This poem, also known as “The Disabled Debauchee,” was widely circulated in manuscript in Rochester’s lifetime, and has been popular ever since. Slyly mocking the braggadocio of some contemporary poems, it also undercuts the swaggering persona that Rochester had built up for himself.
As some brave Admiral, in former War
Deprived of force, but pressed with courage still,
Two Rival-Fleets appearing from a far,
Crawls to the top of an adjacent Hill;
From whence (with thoughts full of concern) he views
The wise and daring Conduct of the fight,
Whilst each bold action to his Mind renews
His present glory and his past delight;
From his fierce Eyes, flashes of fire he throws,
As from black Clouds when Lightning breaks away;
Transported, thinks himself amidst his Foes,
And absent, yet enjoys the Bloody Day;
So, when my Days of Impotence approach,
And I’m by Pox and Wine’s unlucky chance
Forced from the pleasing Billows of debauch,
On the dull Shore of lazy temperance,
My pains at least some respite shall afford
While I behold the Battails you maintain
When Fleets of Glasses, sail about the Board,
From whose Broad-sides Volleys of Wit shall rain.
Nor let the sight of Honorable Scars,
Which my too forward Valour did procure,
Frighten new-listed Souldiers from the wars:
Past joys have more than paid what I endure.
Shou’d any Youth (worth being drunk) prove nice,
And from his fair Inviter meanly shrink,
’Twill please the Ghost of my departed Vice
If, at my Councel, he repent and drink.
Or shou,d some cold-complexioned Sot forbid,
With his dull Morals, our Nights brisk Alarmes,
I’ll fire his Blood by telling what I did,
When I was strong, and able to bear Armes.
I’ll tell of Whores attacked, their Lords at home;
Bawds Quarters beaten up, and Fortress won;
Windows demolished, Watches overcome;
And handsome ills, by my contrivance done.
Nor shall our Love-fits, Chloris, be forgot,
When each the well-looked Link-boy strove t’ enjoy,
And the best Kiss was the deciding Lot
Whether the Boy fucked you, or I the Boy.
With Tales like these, I will such thoughts inspire
As to important mischief shall incline:
I’ll make him long some Ancient Church to fire,
And fear no lewdness he’s called to by Wine.
Thus, States-man-like, I’ll saucily impose,
And safe from Action valiantly advise;
Sheltered in impotence, urge you to blows,
And being good for nothing else, be wise.