John Wilmot, earl of Rochester

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Rochester has been called a moral poet, as well as an obscene sensationalist. How would you account for such contradictory judgments?

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During his lifetime John Wilmot enjoyed a reputation as a person and a poet, and to some extent a playwright. Successive generations emphasized different aspects according to the values of their day. Much of his output was satirical, such as his "Satire Against Mankind." In this long poem he denounces "beastly" human foibles in general as well as hypocritical religious figures and corrupt politicians. Inevitably, such subjects brought questions about his choice of targets as well as his skill in humorously critiquing them.

As a lyric poet, Wilmot has seen a critical reevaluation, some three centuries after he lived, that looks more favorably on the poetry itself rather than equate the poet with the speaker in the poems, who often has rather harsh words for the beloved he addresses.

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