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Poet on Poet of the Week on Monday, 17 June 2024

John Dryden

Christopher Logue

Satirist, pedagogue, playright, proselyte, pornographer (mild), occasional plaigiary, songwriter,
literary critic (our first), expert in three types of translation (including English to English),
always, and above all, the master poet of his age, John Dryden (1631-1700), by today's standards,
is worth at least three or four Nobel Prizes for Literature.

Quick, witty, sane, fertile, conversational, better able to argue in verse than any other English
poet, for thirty years Dryden earned a good living from his plays only one of which, All for Love
(1677), is still performed: it is their songs, Prologues and Epilogues we value.

This male/female duet from Marriage à-la-Mode (1673).


Why should a foolish marriage vow
      Which long ago was made,
Oblige us to each other now
      When passion is decayed?
We loved, and we loved, as long as we could,
      Till our love was loved out in us both:
But our marriage is dead when the pleasure is fled:
      'Twas pleasure first made it an oath.

If I have pleasures for a friend,
      And farther love in store,
What wrong has he whose joys did end,
      And who could give no more?
'Tis a madness that he should be jealous of me,
      Or that I should bar him of another;
For all we can gain is to give ourselves pain,
      When neither can hinder the other.


This from An Evening's Love (pub. 1671) that Pepys found 'very smutty' (Diary 20.6.1668):


After the pangs of a desperate lover,
When day and night I have sighed all in vain,
Ah what a pleasure it is to discover
In her eyes pity, who causes my pain!

When with unkindness our love at a stand is,
And both have punished ourselves with the pain,
Ah what a pleasure the touch of her hand is,
Ah what a pleasure to press it again!

When the denial comes fainter and fainter,
And her eyes give what her tongue does deny,
Ah what a trembling I feel when I venture,
Ah what a trembling does usher my joy!

When with a sigh she accords me the blessing,
And her eyes twinkle 'twixt pleasure and pain,
Ah what a joy 'tis beyond all expressing,
Ah what a joy to hear, 'shall we again?'!


                        Dryden's melodrama Tyrannic Love (produced, 1669)
                           recounts the martyrdom of the (fictional) St
                           Catherine of Alexandria, in which after an attempt
                           to break her faith on a spiked wheel (hence
                           Catherine-wheel) had failed, followed by the
                           execution of the two hundred soldiers her constancy
                           had converted, she is beheaded as the Prologue
                           states. St Catherine was played by Nell Gwyn (Miss
                           Ellen). After being the mistress of the actor,
                           Charles Hart, and then of Charles Sackville, Earl of
                           Dorset to be, Nell passed to Charles II - whom she
                           nicknamed Charles the Third.

Prologue to Tyrannic Love

Self-love (which never rightly understood)
Makes poets still conclude their plays are good;
And malice in all critics reigns so high,
That for small errors they whole plays decry;
So that to see this fondness, and that spite,
You'd think that none but madmen judge or write.
Therefore our poet, as he thinks not fit
T'impose upon you what he writes for wit,
So hopes that leaving you your censures* free, opinions
You equal* judges of the whole will be: impartial
They judge but half who only faults will see.
Poets like lovers should be bold and dare,
They spoil their business with an over-care;
And he who servilely creeps after sense
Is safe, but ne'er will reach an excellence.
Hence 'tis our poet in his conjuring
Allowed his fancy the full scope and swing,
But when a tyrant for his theme he had,
He loosed the reins and bid his Muse run mad:
And though he stumbles in a full career,
Yet rashness is a better fault than fear.
He saw his way, but in so swift a pace
To choose the ground might be to lose the race.
They then who of each trip th' advantage take,
Find but those faults which they want wit to make.


Its Epilogue

Spoken by Mrs Ellen, when she was to be carried off dead by the bearers.

