Spontaneous Poetics – (Reading-List 7) – (John Dryden)

John Dryden (1631-1700)

Student: Allen, can you speak up, please?

AG: Yes. (John) Dryden. “In Memory of Mr. Oldham” [“To The Memory of Mr. Oldham“] by John Dryden, is just one single poem that gives you his quality. There is a long poem, the name of which, I’ve forgotten, which ends “Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall/ And universal darkness buries All”. [Allen is confused here, this is actually the concluding couplet of Alexander Pope‘s “The Dunciad”] Do you know what that is?

Student: “To St.Cecilia” [“A Song For St. Cecilia’s Day”]

AG: Is that “To St. Cecilia”?  No.. no..I’m not sure. I may have it mixed up. I always thought that was Dryden. “..Mr. Oldham”, however, has that same quality. I’ll read that because that’s short. We’ll get into that. Dryden is one poet that’s got a very strangely gloomy Buddhist view of life, and not sufficiently appreciated. How many have not read Dryden here [Allen searches for a show of hands] – and how many have? – [a mixed response] –  So it’s mixed. Do we know “..Oldham”?

Student: Here it is.

AG: Oh

Student: Allen, do you want to wait a second while I change the tape….

AG: “In Memory of Mr Oldham” (by John Dryden) – “John Oldham(1653-1683)” (so he died at thirty!), “author of Satires Upon the Jesuits, was a  promising young poet, harsh (partly by calculation) in metrics and manner, but earnest and vigorous” – is the footnote. (I might as well read you the footnotes – “Nisus – N-I-S-U-S – a foot-racer in Virgil’s Aeneid”, “his young friend Euryalus came from behind to reach the goal before him.”)  Who else is here in this? (just so we don’t get bogged down in not understanding). Marcellus, “Augustus Caesar’s nephew, who died at twenty after a meteoric military career” – “Hail and farewell”  (I think Virgil used that, and perhaps Horaceused that phrase – “Ave Atque Vale” (Hail and farewell) [The phrase, of course, is famously evoked in Catullus] – [Allen begins reading the poem – “Farewell, too little, and too lately known/ Whom I began to think and call my own/ For sure our souls were near allied, and thine/ Cast in the same poetic mold with mine..”’] [concluding with] …”Once more, hail and farewell, farewell thou young,/ But, ah too short, Marcellus of our tongue,/ . “Thy brows with ivy, and with laurels bound/ But fate and gloomy night encompass thee around.”

So that’s very somber, solemn, but strong – and  realistic. “Thy brows with ivy, and with laurels bound/ But fate and gloomy night encompass thee around”  – Good. There’s a lot of intelligent Dryden

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *