"The leering, brilliant hedonist"

by Stephen Jeffreys

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fansmom
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"The leering, brilliant hedonist"

Unread postby fansmom » Sun Feb 26, 2006 9:26 pm

The former poet laureate of the US apparently thinks highly of Rochester--

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/co ... 718_2.html

Poet's Choice
By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, February 26, 2006; Page BW12
Hedonism and heroism correct one another. Politicians use "hero" as an approving label, but the word can mean superhuman, and superhuman undertakings such as the Cultural Revolution and the Inquisition were heroic in that sense. Fascism is notoriously, grotesquely heroic. And Homer's warriors do not always behave in ways that make an alert reader wish to give them medals.

The leering, brilliant hedonist John Wilmot (1647-1680), Earl of Rochester, knew that those Homeric heroes were not necessarily models of good conduct. He wrote:

Grecian Kindness
The utmost Grace the Greeks could shew,
When to the Trojans they grew kind,
Was with their Arms to let 'em go,
And leave their lingring Wives behind.
They beat the Men, and burnt the Town,
Then all the Baggage was their own.
There the kind Deity of Wine
Kiss'd the soft wanton God of Love;
This clapp'd his Wings, that press'd his Vine,
And their best Pow'rs united move.
While each brave Greek embrac'd his Punk,

Lull'd her asleep, and then grew drunk.

Heroism reaches upward, ambitiously, toward being less like mere humans and a little more like gods; hedonism looks downward, desirously, toward animal satisfaction. Wilmot's poem takes the form of a mordant, funny debunking of Homer's noble Greeks and Romans. What's superhuman is Wilmot's cynicism, doled generously to husbands and wives, Greeks and Trojans, victors and vanquished.

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Unread postby Liz » Sun Feb 26, 2006 11:15 pm

That's pretty interesting, Fansmom. I'm curious what was on page 1. It does not allow me to see it. Did he mention Johnny or the movie?
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Feb 27, 2006 12:13 am

Heroism reaches upward, ambitiously, toward being less like mere humans and a little more like gods; hedonism looks downward, desirously, toward animal satisfaction.


What a wonderful description of the dichotomy of Wilmot. :cool:
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby gilly » Mon Feb 27, 2006 5:58 am

That's all very cryptic,fansmom..Does it relate to something specific this moment?..Maybe something political :perplexed:
Life is beautiful.

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Unread postby Endora » Mon Feb 27, 2006 6:07 am

Can I ask who appoints the US poet lauretate? is it the President?

And the hero connection: A line of Wilmot's:

For all men would be cowards if they durst
Work hard, learn well, and make peace with the fact that you'll never be as cool as Johnny Depp. GQ.

Solace in the flood

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Feb 27, 2006 9:39 am

Endora wrote:Can I ask who appoints the US poet lauretate? is it the President?

And the hero connection: A line of Wilmot's:

For all men would be cowards if they durst


Good question, Endora! From a quick search it appears the poet laureate is appointed by the Librarian of Congress (the head of the Library of Congress see below) who is in turn appointed by the President.

The Library of Congress is the unofficial national library of the United States and the research arm of the United States Congress. It is part of the United States Capitol Complex located in Washington, D.C.

With about 530 miles (850 km) of shelves it is one of the largest libraries in the world. It contains more than 130 million items, second only to the British Library (with over 150 million items). Its collections include:

More than 28 million cataloged books and other print materials in 470 languages;
More than 50 million manuscripts;
The largest rare book collection in North America, including a Gutenberg Bible; and
The world's largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby Jackslady » Mon Feb 27, 2006 3:40 pm

Thank you for posting this, fansmom!

I love discovering new poems by my favourite restoration rake!