To the bearer:
      Hold, are you mad? you damned confounded dog,
      I am to rise, and speak the Epilogue.
To the audience:
      I come, kind gentlemen, strange news to tell ye,
      I am the ghost of poor departed Nelly,
      Sweet ladies, be not frighted, I'll be civil,
      I'm what I was, a little harmless devil.
      For after death we sprites have just such natures
      We had for all the world when human creatures;
      And therefore I that was an actress here,
      Play all my tricks in hell, a goblin there.
      Gallants, look to't, you say there are no sprites,
      But I'll come dance about your beds at nights.
      And faith, you'll be in a sweet kind of taking
      When I surprise you between sleep and waking.
      To tell you true, I walk because I die
      Out of my calling in a tragedy.
      O poet, damned dull poet, who could prove
      So senseless to make Nelly die for love!
      Nay, what's yet worse, to kill me in the prime
      Of Easter term, in tart and cheese-cake time!
      I'll fit the fop, for I'll not one word say
      T'excuse his godly out-of-fashion play:
      A play which if you dare but twice sit out,
      You'll all be slandered, and be thought devout.
      But farewell, gentlemen, make haste to me,
      I'm sure ere long to have your company.
      As for my epitaph when I am gone,
      I'll trust no poet, but will write my own:
      Here Nelly lies, who though she lived a slattern,
      Yet died a princess, acting in St Cathar'n.


the first of its songs

                        (set by Purcell, in which the aerial spirits Nakar and
                         Damilcar are invoked to find out if Catherine will
                         fall in love with the tyrant Maximim.)

Nakar and Damilcar descend in clouds, and sing:
      Hark, my Damilcar, we are called below!
      Let us go, let us go:
      Go to relieve the care
      Of longing lovers in despair!
      Merry, merry, merry, we sail from the east,
      Half tippled* at a rainbow feast. drunk
      In the bright moonshine while winds whistle loud,
      Tivy,* tivy, tivy, we mount and we fly, tantivy
      All racking* along in a downy white cloud: driving
      And lest our leap from the sky should prove too far,
      We slide on the back of a new-falling star.
      And drop from above
      In a jelly of love!* supposedly the remains of a fallen star
      But now the sun's down, and the element's* red, sky
      The spirits of fire against us make head!
      They muster, they muster, like gnats in the air:
      Aas! I must leave thee, my fair,
      And to my light horsemen repair.
      O stay, for you need not to fear 'em tonight;
      The wind is for us, and blows full in their sight,
      And o'er the wide ocean we fight!
      Like leaves in the autumn our foes will fall down,
      And hiss in the water -
      And hiss in the water and drown!
      But their men lie securely entrenched in a cloud,
      And a trumpeter-hornet to battle sounds loud.
      Now mortals that spy
      How we tilt in the sky
      With wonder will gaze,
      And fear such events as will ne'er come to pass!
      Stay you to perform what the man will have done.
      Then call me again when the battle is won.
      So ready and quick is spirit of air
      To pity the lover, and succour the fair,
      That silent and swift, the little soft god
      Is here with a wish, and is gone with a nod.


Absalom and Achitopel

Dryden's most famous poem concerns the attempt made by Anthony Cooper, the 60-year-old Earl of Shrewsbury (Achitopel) to crown James Scott, Duke of Monmouth (Absalom) as King of England. The year was 1684. The ailing Charles II had sired fourteen children, none of them legitimate. The crown seemed certain to pass to Charles's brother, James, an unpopular, fundamentalist Catholic.
      To prevent this, the Protestant politicians - united by Shrewsbury - determined that Charles should accept a Bill excluding his brother from the throne and then name Monmouth, the eldest of the male illegitimates - handsome, popular, vain - as his rightful heir. Dryden begins:

