As a rule, I'm as fickle as the legendary varying flag, but just now I have made a firm unwavering commitment. My absolutely most favorite line of poetry -- are you ready now, readers -- is (drumroll)l: "If you really want my peaches, gotta shake my tree."
Is that poetry or what? It's teasingly inexplicit yet at the same time very, very suggestive.
I first encountered the line in a mid-1950s doo-wopper by The Clovers (later famous for "Love Potion Number Nine") called "Lovey Dovey."
Well, you're the cutest thing that I did ever see
I really love your peaches, want to shake your tree.
Lovey dovey, lovey dovey all the time
Lovey dovey, I can't get you out of my mind.
The line's subversive sexuality penetrated even our twin-bed, Eisenhower-era, Ozzie-and-Harriet world.
Peaches/trees has a complicated history. Wikipedia tracks it to an song composed by Irving Berlin in May 1914: “If you don't want my peaches/ You'd better stop shaking my tree,” but I'd be willing to bet the orchard that Irving did not invent but borrowed the line, probably from something bluesy. Berlin's peaches warn us off, but Bessie Smith's 1923 peaches are both active and abundant: "If you don't like my peaches then let my orchard be." Bessie was the kind of gal whose peaches would be given away by the basketful. Blind Lemon Jefferson's 1929 peaches, on the other hand, are proprietary: ("you swore nobody’d pick your fruit but me/ I found three kid men shaking down your peaches free"). Ah yes, we must all be faithful to just a single source of fruit.
I'd wager that the peaches have appeared in fifty or a hundred songs in the last century.
The line floats from song to song, but wherever it settles, it's always suggestive of sexual desires and needs. Even when peaches are forbidden fruit, they're also ripe and luscious oozers of juice. Shake that tree properly and they fall into right into your mouth.
Andrew Marvell would have loved "If you really want my peaches, gotta shake my tree." Here's his witty mid-seventeenth century version of the trope. It's in a stanza from his best poem, "The Garden."
What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.
Marvell's garden is not for strolling and smelling. It's a garden in which the fruits attack the "speaker" in an active, science-fictiony way. No nibbling here. Instead, "The luscious clusters of the vine,/Upon my mouth do crush their wine." "Luscious clusters... crush" is one sensous mouth-filling phrase. And those fine fruits, "the nectarine and curious (curious =s unusual, not investigative) peach" require no shaking whatsoever. These fruits are animatropic.
Marvell's "Garden" is as good a version of pomological love as Irving Berlin's -- without even taking into account the brilliant and accomplished couplets in iambic tetrameter.