We have a poet laureate in England, too, in Wilmot's time it was his rival, John Dryden.
"Easy on the goods darlin!"
"Tis not an easy thing to be entirely happy, but to be kind is very easy, and that is the greatest measure of happiness"-John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

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Unread postby Endora » Mon Feb 27, 2006 4:02 pm

Jackslady, all the Dryden I've read (and that's not much) has been deadly dull. Do you know if any of it is interesting? What I have read makes me think that Wilmot must have thought him a really smug and priggish bore. Do you have anything about what he thought?
Work hard, learn well, and make peace with the fact that you'll never be as cool as Johnny Depp. GQ.

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Unread postby fansmom » Mon Feb 27, 2006 9:03 pm

Liz wrote:That's pretty interesting, Fansmom. I'm curious what was on page 1. It does not allow me to see it. Did he mention Johnny or the movie?
No, he didn't mention Johnny or the movie. Page 1 is what I quoted in my post, so if you could read page 2 online, you read the whole column.

gilly wrote:That's all very cryptic,fansmom..Does it relate to something specific this moment?..Maybe something political
On Sundays in the Washington Post's book section, there is a poetry column that for several years was written by whoever happened to be the poet laureate. For some reason unknown to me Robert Pinsky kept writing the column even after his term had expired. (I've heard the current poet laureate on the radio and find him much more interesting than Pinsky, but the Post hasn't asked my opinion.) His columns are rather ivory-tower, and never seem to relate to anything current, so I was astonished to see a poem by Rochester.

And, sad to say, the Library of Congress has all that wonderful stuff but doesn't lend it out. :bawl:

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Unread postby gilly » Mon Feb 27, 2006 9:19 pm

Thanks fansmom. :cool: .Maybe he's seen TL and thought it would be an interesting subject to write about.
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Unread postby Jackslady » Tue Feb 28, 2006 4:21 pm

Endora wrote:Jackslady, all the Dryden I've read (and that's not much) has been deadly dull. Do you know if any of it is interesting? What I have read makes me think that Wilmot must have thought him a really smug and priggish bore. Do you have anything about what he thought?


Endora, from what I know you are spot on, Wilmot did indeed consider Dryden to be very pompous. There is some speculation that the monkey in the famous portrait was actually supposed to represent Dryden (hence Rochester "crowning him with the bays"). I'm inclined to think this could be true, if you look closely at his face in the portrait, the earl does look quite sly, as though he is about to wink at us!

I've had a go at some Dryden, but I confess that I too find it tough going! Dryden's work is not dissimilar to many of the other poets writing at that time though - a point worth considering as it shows just how radical and shocking a writer Wilmot was.

Has anyone tried John Donne? He's from the Elizabethan era and much more readable than Dryden, some of his love sonnets are quite beautiful.
"Easy on the goods darlin!"
"Tis not an easy thing to be entirely happy, but to be kind is very easy, and that is the greatest measure of happiness"-John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

*Special thanks to es for help with my lovely avatar*

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Unread postby Endora » Tue Feb 28, 2006 4:55 pm

Jackslady wrote:
Endora wrote:Jackslady, all the Dryden I've read (and that's not much) has been deadly dull. Do you know if any of it is interesting? What I have read makes me think that Wilmot must have thought him a really smug and priggish bore. Do you have anything about what he thought?


Endora, from what I know you are spot on, Wilmot did indeed consider Dryden to be very pompous. There is some speculation that the monkey in the famous portrait was actually supposed to represent Dryden (hence Rochester "crowning him with the bays"). I'm inclined to think this could be true, if you look closely at his face in the portrait, the earl does look quite sly, as though he is about to wink at us!

I've had a go at some Dryden, but I confess that I too find it tough going! Dryden's work is not dissimilar to many of the other poets writing at that time though - a point worth considering as it shows just how radical and shocking a writer Wilmot was.

Has anyone tried John Donne? He's from the Elizabethan era and much more readable than Dryden, some of his love sonnets are quite beautiful.


I would thoroughly recommend Donne. He can be very erotic but never coarse. But hard to read, needs a lot of thinking about. This one is a beautiful example

http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/elegy20.htm
Work hard, learn well, and make peace with the fact that you'll never be as cool as Johnny Depp. GQ.

Solace in the flood


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