In pious times, ere priestcraft did begin,
Before polygamy was make a sin;
When man on many multiplied his kind,
Ere one to one was cursedly confined;
When nature prompted, and no law denied
Promiscuous use of concubine and bride;
Then Israel's monarch after Heaven's own heart, Charles II
His vigorous warmth did variously impart
To wives and slaves; and wide as his command,
Scatter'd his maker's image through the land.
Michal, of royal blood, the crown did wear; Charles's queen
A soil ungrateful to the tiller's care:
Not so the rest; for several mothers bore
To god-like David several sons before. Charles II
But since like slaves his bed they did ascend,
No true succession could their seed attend.
Of all the numerous progeny was none
So beautiful, so brave, as Absalom:
Whether inspired by some diviner lust,
His father got him with a greater gust;
Or that his conscious destiny made way,
By manly beauty to imperial sway.
Early in foreign fields he won renown,
With kings and states allied to Israel's crown:
In peace the thoughts of war he could remove,
And seem'd as he were only born for love.
Whate'er he did, was done with so much ease,
In him alone 'twas natural to please:
His motions all accompanied with grace;
And paradise was open'd in his face.
With secret joy indulgent David view'd
His youthful image in his son renew'd:
What faults he had (for who from faults is free?)
His father could not, or he would not see.
Some warm excesses which the law forbore,
Were construed youth that purged by boiling o'er;
And Amnon's* murder by a specious Peter Vernell,
      name, murdered in a brothel by
Was call'd a just revenge for injured fame. among others, Monmouth.
Thus praised and loved, the noble youth remain'd,
While David indisturb'd in Sion reign'd.
The Jews*, a headstrong, moody, murmuring race, The English
As ever tried the extent and stretch of grace;
God's pamper'd people, whom, debauch'd with ease,
No king could govern nor no god could please;
(Gods they had tried of every shape and size,
That god-smiths could produce, or priests devise):
These adam wits, too fortunately free,
Began to dream they wanted* liberty; lacked
And when no rule, no precedent, was found
Of men by laws less circumscribed and bound
They led their wild desires to woods and caves,
And thought that all but savages were slaves.
They who, when Saul was dead, without Oliver Cromwell,
      a blow, Lord Protector from 1653-58;
Made foolish Ishbosheth the crown his son, Richard
      forego; dismissed as Protector, 1659
Who banish'd David did from Hebron* bring, Brussels
And with a general shout proclaim'd him king:
Those very Jews, who, at their very best,
Their humour more than loyalty express'd,
Now wonder'd why so long they had obey'd
An idol monarch, which their hands had made;
Thought they might ruin him they could create,
Or melt him to that golden calf* - a state. an idol
But these were random bolts*: no form'd design, shots
Nor interest made the factious crowd to join:
The sober part of Israel, free from stain,
Well knew the value of a peaceful reign;
And, looking backward with a wise affright,
Saw seams of wounds dishonest* to the sight: hideous
In comtemplation of whose ugly scars,
They cursed the memory of civil wars.
The moderate sort of men thus qualified*, calmed
Inclined the balance to the better side;
And David's mildness managed it so well,
The bad found no occasion to rebel.
But when to sin our biass'd nature leans,
The careful devil is still at hand with means;
Plots, true or false, are necessary things,
To raise up commonwealths, and ruin kings.

There were several plots; the Popish Plot, leading to the execution of 35 Catholics by 1681, being the most sensational. Shrewsbury used these executions to urge the exclusion of James and to promote Monmouth as heir. Dryden's portrait of Shaftesbury (MP for Wiltshire, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Chancellor - when he was considered as a judge of integrity, created earl in 1672, arrested for high treason in 1681) is the most devastating of any English politician by any English poet; a superb example of satirical vigour.

