Friday, April 01, 2011

Happy Birthday, John

Earl of Rochester with a marionetteJohn Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, was born in Oxfordshire on 1 April 1647. By his death at 33 he had become notorious because - as Samuel Johnson put it - "in a course of drunken gaiety and gross sensuality, with intervals of study perhaps yet more criminal, with an avowed contempt of decency and order, a total disregard to every moral, and a resolute denial of every religious observation, he lived worthless and useless, and blazed out his youth and health in lavish voluptuousness".

He went to jail several times (well, the Tower, probably in great luxury) and was banished from the court for his satirical verse at least once. He's probably most famous for his quatrain teasing King Charles II
God bless our good and gracious king,
Whose promise none relies on;
Who never said a foolish thing,
Nor ever did a wise one.
To which Charles is said to have replied:
"That is true; for my words are my own, but my actions are those of my ministers.
His poetry was learned, witty, raunchy, and accessible - but it's been hard to find until fairly recently. One Victorian critic said
Rochester's Poems form a kind of "Parnasse Satyrique" into which a modern reader can scarcely venture to dip.
O my!

Here are a couple of the less explicit ones.

Give Me Leave to Rail at You

Give me leave to rail at you, -
I ask nothing but my due:
To call you false, and then to say
You shall not keep my heart a day.
But alas! against my will
I must be your captive still.
Ah! be kinder, then, for I
Cannot change, and would not die.

Kindness has resistless charms;
All besides but weakly move;
Fiercest anger it disarms,
And clips the wings of flying love.
Beauty does the heart invade,
Kindness only can persuade;
It gilds the lover's servile chain,
And makes the slave grow pleased again.

All My Past Life...

All my past life is mine no more,
The flying hours are gone,
Like transitory dreams given o'er,
Whose images are kept in store
By memory alone.

What ever is to come is not,
How can it then be mine?
The present moment's all my lot,
And that as fast as it is got,
Phyllis, is wholly thine.

[more - including some pretty bawdy ones - are here]

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