The Disabled Debauchee

By John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester 1647–1680 John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester
As some brave admiral, in former war
   Deprived of force, but pressed with courage still,
Two rival fleets appearing from afar,
   Crawls to the top of an adjacent hill;

From whence, with thoughts full of concern, he views
   The wise and daring conduct of the fight,
Whilst each bold action to his mind renews
   His present glory and his past delight;

From his fierce eyes flashes of fire he throws,
   As from black clouds when lightning breaks away;
Transported, thinks himself amidst the foes,
   And absent, yet enjoys the bloody day;

So, when my days of impotence approach,
   And I’m by pox and wine’s unlucky chance
Forced from the pleasing billows of debauch
   On the dull shore of lazy temperance,

My pains at least some respite shall afford
   While I behold the battles you maintain
When fleets of glasses sail about the board,
   From whose broadsides volleys of wit shall rain.

Nor let the sight of honorable scars,
   Which my too forward valor did procure,
Frighten new-listed soldiers from the wars:
   Past joys have more than paid what I endure.

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

Or should some cold-complexioned sot forbid,
   With his dull morals, our bold night-alarms,
I’ll fire his blood by telling what I did
   When I was strong and able to bear arms.

I’ll tell of whores attacked, their lords at home;
   Bawds’ quarters beaten up, and fortress won;
Windows demolished, watches overcome;
   And handsome ills by my contrivance done.

Nor shall our love-fits, Chloris, be forgot,
   When each the well-looked linkboy strove t’ enjoy,
And the best kiss was the deciding lot
   Whether the boy fucked you, or I the boy.

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.

Thus, statesmanlike, I’ll saucily impose,
   And safe from action, valiantly advise;
Sheltered in impotence, urge you to blows,
   And being good for nothing else, be wise.

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Poet John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester 1647–1680


SCHOOL / PERIOD 17th Century

Subjects Living, Growing Old, Health & Illness, Relationships, Love, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza


John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester and Baron of Adderbury in England, Viscount Athlone in Ireland, infamous in his time for his life and works and admired for his deathbed performance, was the cynosure of the libertine wits of Restoration England. He was anathematized as evil incarnate and simultaneously adored for his seraphic presence, beauty, and wit, even from his first appearance at the court of Charles II. This . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Growing Old, Health & Illness, Relationships, Love, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict


SCHOOL / PERIOD 17th Century

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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