05 April 2013

April is NPM: John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

I was introduced to the infamous Earl of Rochester in a class on Restoration literature.  He is the ultimate excessive nobleman in a court known for excess.  He was a close confidante of Charles II (when Wilmot hadn't got himself banished from court for offending the King) and was the pattern-card for rakes in plays for the next century (cf. The Man of Mode): raunchy, naughty, and uncontrollable.  He wrote some poems about performance anxiety ("The Imperfect Enjoyment"), masturbation ("Song to Cloris"), King Charles II, and so on.

For maximum impact, read "A Ramble in St. James's Park" then go listen to Johnny Depp recite the opening lines in the movie The Libertine. Once you get past the weirdness of John Malkovich as King Charles II The Libertine is an excellent recreation of the dregs of Restoration London.  (Before you get to the actual poem, I'm just going to warn you that John Wilmot did like his profanity - at the time of Rochester's writing, St. James's Park was the place to go if you planned an outing of a more, salacious nature.)

A Ramble in St. James's Park

Much wine had passed, with grave discourse
Of who fucks who, and who does worse
(Such as you usually do hear
From those that diet at the Bear),
When I, who still take care to see
Drunkenness relieved by lechery,
Weent out into St. James's Park
To cool my head and fire my heart.
But though St. James has th' honor on 't,
'Tis consecrate to prick and cunt.
There, by a most incestuous birth,
Strange woods spring from the teeming earth;
For they relate how heretofore,
When ancient Pict behan to whore,
Deluded of his assignation
(Jilting, it seems, was then in fashion),
Poor pensive lover, in this place
Would frig upon his mother's face;
Whence rows of mandrakes tall did rise
Whose lewd tops fucked the very skies.

There's a full 166 lines in this poem and Rochester pushes all the buttons.

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