Sunday Poetry – Sir Charles Sedley

Sir Charles Sedley (picture from here) was one of the Restoration Wits, dissolute young noblemen at the Court of Charles II. He was a friend of the most dissolute rake of them all – & probably also the best poet, John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. Rochester is one of my favourite poets. My anthology doesn’t include my favourite of his poems, A Song of a Young Lady to her Ancient Lover, but I’ll have to slip it in one Sunday anyway. Charles Sedley’s poem is kind, amused, tender & full of the common sense so often lacking in love poetry. It’s not passionate but realistic & slightly cynical about the way this love affair is tending. With this cynicism & the gaming metaphors, it seems to sum up the Court of Charles II.

Phillis, let’s shun the common fate,
And let our love ne’er turn to hate.
I’ll dote no longer than I can,
Without being called a faithless man.
When we begin to want discourse,
And kindness seems to taste of force,
As freely as we met we’ll part,
Each one possessed of their own heart.
Thus, whilst rash fools themselves undo,
We’ll game, and give off savers too.
So equally the match we’ll make,
Both shall be glad to draw the stake.
A smile of thine shall make my bliss;
I will enjoy thee in a kiss.
If from this height our kindness fall,
We’ll bravely scorn to love at all.
If thy affection first decay,
I will the blame on Nature lay.
Alas, what cordial can remove
The hasty fate of dying love?
Thus we will all the world excel
In loving and in parting well.

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