love.
Eskimos and Maoris do it by rubbing noses. Some North American Indians and Trobriand islanders do it by violently sucking their partner’s lips and tongue and allowing their saliva to flow into their partner’s mouth. Couples in 19th-century Brittany performed maraichinage, a French kiss that lasted for several hours non-stop. The Balines bring their faces close enough to catch each other’s body smell and feel the warmth of the skin, moving the head from side to side. Some Polynesians do it by biting each other’s eyebrows.
What’s in a kiss? A few years ago, Swiss scientists found an answer to this perplexing question. They claim that it has 9 ml. of water, along with 0.7 g of fatty materials, 0.7 g of albumin, 0.18 g of organic substances, 0.456 mg. of salt and an unbelievable scattering of bacteria, parasites and viruses.
Does kissing have any harmful effects on the body? Some medical scientists believe that kissing carries certain risks: Glandular fever and meningitis can be passed on by it. Besides, pulse rate rises when we do it. In addition, it puts a strain on the heart and reduces life expectancy by an average of three minutes. Other medical scientists are of the opinion that kissing is not completely bereft of benefits: It is good for the teeth and reduces plaque because it increases the amount of saliva in the mouth. It is also good for the skin, as it activates facial muscles; and is a useful slimming aid: About 12 kilojoules are used up per kiss.
Be that as it may, the kiss continues to be one of the most mind-boggling mysteries known to man. Medical science has not been able to fathom the mysteries of the kiss in exact terms, mainly because a scientific analysis cannot give us an insight into the emotive power of the kiss. Only the mind can comprehend its beauty and strength.