This plot, which fail'd for want of common The Popish
Had yet a deep and dangerous consequence:
For as, when raging fevers boil the blood
The standing lake soon floats into a flood
And every hostile humour which before
Slept quiet in its channels, bubbles o'er,
So several factions from this first ferment
Work up to foam, and threat the government.
Some by their friends, more by themselves thought wise,
Opposed the power to which they could not rise.
Some had in courts been great, and thrown from thence,
Like fends were harden'd in impenitence.
Some, by their monarch's fatal mercy, grown
From pardon'd rebels, kinsmen to the throne,
Were raised in power and public office high -
Strong bands, if bands ungrateful men could tie.
      Of these, the false Achitophel was first;
A name to all succeeding ages cursed:
For close designs, and crooked counsels fit,
Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit;
Restless, unfix'd in principles and place,
In power unpleased, impatient of disgrace.
A fiery soul, which, working out its way,
Fretted* the pigmy body to decay, consumed / over-
And o'er-inform'd the tenement of clay.* animated the body
A daring pilot in extremity;
Pleased with the danger, when the waves went high,
He sought the storms; but for a calm unfit,
Would steer too nigh the sands, to boast his wit.
Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide;
Else why should he, with wealth and honour blest,
Refuse his age the needful hours of rest?
Punish a body which he could not please;
Bankrupt of life, yet prodigal of ease?
And all to leave what with his toil he won,
To that unfeather'd two-legg'd thing, a son;
Got while his soul did huddled notions try
And born a shapeless lump, like Anthony Cooper, Shaftesbury's
      anarchy. son, was sickly and politically
In friendship false, implacable in hate, insignificant.
Resolved to ruin, or to rule the state.
How safe is treason, and how sacred ill,
Where none can sin against the people's will!
Where crowds can wink, and no offence be known,
Since in another's guilt they find their own!
Yet fame deserved no enemy can grudge;
The statesman we abhor, but praise the judge.
In Israel's courts ne'er sat an Abethdin
With more discerning eyes, or hands more clean,
Unbribed, unsought, the wretched to redress;
Swift of despatch, and easy of access.
O had he been content to serve the crown
With virtues only proper to the gown;
Or had the rankness of the soil been freed
From cockle, that oppress'd the noble seed,
David for him his tuneful harp had strung
And heaven had wanted one immortal song.
But wild ambition loves to slide, not stand,
And fortune's ice prefers to virtue's land.
Achitophel, grown weary to possess
A lawful fame, and lazy happiness,
Disdain'd the golden fruit to gather free,
And lent the crowd his arm to shake the tree.

                                 Among Shaftesbury's supporters was George
                                 Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham, said
                                 to be the richest man in England and part-
                                 author of The Rehearsal, a play in which
                                 Dryden is mocked. Dryden's revenge on this
                                 odd, generous, witty hedonist, was to make him
                                 the poem's second exceptional character,
                                 Zimri, an example of withering ridicule,
                                 considered by Dryden to be 'worth the whole
                                 poem', unfair as it is.

To further this, Achitophel unites
The malcontents of all the Israelites:
Whose differing parties he could wisely join,
For several ends to serve the same design.
The best - and of the princes some were such -
Who thought the power of monarchy too much,
Mistaken men, and patriots in their hearts,
Not wicked, but seduced by impious arts.
      Such were the tools: but a whole hydra more
Remains of sprouting heads too long to score.
Some of their chiefs were princes of the land:
In the first rank of these did Zimri stand;
A man so various, that he seem'd to be
Not one, but all mankind's epitome.
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts, and nothing long;
But in the course of one revolving moon
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon:
Then all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking,
Besides ten thousand freaks that died in thinking.
Blest madman, who could every hour employ
With something new to wish, or to enjoy!
Railing and praising were his usual themes,
And both, to show his judgment, in extremes:
So over violent, or over civil,
That every man with him was god or devil.
In squandering wealth was his peculiar art:
Nothing went unrewarded but desert.
Beggar'd by fools, whom still he found too late,
He had his jest, and they had his estate.

Seduced by Shaftesbury's words, Monmouth set out on a tour of the West Country to win support for himself as heir.

      Surrounded thus with friends of every sort,
Deluded Absalom forsakes the court:
Impatient of high hopes, urged with renown,
And fired with near possession of a crown.
The admiring crowd are dazzled with surprise,
And on his goodly person feed their eyes.
His joy conceal'd he sets himself to show,
On each side bowing popularly low:
His looks, his gestures, and his words he frames,
And with familiar ease repeats their names.
Youth, beauty, graceful action seldom fail,
But common interest always will prevail:
And pity never ceases to be shown
To him who makes the people's wrongs his own.
The crowd (that still believe their kings oppress)
With lifted hands their young messiah bless:
Who now begins his progress to ordain
With chariots, horsemen, and a numerous train.
This moving court, that caught the people's eyes,
And seem'd but pomp, did other ends disguise:
Achitophel had form'd it, with intent
To sound the depths, and fathom where it went,
The people's hearts, distinguish friends from foes,
And try their strength, before they came to blows.
Yet all was colour'd with a smooth pretence
Of specious love, and duty to their prince.

