In “The Imperfect Enjoyment,” John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester expresses his frustration at his inability to please his ladylove. To illustrate his distress, he criticizes his past lovers in line 50 of the poem. Using diction, meter, and punctuation, the line paints a picture of the grotesque women of his past and the triviality of their sexual encounters in comparison to his love. He shows the reader that the women of his past were horrible worthless women and they do not compare to his ladylove because she stands on a higher level of importance. His love is one in a million and so much better than anyone else he has been with.
Upon reading the line aloud, the rapid flow of the broken meter creates a sense of unworthiness about the past women with whom the speaker has had sexual liaisons. By placing the word “what” in the beginning of the iambic pentameter line, the speaker uses the meter to cut each word in half and the rest of the polysyllabic words are divided when counting the feet (ln. 50). The second syllable of the word “oyster” begins the second foot and the first syllable of the word “cinder” ends the foot (ln.50). This forces the reader to quickly read through the line without hesitation. Rochester uses this tempo to make the reader gloss over the words and take attention away from the women cited.
| The Imperfect Enjoyment by the Earl of Rochester
Naked she lay, clasped in my longing arms,
I filled with love, and she all over charms;
Both equally inspired with eager fire,
Melting through kindness, flaming in desire.
With arms, legs, lips close clinging to embrace,
She clips me to her breast, and sucks me to her face.
Her nimble tongue, Love's lesser lightening, played
Within my mouth, and to my thoughts conveyed
Swift orders that I should prepare to throw
The all-dissolving thunderbolt below.
My fluttering soul, sprung with the painted kiss,
Hangs hovering o'er her balmy brinks of bliss.
But whilst her busy hand would guide that part
Which should convey my soul up to her heart,
In liquid raptures I dissolve all o'er,
Melt into sperm and, and spend at every pore.
A touch from any part of her had done't:
Her hand, her foot, her very look's a cunt.
Smiling, she chides in a kind murmuring noise,
And from her body wipes the clammy joys,
When, with a thousand kisses wandering o'er
My panting bosom, "Is there then no more?"
She cries. "All this to love and rapture's due;
Must we not pay a debt to pleasure too?"
But I, the most forlorn, lost man alive,
To show my wished obedience vainly strive:
I sigh, alas! and kiss, but cannot swive.
Eager desires confound my first intent,
Succeeding shame does more success prevent,
And rage at last confirms me impotent.
Ev'n her fair hand, which might bid heat return
To frozen age, and make cold hermits burn,
Applied to my dead cinder, warms no more
Than fire to ashes could past flames restore.
Trembling, confused, despairing, limber, dry,
A wishing, weak, unmoving lump I lie.
This dart of love, whose piercing point, oft tried,
With virgin blood ten thousand maids have dyed;
Which nature still directed with such art
That it through every cunt reached every heart -
Stiffly resolved, 'twould carelessly invade
Woman or man, nor aught its fury stayed:
Where'er it pierced, a cunt it found or made -
Now languid lies in this unhappy hour,
Shrunk up and sapless like a withered flower.
Thou treacherous, base deserter of my flame,
False to my passion, fatal to my fame,
Through what mistaken magic dost thou prove
So true to lewdness, so untrue to love?
What oyster-cinder-beggar-common whore
Didst thou e'er fail in all thy life before?
When vice, disease, and scandal lead the way,
With what officious haste dost thou obey!
Like a rude, roaring hector in the streets
Who scuffles, cuffs, and justles all he meets,
But if his king or country claim his aid,
The rakehell villain shrinks and hides his head;
Ev'n so thy brutal valour is displayed,
Breaks every stew, does each small whore invade,
But when great Love the onset does command,
Base recreant to thy prince, thou dar'st not stand.
Worst part of me, and henceforth hated most,
Through all the town a common fucking-post,
On whom each whore relieves her tingling cunt
As hogs do rub themselves on gates and grunt,
May'st thou to ravenous chancres be a prey,
Or in consuming weepings waste away;
May strangury and stone thy days attend;
May'st thou ne'er piss, who did refuse to spend
When all my joys did on false thee depend.
And may ten thousand abler pricks agree
To do the wronged Corinna right for thee.
