Here’s something you don’t see every day — a 17th century poem about premature ejaculation. After stumbling upon this in a bookstore, I became enamored with the work of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. A witty poet whose unrepentant rock star lifestyle in the court of King Charles II led to an early death of syphillus at the age of 33, Wilmot’s life bears similarity to England’s 19th century version of a notorious, witty, oversexed poet — Lord Byron, who died at age 36.
Johnny Depp starred in a movie about him, called The Libertine — a movie, which, in pains me to say, I cannot recommend. Despite the film-friendly subject matter, and the presence of John Malkcovich (as England’s king and Wilmot’s father figure, complete with prosthetic nose), the movie is a failure. Don’t let this trailer fool you!
I know, it looks good, but trust me — it’s not worth it. As he says in the trailer: “You will not like me.”
Back to the Imperfect Enjoyment…
I urge you first to give this sexually explicit poem a read and then consult the bottom of this page for footnotes. (For example, the word “swive” is an old, dirty word for f#ck, and “strangury” is a disease characterized by slow and painful urination.) While I was stunned at the time to find a poem this smutty and antique, the footnotes of the Penguin Classic edition startled me with this bit of context:
A poem on the premature ejaculation mishap was almost an obligatory exercise for the Restoration poet. George Etherege, Aphra Behn, William Congreve, and three anonymous poets cranked out examples, but Rochester’s is the funniest.
Thank goodness Rochester managed to crank one out. The Roman authors Ovid and Petrarch, I later read, served as models for these poets, since they too addressed the timeless and embarrassing topic of early arrival.
Rochester himself borrowed some inspiration from Thomas Otway’s poem, The Perfect Enjoyment, which I shared earlier in my post, 17th Century Sex Poetry. That sexual situation ended on a positive note — after climaxing and falling asleep, “Thus lying in a trance for dead, Her swelling breasts bore up my head,” the narrator receives a dirty (make that angry) look from his lover: “I saw her killing eyes, which in fiery glances seem to say, now Coelia dies!” (References to death and dying, mind you, refer to orgasm.) Anyway, round two commences, and his girl Coelia, not wanting to “die” alone, crys out, and the happy pair have a simulateous orgasm, hence the title of the poem. The following enjoyment does not end in such bliss, but it’s very funny. Read it to a friend:
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 lightning), 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 spend at every pore.
A touch from any part of her had done’t,
Her hand, her foot, her very look’s a cunt.
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 boy, nor ought 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,
By 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.