                                 The tour came to nothing. Charles banished
                                 Monmouth. Shaftesbury died in exile. In 1684
                                 James became King James II against whom
                                 Monmouth, leading a rag-tag force from France,
                                 rebelled, was easily defeated, captured and


                                 John Oldham was a satirist and translator
                                 famed for the power of his invective. Some
                                 think that the race (line 10, below) Oldham
                                 won was for the publication of a satire on
                                 national themes, his Popish Plot poem, Satires
                                 upon the Jesuits - in which one of the
                                 Gunpowder Plotters rises from the dead to
                                 encourage those still living - coming out
                                 before Abasalom and Achitophel. He died of
                                 smallpox at the age of 30.

To the Memory of Mr Oldham

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 mould with mine.
One common note on either lyre did strike,
And knaves and fools were both abhorred alike:
To the same goal did both our studies drive,
The last set out the soonest did arrive.
Thus Nisus fell upon the slippery place, In the Aeneid
While his young friend performed and won the race.
O early ripe! to thy abundant store
What could advancing age have added more?
It might (what Nature never gives the young)
Have taught the numbers of thy native tongue;
But satire needs not those, and wit will shine
Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line:
A noble error, and but seldom made,
When poets are by too much force betrayed.
Thy generous* fruits, though gathered ere abundant
      their prime
Still showed a quickness*; and maturing time liveliness
But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of rhyme.
Once more, hail and farewell; farewell thou young,
But ah too short, Marcellus of our The nephew of
      tongue; Augustus, a youth of
Thy brows with ivy, and with laurels bound; great promise.
But fate and gloomy night encompass theee around.

Absalom and Achitophel brought Dryden many attacks from Whig/Protestant writers, among them the playrights, Richard Flecknoe, Elkanah Settle (who managed to identify Dryden's Absalom with James, Duke of York) and Thomas Shadwell. Flecknoe's and Shadwell's attacks were vicious and foul mouthed. As John Cousin has said, Dryden's revenge brought them an immortality which, however unenviable, no efforts of their own could have secured.


All human things are subject to decay,
And, when Fate summons, monarchs must obey:
This Flecknoe found, who like Augustus 1st Roman Emperor
Was called to empire, and had governed long;
In prose and verse was owned without dispute
Through all the realms of nonsense absolute.
This aged prince, now flourishing in peace,
And blessed with issue of a large increase,
Worn out with business*, did at length sexual intercourse
To settle the succession of the state;
And pondering which of all his sons was fit
To reign, and wage immortal war with wit,
Cried, ''Tis resolved; for Nature pleads that he
Should only rule who most resembles me:
Shadwell alone my perfect image bears.
Mature in dullness from his tender years;
Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he
Who stands confirmed in full stupidity.
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.
Some beams of wit on other souls may fall,
Strike through and make a lucid interval,
But Shadwell's genuine* night admits no ray, natural
His rising fogs prevail upon the day.
Besides, his goodly fabric fills the eye.
And seems designed for thoughtless majesty:

When wine has given him courage to blaspheme
He curses God, but God before cursed him;
And if man could have reason, none has more
That made his paunch so rich, and him so poor.
With wealth he was not trusted, for heaven knew
What 'twas of old to pamper up a Jew;
To what would he on quail and pheasant swell,
That ev'n on tripe and carrion could rebel?
But though heaven made him poor (with rev'rence speaking)
He never was a poet of God's making.
The midwife laid her hand on his thick skull
With this prophetic blessing: 'Be thou dull.'


