Poetry of Dryden

Poetry of Dryden

Dryden as Versatile genius:

Dryden made his mark in many fields of literature. He wrote dramas; he became famous for his satires (poems which make fun of other persons), he wrote some good (lyrics, he wrote some religious poetry, he popularised the heroic complete and as a critic he wrote good English, which won for him the title of the father of modern prose.

Poetry of Dryden as a Classical Poet 

Classicism was then in the opening and Dryden has been called a classical poet who showed the way to Pope. Pope is the literary successor of Dryden (the classical elements introduced by Dryden, were perfected by Pope). Classicism means

  1. Poetry of reason and argument, in place of the poetry of imagination and emotion.
  2. Writing poetry on great subjects, like Alexander and not on trivial subjects.
  3. Use of the heroic couplet.
  4. Clarity, order, polish in poetry. Attention to form rather to matter.
  5. No personal touch in poetry.
  6. Poetic diction or making the language of aristocracy (high people) as the language of poetry.
  7. Imitating the rules and traditions of Greek, Latin and French writers.

Dryden is a poet of classicism but has a romantic touch

Pope is a confirmed classical; Dryden is not so. Classical poets believed in writing poetry, according to the rules and traditions, derived from the ancients. Dryden made Greek Latin and French authors his model, but he could not practise complete salvery to foreign rules as Pope later did. The classicists regarded Shakespeare as ‘barbarous’ and had no high praise for Chaucer or Million. But Dryden’s classicism did not gop so far. Dryden was not afraid of saying that Chaucher was greater than Ovid (a Latin poet). He also praised Shakespeare.

Dryden’s poems on St. Cecilia or Alexander the Great show that he as a classicist preferred great subjects, instead of trival (small) subjects like Solitary Reaper or Child. In diction (language) also, he was making the language or aristocracy (high class people) as a the language of poetry.

Another classical touch in Dryden is that he never brings his own-self into the poem. This self-effacement appeals to the modern classical mind. But Dryden was not a pure classcist, his romantic touch is seen in the lyrics (St. Celilla’s Day or Alexander’s Feast).

Clarity: Order and Form

Dryden in his early poems employed the conceits’ which had been popularised by Donne. But he felt that the need of the age was not conceits and obscurity of Donne and other classical poets, but reason, order and clarity. In Dryden there is a fusion (combination) of creative imagination and logic-half classical, half romantic-in Pope there is no emotion or imagination, it is all logic argument and reasoning.

Heroic couplet by Dryden

Dryden rejected blank verse and took to heroic couplet for his dramas and satires. But, again, it was Pope who perfected the heroic couplet. In Dryden’s heroic couplet, there is enough freedom and not such slavish adherence to rules as in Pope.

  1. The pause is not in the middle of line, as in Pope, it is variable and shifting.
  2. In place of two, there are occasionally three line in the stanza.
  3. Sometimes the iambic pentameter is changed to an Alexandrine (that is at a line of 12 syllables instead of that of 10)
  4. The sense overflows from one line to the other; there are run-on lines; in Pope there are endo-stopped lines.
  5. Dryden’s couplets do not give such polished epigrams and provers, as Pope is able to write.

Dryden’s Dramas, satires etc. 

Dryden wrote famous satires like Mac Flekone. His best drama was ‘All for Love. But our text does not present Dryden as a satirist or a dramatist, so we need not pursue this point.

Dryden as a lyrical poet

Dryden was not a great lyricist, but since the only, two poems prescribed, are lyrics, we should study Dryden’s lyricism.

The two Odes, one on St. Celilia’s Day and the other the Feast of Alexander are his best lyrics. Dryden regarded Alaxander’s Feast as his best poem and Pope also praised this poem in his Essay on Criticism.

Power of Music according to Dryden

In Alexander’s Feast, Dryden explains how music created different feelings in the heart of Alexander. Timotheus, the blind, 1 singer, sang to the accompaniment of his lyre. He sang of Jove’s love affair with Alexander’s mother Olymplia and the birth of Alexander, who is god-like, like his real father Jove. Timotheus sang of Bacchus (God of wine and Alexander fought in imagination all his old battles again and killed the slain. Then Timotheus sang of the sad lot of Darius and his love, Alexander felt pity and shed tears. Then the musician sang of love and Alexander put his head in the bosom of Thais. Lastly Timotheus’ song filled Alexander with a spirit of revenge and he started burning the houses and Temples of the Persians.

The modern critics regard Song of St. Cecillia’s Day as a greater lyric. Here again we are told, that the world began from harmony (music) and harmony on the day of judgment will untune the sky, and destroy the world.

The trumpet, which calls soldiers to arms: the drum that is a signal of attack; the flute that sings of the broken hearts of the lovers, and the violin which expresses the pain and jealousy in the hearts of the lovers, are not as good as the Organ, the instrument of Church music, invented by St. Cecilia.

Imitative harmony of Dryden

Dryden, like other accomplished men of his age, had a good taste for music. The two lyrics prescribed for us are music combined with poetry. The sound echoes the sense.

“Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure

Rich the treasure

Sweet is pleasure after pain.”

In this stanza, the very sound of the words and lines suggests the happy intoxication of wing

Not inspired lyrics as of Shelley

Dryden is not a great lyricist like Shelley. Dryden is not inspired, his lyrics are the product of reason and labour; they are not inspired. Nor are they charged with emotion. Dryden has no flights of fancy, so necessary for a lyric poet.

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