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Verse-Seasons 'N Picks 'JOHN WILMOT, Earl of Rochester'

Updated: May 13, 2021

oil on canvas, circa 1665-1670
Unknown artist, John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

The first poet featured here on O, John Wilmot, was the second Earl of Rochester. A libertine, the Earl was infamous for his waywardness and his snarky remarks, even his King used as a pawn in the process. He was regarded the foremost among Restoration wits. If none of these ring a bell, might it help if we reminded you of the 2004 film The Libertine in which the actor Johnny Depp played the Earl? Such interesting and colourful a life was the Earl’s that it warranted him a place in pop culture. Films, plays, songs featured either him or his sharp-witted words.

This poem, Upon Nothing by the scandalous poet is only one of his many poems that testify his ingenuity. Here are some lines to take delight in, from a selection of his poems:

Tell me no more of constancy,
The frivolous pretense
Of cold age, narrow jealousy,
Disease, and want of sense. (From Against Constancy)

With tales like these I will such thoughts inspire
As to important mischief shall incline:
I’ll make him long some ancient church to fire,
And fear no lewdness he’s called to by wine. (From The Disabled Debauchee)

Why Phyllis then, why will you swive,
With forty lovers more?
Can I (said she) with Nature strive,
Alas I am, alas I am a whore. (From The Mock Song)

In th’ isle of Britain, long since famous grown
For breeding the best cunts in Christendom,
There reigns, and oh! long may he reign and thrive,
The easiest King and best-bred man alive.
Him no ambition moves to get renown
Like the French fool, that wanders up and down
Starving his people, hazarding his crown.
Peace is his aim, his gentleness is such,
And love he loves, for he loves fucking much.(From A Satyr on Charles II)


You can listen to the full poem Upon Nothing on O's podcast.


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