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As Rochester succinctly phrased it in his correspondence, “Expressions must descend to the Nature of Things express’d”.
The Victorians couldn’t cope with Rochester’s poetry, and there were no editions of his work published in the 19th century.
Following his death in 1680 publishers scrambled to produce editions of Rochester’s poems – correctly perceiving the public appetite for his verse.
An initial run of pirate editions of Rochester’s poetry was quickly supplanted with an authoritative collection, produced in 1691 by the leading literary publisher of the day, Jacob Tonson.
A touch from any part of her had done ’t: Her hand, her foot, her very look’s a cunt.
The obscene language Rochester employs in The Imperfect Enjoyment – and the sexual act on which it focuses – led generations of readers to view the work as pornographic. The clue is in the title: the poem portrays the ultimate failure of desire. And its cold, clinical and obscene language (sperm, spend, pore, cunt) is contrasted throughout the poem with phrases that point to the scene’s absent romance (the sexual act convey my soul up to her heart”, but it doesn’t).
In this way, he was much like the contemporary philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who famously pronounced that life was “nasty, brutish and short” and that underneath it all man was a beast like any other.
She is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a member of the University and College Union.It wasn’t until 1963, in the wake of the Chatterley trial, that American scholar David M. Vieth gave us back the real Rochester and made it possible for readers to access his poems once again.Obscenity might not make for comfortable reading, but that’s often its point.The judge’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover used in the landmark 1960 obscenity trial of DH Lawrence’s famous novel is to be sold at auction in October.The paperback copy will be sold with a fabric bag, hand-stitched by the judge’s wife Lady Dorothy Byrne so that her husband could carry the book into court each day while keeping it hidden from reporters.
Rochester strips away all sense of love and romance from his depicted sexual encounters. His images are those of the mechanics of sex, its failures, disappointments and disease.