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“A Song of a Young Lady. To her Ancient Lover” (John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester)

October 1, 2009

Sen. Bob Dole's Ad for "Viagra"
Ancient person, for whom I
All the flattering youth defy,
Long be it ere 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 heat restoretv-libertine-1
(Such kind showers in autumn fall,
And a second spring recall);
Nor from thee will ever part,
Ancient person of my heart.

Thy nobler part, which but to name
In our sex would be counted shame,
By age’s frozen grasp possessed,
From his ice shall be released,
And soothed by my reviving hand,
In former warmth and vigor stand.
All a lover’s wish can reach
For thy joy my love shall teach,
And for they pleasure shall improve
All that art can add to love.
Yet still I love thee without art,
Ancient person of my heart.

N.B.: In the video below, a “young lady” sings to (among other people) at least one “ancient person of her heart,” Senator Bob Dole, exponent of Viagra, who appears at 1:25, with a wisecracking double entendre.

N.B.:  For scholar Frank Ellis’s remarks about Rochester’s poem, cf. the first comment below. The portrait here given of Rochester is in the National Portrait Gallery, London. The image of Bob Dole is from an advertisement published by Pfizer, makers of Viagra. You can hear a recording of Rochester’s poem being read aloud by a blogger writing (and recording) under the name “ravenotation.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 1, 2009 7:32 AM

    Scholar Frank Ellis: “One approach to this poem is from the negative example of some iambic pentameter verses by Bishop Henry King (1592-1669). King’s ‘Paradox. That it is best for a Young Maid to marry an Old Man’ (1644; 1657) mobilizes witty and far-fetched arguments to support the paradox that it is better for a young woman to marry a man of fifty-two. Rochester imagines a young woman who has already committed herself to a man who is older but not yet ‘Ancient’: ‘Long it be ere thou grow old,’ the girl says. By speaking in the person of the young woman, Rochester is able to avoid the judgmental tone of the paradox and to go beyond the paradox to the amoral realm of low comedy ‘that neither apportions blame nor gives approval’ (David Farley-Hills, ‘The Benevolence of Laughter’ [1974], 138; Edith Kern ‘The Absolute Comic’ [1980], 75). The arrangement of the heptasyllabic couplets in stanzas of increasing length reduces the ‘Song’ element of the title but provides a vehicle for a submerged metaphor in the poem, as Vieth hints (‘Tennessee Studies in Literature’ 25 [1980], 48).”

    The poem Ellis mentions, by Henry King, follows:

    PARADOX. That it is best for a Young Maid to marry an Old Man.

    Fair one, why cannot you an old man love?
    He may as useful, and more constant prove.
    Experience shews you that maturer years
    Are a security against those fears
    Youth will expose you to; whose wild desire
    As it is hot, so ’tis as rash as fire.
    Mark how the blaze extinct in ashes lies,
    Leaving no brand nor embers when it dies
    Which might the flame renew: thus soon consumes
    Youths wand’ring heat, and vanishes in fumes.
    When ages riper love unapt to stray
    Through loose and giddy change of objects, may
    In your warm bosom like a cinder lie,
    Quickened and kindled by your sparkling eye.
    ‘Tis not denied, there are extremes in both
    Which may the fancie move to like or loath:
    Yet of the two you better shall endure
    To marry with the Cramp then Calenture.
    Who would in wisdom choose the Torrid Zone
    Therein to settle a Plantation?
    Merchants can tell you, those hot Climes were made
    But at the longest for a three years trade:
    And though the Indies cast the sweeter smell,
    Yet health and plenty do more Northward dwell;
    For where the raging Sun-beams burn the earth,
    Her scorched mantle withers into dearth;
    Yet when that drought becomes the Harvests curse,
    Snow doth the tender Corn most kindly nurse:
    Why now then woo you not some snowy head
    To take you in mere pity to his bed?
    I doubt the harder task were to persuade
    Him to love you: for if what I have said
    In Virgins as in Vegetals holds true,
    He’ll prove the better Nurse to cherish you.
    Some men we know renown’d for wisdom grown
    By old records and antique Medals shown;
    Why ought not women then be held most wise
    Who can produce living antiquities?
    Besides if care of that main happiness
    Your sex triumphs in, doth your thoughts possess,
    I mean your beauty from decay to keep;
    No wash nor mask is like an old man’s sleep.
    Young wives need never to be Sun-burnt fear,
    Who their old husbands for Umbrellas wear
    How russet looks an Orchard on the hill
    To one that’s water’d by some neighb’ring Drill?
    Are not the floated Meadowes ever seen
    To flourish soonest, and hold longest green?
    You may be sure no moist’ning lacks that Bride,
    Who lies with Winter thawing by her side.
    She should be fruitful too as fields that joyne
    Unto the melting waste of Appenine.
    Whil’st the cold morning-drops bedew the Rose,
    It doth nor leaf, nor smell, nor colour lose;
    Then doubt not Sweet Age hath supplies of wet
    To keep You like that flower in water set.
    Dripping Catarrhs and Fontinells are things
    Will make You think You grew betwixt two Springs.
    And should You not think so, You scarce allow
    The force or Merit of Your Marriage-Vow;
    Where Maids a new Creed learn, & must from thence
    Believe against their own or other’s sense.
    Else Love will nothing differ from neglect.
    Which turns not to a virtue each defect.
    He say no more but this; you women make
    Your Children’s reck’ning by the Almanake.
    I like it well, so you contented are.
    To choose their Fathers by that Kalendar.
    Turn then old Erra Pater, and there see
    According to life’s posture and degree,
    What age or what complexion is most fit
    To make an English Maid happy by it;
    And You shall find, if You will choose a man,
    Set justly for Your own Meridian,
    Though You perhaps let One and Twenty woo,
    Your elevation is for Fifty Two.

  2. ravenotation permalink
    October 4, 2009 7:35 AM

    Thank you for mentioning my recording, here’s hoping you and others enjoy it. Feel free to visit for more public domain readings by myself & others.
    ttfn, raven

  3. October 5, 2009 8:09 AM

    Thank you, Raven. You read the poem well, and in a world where few people read any poems aloud well.


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