26 September 2010

Milton and some bawdy verse

Last week the Independent reported that academics at Oxford University struck gold when they discovered a poem by John Milton while sifting through their archives.

However if you think that the work is another Paradise Lost you will be disappointed. the work is an innuendo-laden ditty titled "An Extempore Upon A Faggot", was found in the university's Harding Collection, the world's largest collection of popular poetic anthologies and songbooks.

The handwritten poem appears to have been signed by Milton but is written in a style utterly unlike his own, and does not tally with his status as an epic poet, polemicist and scholarly man of letters.

"To see the name of John Milton, the great religious and political polemicist, attached to such a bawdy epigram, is extremely surprising to say the least," said the discoverer Dr Jennifer Batt. "The poem is so out of tune with the rest of his work, that if the attribution is correct, it would prompt a major revision of our ideas about Milton. It is likely that Milton's name was used as an attribution to bring scandal upon the poet, perhaps by a jealous contemporary."

The poem came to light as Dr Batt trawled through the Harding Collection, which is owned by Oxford University's Bodleian Library. It had been read before, but nobody had noticed that Milton's name had been scrawled at the bottom.

And here’s the poem in question:

Have you not in a Chimney seen
A Faggot which is moist and green
How coyly it receives the Heat
And at both ends do's weep and sweat?
So fares it with a tender Maid
When first upon her Back she's laid
But like dry Wood th' experienced Dame
Cracks and rejoices in the Flame.

On the other hand it is not unknown for poets to write bawdy verse – they have been doing that since before the days of Catullus. As for the works of John Wilmot, the libertine earl of Rochester….!!! Still some poets do so more discretely – It was only in 1998 that TS Elliot was confirmed to be the author of the Ballad of Eskimo Nell, while there is some evidence that John Knox actually wrote The Balle o’ Kerymur with the intention that it be part of his seminal work The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women


Gledwood said...

Paradise lost has to be thee dullest piece of verse written in English. It doesn't even have a proper meter, just some weird Latinate versification whereby you have to count syllables, rather than sounding out beats in your head.
Then again it was penned in the age before television, so people had a far higher boredom threshold...

susan said...

That's pretty funny as is Gledwood's comment.

jams o donnell said...

Agre Gledwood I don't find Milton very interesting either. I suppose with less to do people did have a higher threshold or were bored a lot.. or perhaps just plain shagged out with so much physical labour or dying of curable diseases!

Glad you like both Ruth!