The brightest star at the court of King Charles II, John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-80), lived a life of reckless debauchery and sexual adventuring that led to his death at the age of thirty-three - described by Samuel Johnson as having 'blazed out his youth and health in lavish voluptuousness'. Rochester was also one of the wittiest and most complex poets of the seventeenth century, writing comic verse, scurrilous satires and highly explicit erotica - from the bawdy self-portrait in 'The Maimed Debauchee' and the tender passion of 'Absent from thee I languish still' to the comic world-weariness of 'Upon Nothing' and 'A Satyr against Mankind', which mocks human follies. With endless literary disguises, rhymes and alliteration, humour and humanity, Rochester's poems hold up a mirror to the extravagances and absurdities of his age.
John Wilmot, the notorious Earl of Rochester, was the darling of the polished, profligate court of Charles II. One of the finest poets of the Restoration, patron to important playwrights, model for countless witty young rakes in Restoration comedies, he lived a full but short life, dying in 1680 (with a dramatic deathbed renunciation of his atheism) at the age of thirty-three. Frank H. Ellis teaches at Smith College, Massachusetts.
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