Analysis of "A Song of a Young Lady to Her Ancient Lover" by JOHN WILMOT
John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680), the Restoration poet who was renowned for his bawdy verses satirizes the desires of an old impotent man to be reinvigorated and aroused by the warm caresses of an imaginary young lover.
The persona of this poem, an old impotent man projects his desires to be caressed and sexually aroused by a willing and pliant young woman as the desires of that young woman herself. Usually, any young woman would find an 'ancient' man repulsive, but John Wilmot in this poem ironically presents the desires of am old man to be fondled by the young woman as the desires of that young woman herself.
The young woman is presented as being very submissive and willing to sacrifice all her joys and pleasures of being wooed by a young and virile lover for the sake of stroking her 'ancient' lover and kissing him to revive his dying sexual drive:
On thy withered lips and dry,
Which like barren furrows lie,
Brooding kisses I will pour,
Shall thy youthful heart restore,
Thy nobler parts, which but to name
In our sex would be counted shame,
By ages frozen grasp possest,
From their ice shall be released,
And, soothed by my reviving hand,
In former warmth and vigour stand.
The Restoration Age was a 'witty' age. 'Wit' during the Restoration Age meant a clever and hard hitting statement which masked its true and sharp satirical intent by being humorous. John Wilmot concludes his poem wittily by making the young woman remark ironically,
And for thy pleasure shall improve
All that art can add to love.
Yet still I love thee without art,
Ancient Person of my heart.
The young woman assures her old and impotent lover that she will use all the sexual techniques ['art'] at her command to give him the maximum sexual satisfaction and thereby prove that she loves him all the more. However, in the last two lines she asserts that although she does so her love for him is actually sincere and spontaneous without any artifice ['art']. That is, she is not merely pretending to love him.
The 'wit' lies in the fact that her claim that she loves her impotent old lover "without art," that is, spontaneously and without pretending is obviously false, because in the earlier two lines she has stated that she will use "all that art can add to love" which would imply that even though she does not feel real love towards him she will use all her sexual arts and techniques to arouse him to provide sexual pleasure.