Sunday 26 September 2010 | Book news feed

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John Milton's bawdy poem questioned

He is regarded by many as the greatest of English poets, but could John Milton also have been a writer of saucy verse?

 
John Milton's bawdy poem questioned
John Milton Photo: CORBIS

A long-lost poem discovered in the Oxford University archives could throw new light on the author of Paradise Lost, who died in 1674. The comic ditty, An Extempore upon a Faggot, is attributed to Milton and is laden with sexual innuendo.

However, scholars are unsure of its provenance and suspect it may have been the work of a jealous rival.

Dr Jennifer Batt, an academic in English Literature at Oxford, stumbled upon the poem while sifting through the Harding Collection, an assortment of poetic anthologies owned by the Bodleian Library.

“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,” Dr Batt said. “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 Harding Collection was given to the Bodleian by Walter Harding, a British-born ragtime musician who emigrated to Chicago and amassed an enormous collection of poetry, songbooks, opera scores and drama. The university is placing it online as part of a three-year project known as the Digital Miscellanies Index.

'An Extempore upon a Faggot’

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.

 
 
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