John Dryden

Dryden (born 9 August 1631), England’s Poet Laureate before that office was fairly soon debased, you can set aside his works that tediously extol public virtue and look instead at his poetic struggles between Religion and Reason, or Now and Then:

Dim, as the borrow’d beams of Moon and Stars

To lonely, weary, wandring Travellers,

Is reason to the Soul; And as on high,

Those rowling Fires discover but the Sky

Not light us here; So Reason’s glimmering Ray

Was lent, not to assure our doubtfull way,

But guide us upward to a better Day.

And as those nightly Tapers disappear

When Day’s bright Lord ascends our Hemisphere;

So pale grows Reason at Religious sight;

So dyes, and so dissolves in Supernatual Light.”

(from Religio Laici)

Time was when none cou’d Preach without Degrees,

And seven years toil at Universities:

But when Canting Saints came once in play,

The Spirit did their bus’ness in a day…”

Dryden had a bit of critical fire in him as well:

I will not rake the Dunghill of thy Crimes,

For who wou’d reade thy Life that reads thy rhimes?…

And for my Foes may this their Blessing be,

To talk like Doeg, and to Write like Thee.”

(from Absalom and Achitophel)

With whate’er gall thou sett’st thy self to write,

Thy inoffensive Satyrs never bite.

In thy fellonious heart, though Venom lies,

It does but touch thy Irish pen, and dyes.

Thy Genius calls thee not to purchase fame

In keen Iambicks, but mild Anagram:

Leave writing Plays, and chuse for thy command

Some peacefull Province in Acrostick Land.

There thou maist wings display and Altars raise,

And torture one poor word Ten thousand ways.”

(from Mac Flecknoe)

Which is why he appreciated Three Biggies – Homer, Virgil and Milton:

Three Poets, in three distant Ages born,

Greece, Italy, and England did adorn.

The First in loftiness of thought Surpass’d;

The Next in Majesty; in both the Last.

The force of Nature cou’d no farther goe:

To make a Third she joynd the former two.”

(Lines on Milton)


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