The rapid flow shows that the speaker does not want much consideration brought to the women who were negligible sexual partners. This literary device suggests that the women mentioned in the line are not vital enough to think carefully about and thus not really worth mentioning at all. The only reason the speaker classifies his women is to illustrate the speaker’s poor opinion of them. The meter thus emphasizes the low characterization of his past women in contrast with the higher estimation of his current love.
To further the idea of class segregation, the poet also uses the line to show the differences between his past encounters and his love. By using the dashes in the line, Rochester groups together the entire past type of women into one “common” category (ln. 50). Using this diction illustrates to the reader that the speaker’s love does not belong to a low society, but of a higher, more sophisticated class. The word “common” at the end of the list also suggests that the list of past women may be long, but they are so insignificant that mentioning them all by occupation is a waste of space. These women mean so little to the speaker that he is not even willing to mention their names in the poem, only their occupations. The speaker suggests a lack of emotional worth because occupations are physical traits of people. The speaker confesses that he does not remember the names of the women he slept with. Since names are an indication of a more personal relationship, the speaker avoids names to suggest that these women were of no emotional importance and meant nothing to him. The specific diction emphasizes class differences and makes his cultured lady more worthy of his passion than his past unworthy ordinary women.
Adding to the differences in social order, the speaker mentions specific occupations to describe his past women and show the reader the grotesque nature of their lives and their ultimate lack of value. An “oyster” maid has the unpleasant job of cleaning the oysters captured from the sea (ln. 50). The smelly, filthy atmosphere of her job illustrates that she must be a horrid woman. In the same regard, the word “cinder” describes a chimney cleaner who must have really dirty skin and rough hands and feet (ln. 50).
“Beggars” are people who do not shower and touch scraps on the ground on a routine basis (ln. 50). The speaker has thus far compensated these awful women nicely even though they were not worthy of the pleasure. The frustration the speaker feels with his impotency becomes valid when the reader understands the horrid nature of his past partners. He uses very specific diction to show the reader the magnitude of the filth he has welcomed to his bed in the past. He has had some of the most disgusting women as partners in the past. None of these women have been worthy of emotional ties except the one he currently wants to please. The speaker has thus further isolated his love from the creatures of the past. His lady belongs to an elevated status of women and he holds her at a higher value than all the rest.
As the line continues, the last word sends the final degrading blow to the group of past partners. The speaker offends them by calling them “whores” instead of women or females. The derogatory diction reduces the value of the women considerably (ln. 50). By adding the word “whore” the speaker eliminates any chance of these women being upstanding citizens. Whores sell their bodies for money and are left with no human value in the eyes of a puritan society. Not only do these women in the line work in horrible conditions, but they also are jumping from bed to bed. By taking away their masculine version of feminine honor, the speaker criticizes his choices in the past and degrades the worth of the women. In doing this, he elevates his current love to a level of elegance that has so far gone unmatched. The comparison between them and his love are similar to the contest of impurity vs. purity. The women in the past have been impure because of the “whorish” nature of their sexual experiences, the loss of virginity, and the dirty atmosphere in which they reside or work. The purity in the speaker’s love interest is the result of her upper class status and the probability of her remaining a virgin. The speaker finds that in impure scenarios, he becomes erect easily, but in times of purity, his penis malfunctions and can not please his love. This impotency may result because pure lovemaking is a new thing to the speaker, and it holds value and meaning for him. The reader infers that he may be scared at his possible inability to please his love as he has in the past. The attention he gives to his love is an indication of how much he values her. He is angered by his impotency because he cares enough about her to want to please her. This desire to please further segregates his love from his past women. In the past, his motives were concentrated on him, however, now he yearns to please his love.
The one you love compares to no one else you’ve known. In “The Imperfect Enjoyment,” the Earl of Rochester carefully disgraces the speaker’s past sexual partners while praising his love. He criticizes his past partners to illustrate that they are no comparison to his current partner. The segregation shows the reader that the past holds no value and the present is important. The speaker shows that he is angered by his impotency because he wants to please his love. His anger suggests an emotional attachment that he has never felt in the past. By degrading his past, he shows how much he cares for his love.