Green Thoughts, Green Shades: Essays by Contemporary Poets on the Early Modern Lyric

By Jonathan F. S. Post | Go to book overview

ELEVEN
Saint John the Rake
Rochester's Poetry
THOM GUNN

I DISCOVERED ROCHESTER WITH WONDER and delight when I was in my teens, with the 1948 British publication of Ronald Duncan's selection, hardly a scholarly edition but a good starting point, with a stringently Poundian introduction. It contained some poems no longer attributed to Rochester, but they were in a vigorous style equal to his median work. It also contained “The Imperfect Enjoyment, which only five years later V. de Sola Pinto was constrained to omit by the publishers of his Muses' Library edition “owing to the risk of prosecution in this country [Britain] under the existing laws” (xlix). Things were to get worse before they improved; but fuller editions have succeeded these, and now that censorship has been pretty well overturned in Britain and the United States, there is a wealth of texts available to the horny teenager and the blameless scholar alike.

I suddenly realized a few years ago, looking at some Titians in the Prado (and particularly at similar paintings on the subject of “Venus and the Organist, a pairing I do not profess to understand), that a lot of what we like to think of as high art may have been commissioned in the first place as pornography for the upper class; and I agree with Thomas Waugh's statement in his Hard to Imagine (Waugh 8) that it is both impossible and undesirable to distinguish between the pornographic and the erotic, the difference being in the mind of the describer, who is likely to be concerned rather with excellence of execution than with the intention

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