Obscenity in Rochester's Work

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Obscenity in Rochester's Work "Rage at last confirms me impotent" (Rochester). How far is obscenity in Rochester's work motivated by disquiet with the world at large, and how successful is Rochester's ribaldry in fulfilling its satiric purpose? Rochester's poetry has been denounced by many as obscene and immoral. Samuel Johnson condemned his work and said that he lived and wrote "with an avowed contempt of decency and order, a total disregard to every moral, and a resolute denial of every religious observation." However, he is not without his admirers. Hazlitt respected his work, and remarked that "his contempt for everything that others respect almost amounts to sublimity". It is true that Rochester's work contains voluminous amounts of obscene language and metaphor. But this is not without reason, and does not mean his poetry is a light hearted and rude collection by a man who cared greatly for a debauched lifestyle. Frequently, the poetry contains an often very dark view of life in the Court (despite Rochester's active participation in the courtly way of living), and some extremely clever and appropriate satire on King Charles II and the members of his court. The obscenity could be viewed as simply that - obscenity for the sake of it, but this may not be the case. There seems to be underlying feelings beneath the surface of the language, which reflect a dissatisfied soul observing the events around him. The question of the success of his ribaldry is one that requires a good deal of thought, as it is not always the bawdy poems that convey best the satire that Rochester aims for. One of Rochester's poems - a Song about Cloris - at first seems to be merely a poem about simple virtues, with humble characters found in th... ... middle of paper ... ...mple of this comes out in A Letter From Artemisia in the Town to Chloe in the Country, where he talks about the vanity of women and their "silly sex!" who "turn gypsies for a meaner liberty". However, because of the way he deals with the poem about Cloris for example, it is not easy to interpret it as a satirical parody on the epic, as it lends itself more towards being simply a rude poem about a woman who takes care of pigs. This is not entirely successful, but the poems can be taken for what they are if the lewd contents are accepted as part of Rochester's style, and the poems are read taking that into account. Bibliography: Rochester's poetry (Selected photocopies)

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