Debauchery

(c) Dillington House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Wilmot portrait by Peter Lely

After years of religious oppression under Cromwell and the puritans Britain was ready to release its pent up frustrations with gusto in the Glorious Revolution.  The restoration of Charles II to the monarchy in 1660 opened the doors to theater, dance, music and art.  Into this world stepped the famous libertine John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester.

Born April 1st 1647.  His father was a famous brave dashing cavalier and smuggled the young Charles out of England.  John had an up and down beginning to his career.  “Debauched” in Oxford, aged 13.  He tried to elope with a rich wife and was imprisoned in the Tower.  He volunteered to fight in the Navy and redeemed himself with heroism in battle.  His wit made him highly entertaining and favoured at court.  His pranks got him in trouble and rose to the level of treason and got him banned from court.

A famous rake in his day, the poem below gives a sense of his style.  He lived and wrote about overt sexuality.   He died aged only 33.  He is described as being drunk for 5 years in the company of what Andrew Marvell called “The Merry Gang”.  This was a gang of noble young blades who engaged in a feast of debauchery in the Court of King Charles.  It is thought that Wilmot died suffering from a variety of venereal diseases including Syphilis and Gonorrhea.

Because of his  lax moral character Wilmot was largely ignored in the Victorian era when poetry had a great flowering.  It was not until the 1920’s that he was re-admitted to polite society.

A Song Of A Young Lady To Her Ancient Lover ; by Lord John Wilmot

Ancient Person, for whom I
all the flattering youth defy,
long be it e’er thou grow old,
aching, shaking, crazy cold;
but still continue as thou art,
Ancient Person of my heart.

On thy withered lips and dry,
which like barren furrows lie,
brooding kisses I will pour,
shall thy youthful heart restore,
such kind show’rs in autumn fall,
and a second spring recall;
nor from thee will ever part,
Ancient Person of my heart.

Thy nobler parts, which but to name
in our sex would be counted shame,
by ages frozen grasp possest,
from their ice shall be released,
and, soothed by my reviving hand,
in former warmth and vigour stand.
All a lover’s wish can reach,
for thy joy my love shall teach;
and for thy pleasure shall improve
all that art can add to love.
Yet still I love thee without art,
Ancient Person of my heart.

Happy Birthday Marge Piercy

Marge-Piercy-photo-with-cat1

Poet, Feminist, Novelist, Sci-fi writer, Piercy is quite the woman of parts.  To boot she shares her birth date with some pretty heavy hitters, including J.S. Bach, Andrew Marvell, Joseph Haydn, Edward Fitzgerald (translator of Omar Khayyam), Octavio Paz and Canadian Hockey legend, “Mr Hockey” Gordie Howe.

I choose Marge Piercy because more than ever this is a time for feminist voices.  In Belfast last week “Not Guilty” verdicts were given to four Ulster rugby players on rape and sexual assault charges.  On Twitter a full scale war is in progress between #IBelieveHer and #IBelieveThem.

There is a danger that the war of words will distract from the most important issue.  There is a groundswell of public appetite for reform of the legal procedures in rape trials.  This opportunity needs to be grasped now.  It does not matter who was “right” or “wrong” because past has passed.  It is time to own the future.  Campaign for reform.  Use the energy to deliver a better tomorrow.

What Are Big Girls Made Of? ; by Marge Piercy

The construction of a woman:
a woman is not made of flesh
of bone and sinew
belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.
She is manufactured like a sports sedan.
She is retooled, refitted and redesigned
every decade.
Cecile had been seduction itself in college.
She wriggled through bars like a satin eel,
her hips and ass promising, her mouth pursed
in the dark red lipstick of desire.

She visited in ’68 still wearing skirts
tight to the knees, dark red lipstick,
while I danced through Manhattan in mini skirt,
lipstick pale as apricot milk,
hair loose as a horse’s mane. Oh dear,
I thought in my superiority of the moment,
whatever has happened to poor Cecile?
She was out of fashion, out of the game,
disqualified, disdained, dis-
membered from the club of desire.

Look at pictures in French fashion
magazines of the 18th century:
century of the ultimate lady
fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.
Paniers bring her hips out three feet
each way, while the waist is pinched
and the belly flattened under wood.
The breasts are stuffed up and out
offered like apples in a bowl.
The tiny foot is encased in a slipper
never meant for walking.
On top is a grandiose headache:
hair like a museum piece, daily
ornamented with ribbons, vases,
grottoes, mountains, frigates in full
sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy
of a hairdresser turned loose.
The hats were rococo wedding cakes
that would dim the Las Vegas strip.
Here is a woman forced into shape
rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:
a woman made of pain.

How superior we are now: see the modern woman
thin as a blade of scissors.
She runs on a treadmill every morning,
fits herself into machines of weights
and pulleys to heave and grunt,
an image in her mind she can never
approximate, a body of rosy
glass that never wrinkles,
never grows, never fades. She
sits at the table closing her eyes to food
hungry, always hungry:
a woman made of pain.

A cat or dog approaches another,
they sniff noses. They sniff asses.
They bristle or lick. They fall
in love as often as we do,
as passionately. But they fall
in love or lust with furry flesh,
not hoop skirts or push up bras
rib removal or liposuction.
It is not for male or female dogs
that poodles are clipped
to topiary hedges.

If only we could like each other raw.
If only we could love ourselves
like healthy babies burbling in our arms.
If only we were not programmed and reprogrammed
to need what is sold us.
Why should we want to live inside ads?
Why should we want to scourge our softness
to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?
Why should we punish each other with scorn
as if to have a large ass
were worse than being greedy or mean?

When will women not be compelled
to view their bodies as science projects,
gardens to be weeded,
dogs to be trained?
When will a woman cease
to be made of pain?