Saturday, March 17, 2007

Lord Rochester, part three

Part one is here, and part two is .

Ultimately, however, the reason to care about Rochester is his poetry, which at its best is remarkably fun and inventive. I'll leave you with a couple of my favorites, all varying degrees of nasty. I'll begin with a couple of brief ones--the first, Greene surmises, written on the occasion of the end of his longest-lasting love affair, with a Mrs. Barry:
Upon Leaving His Mistress

'Tis not that I am weary grown
Of being yours, and yours alone:
But with what face can I incline,
To damn you to be only mine?
You, whom some kinder pow'r did fashion,
By merit, and by inclination,
The joy at least of a whole nation.

Let meaner spirits of your sex
With humble aims their thoughts perplex:
And boast, if by their arts they can
Contrive to make one happy man,
While, mov'd by an impartial sense,
Favours, like Nature, you dispense
With universal influence.

I also enjoy this early poem, a sort of libertine's creed, which is unrepentant, yet honest about the monotony of the totally dissipated life:
The Debauchee

I rise at eleven, I dine about two,
I get drunk before seven, and the next thing I do,
I send for my whore, when for fear of a clap,
I dally about her, and spew in her lap;
There we quarrel and scold till I fall asleep,
When the jilt growing bold, to my pocket does creep;
Then slyly she leaves me, and to revenge the affront,
At once both my lass and my money I want.
If by chance then I wake, hot-headed and drunk,
What a coyl do I make for the loss of my punk?
I storm, and I roar, and I fall in a rage,
And missing my lass, I fall on my page:
Then crop-sick, all morning I rail at my men,
And in bed I lie yawning till eleven again.

"The Debauchee" leads nicely into a couple of stanzas from "The Maim'd Debauchee," in which, old and infirm, the poet offers up his debauched life as an example for the youth--that they might choose the same road:
So when my days of impotence approach,
And I'm, by love and wine's unlucky chance,
Driv'n from the pleasing billows of debauch
On the dull shore of lazy temperance,

My pains at last some respite shall afford,
While I behold the battles you maintain,
When fleets of glasses sail around the board,
From whose broad-sides volley of wit shall rain.

Nor shall the sight of honourable scars,
Which my too-forward valour did procure,
Frighten new-listed soldier from the war;
Past joys have more than paid what I endure.

Should some brave youth (worth being drunk) prove nice,
And from his fair inviter meanly shrink,
'Twould please the ghost of my departed vice,
If, at my counsel, he repent and drink.

And finally, a long poem that tells of a temporary infirmity. Remarkable even among Rochester's work for its explicitness and vulgarity, it seems a good way to close this series:
The Imperfect Enjoyment

Naked she lay, clasped in my longing arms,
I filled with love, and she all over charms;
Both equally inspired with eager fire,
Melting through kindness, flaming in desire.
With arms,legs,lips close clinging to embrace,
She clips me to her breast, and sucks me to her face.
Her nimble tongue, Love's lesser lightening, played
Within my mouth, and to my thoughts conveyed
Swift orders that I should prepare to throw
The all-dissolving thunderbolt below.
My fluttering soul, sprung with the painted kiss,
Hangs hovering o'er her balmy brinks of bliss.
But whilst her busy hand would guide that part
Which should convey my soul up to her heart,
In liquid raptures I dissolve all o'er,
Melt into sperm and, and spend at every pore.
A touch from any part of her had done't:
Her hand, her foot, her very look's a c***.

Smiling, she chides in a kind murmuring noise,
And from her body wipes the clammy joys,
When, with a thousand kisses wandering o'er
My panting bosom, "Is there then no more?"
She cries. "All this to love and rapture's due;
Must we not pay a debt to pleasure too?"

But I, the most forlorn, lost man alive,
To show my wished obedience vainly strive:
I sigh, alas! and kiss, but cannot swive.
Eager desires confound my first intent,
Succeeding shame does more success prevent,
And rage at last confirms me impotent.
Ev'n her fair hand, which might bid heat return
To frozen age, and make cold hermits burn,
Applied to my dead cinder, warms no more
Than fire to ashes could past flames restore.
Trembling, confused, despairing, limber, dry,
A wishing, weak, unmoving lump I lie.
This dart of love, whose piercing point, oft tried,
With virgin blood ten thousand maids have dyed;
Which nature still directed with such art
That it through every cunt reached every heart -
Stiffly resolved, 'twould carelessly invade
Woman or man, nor aught its fury stayed:
Where'er it pierced, a cunt it found or made -
Now languid lies in this unhappy hour,
Shrunk up and sapless like a withered flower.

Thou treacherous, base deserter of my flame,
False to my passion, fatal to my fame,
Through what mistaken magic dost thou prove
So true to lewdness, so untrue to love?
What oyster-cinder-beggar-common whore
Didst thou e'er fail in all thy life before?
When vice, disease, and scandal lead the way,
With what officious haste dost thou obey!
Like a rude, roaring hector in the streets
Who scuffles, cuffs, and justles all he meets,
But if his king or country claim his aid,
The rakehell villain shrinks and hides his head;
Ev'n so thy brutal valour is displayed,
Breaks every stew, does each small whore invade,
But when great Love the onset does command,
Base recreant to thy prince, thou dar'st not stand.
Worst part of me, and henceforth hated most,
Through all the town a common fucking-post,
On whom each whore relieves her tingling cunt
As hogs do rub themselves on gates and grunt,
May'st thou to ravenous chancres be a prey,
Or in consuming weepings waste away;
May strangury and stone thy days attend;
May'st thou ne'er piss, who did refuse to spend
When all my joys did on false thee depend.
And may ten thousand abler pricks agree
To do the wronged Corinna right for thee.

A brief publishing note to close: Lord Rochester's Monkey was written in the early thirties, but Greene's publisher, Heinemann, rejected it, presumably because it was deemed too racy--as was, at the time, Rochester's verse. It wasn't until 1972 that a scholar noticed a reference to the book in Greene's papers and asked him about it; with a bit of updating, the book finally saw print in 1974. It's a brief book, and the publisher, Bodley Head, dressed it up with illustrations on each page, primarily of the principal characters and locations. It's out of print now, but used copies are readily available, well worth the cost for Rochester or Greene fans.

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