      Doeg, though without knowing how or why,
Made still a blundering kind of melody;
Spurred boldly on, and dashed through thick and thin,
Through sense and nonsense, never out nor in;
Free from all meaning, whether good or bad,
And in one word, heroically mad.
He was too warm on picking work to dwell,
But faggotted his notions as they fell,
And if they rhymed and rattled all was well.
Spiteful he is not, though he wrote a satire,
For still there goes some thinking to ill nature;
He needs no more than birds and beasts to think,
All his occasions are to eat and drink.
If he call 'rogue' and 'rascal' from a garret
He means you no more mischief than a parrot.
The words for friend and foe alike were made,
To fetter 'em in verse is all his trade.
For almonds he'll cry 'whore' to his own mother,
And call young Absalom King David's brother.
Let him be gallows-free by my consent,
And nothing suffer since he nothing meant.
Hanging supposes human soul and reason;
This animal's below committing treason.


Dryden translating from Greek, Theocritus'
Eighteenth Idyll, helped out by a Latin
paraphrase, 1685 (just under a quarter
of the lines are Dryden's own):

The Epithalamium of Helen and Menelaus

Twelve Spartan virgins, noble, young and fair,
With violet wreaths adorned their flowing hair,
And to the pompous palace did resort,
Where Menelaus kept his royal court. The King of Sparta
There hand in hand a comely choir they led,
To sing a blessing to his nuptial bed,
With curious* needles wrought, and painted skilful
      flowers bespread.
Jove's beauteous daughter now his bride must be, Helen, the daughter of
And Jove himself was less a god than he. Leda and Zeus
For this their artful hands instruct the lute to sound,
Their feet assist their hands and justly beat the ground.
This was their song: 'Why, happy bridegroom, why
Ere yet the stars are kindled in the sky,
Ere twilight shades or evening dews are shed,
Why dost thou steal so soon away to bed?
Has Somnus brushed thy eyelids with his rod, The god of sleep
Or do thy legs refuse to bear their load,
With flowing bowls of a more generous god?* * Bacchus
If gentle slumber on thy temples creep
(But, naughty man, thou does not mean to sleep),
Betake thee to thy bed, thou drowsy drone,
Sleep by thyself, and leave thy bride alone:
Go leave her with her maiden mates to play
At sports more harmless till the break of day;
Give us this evening: thou hast morn and night
And all the year before thee for delight.
O happy youth! to thee among the crowd
Of rival princes Cupid sneezed aloud,
And every lucky omen sent before
To meet thee landing on the Spartan shore.
Of all our heroes thou canst boast alone
That love, whene'er he thunders, calls thee son.
Betwixt two sheets thou shalt enjoy her bare,
With whom no Grecian virgin can compare:
So soft, so sweet, so balmy and so fair.
A boy like thee would make a kingly line,
But O, a girl like her must be divine.
Her equals we in years, but not in face,
Twelve score viragos of the Spartan race,
While naked to Eurotas'* banks we The river of Sparta
And there in manly exercise contend,
When she appears are all eclipsed and lost,
And hide the beauties that we made our boast.
So when the night and winter disappear,
The purple morning rising with the year
Salutes the spring, as her celetial eyes
Adorn the world, and brighten all the skies:
So beauteous Helen shines among the rest,
Tall, slender, straight, with all the graces blessed.
As pines the mountains, or as fields the corn,
Or as Thessalian steeds* the race The best horses of Greece
So rosy-coloured Helen is the pride
Of Lacedaemon, and of Greece beside. Sparta
Like her no nymph can willing osiers bend
In basket-works which painted streaks commend;
With Pallas in the loom she may contend Athene
But none, ah none can animate the lyre,
And the mute strings with vocal souls inspire;
Whether the learned Minerva be her theme, Latin for Athene
Or chaste Diana bathing in the stream; Latin for Artemis
None can record their heavenly praise so well
As Helen, in whose eyes ten thousand Cupids dwell.
O fair, O graceful! yet with maids enrolled,
But whom tomorrow's sun a matron shall behold:
Yet ere tomorrow's sun shall show his head,
The dewy paths of meadows we will tread
For crowns and chaplets to adorn thy head:
Where all shall weep, and wish for thy return,
As bleating lambs their absent mother mourn.
Our noblest maids shall to thy name bequeath
The boughs of lotus, formed into a wreath;
This monument, thy maiden beauties' due,
High on a plane tree shall be hung to view:
On the smooth rind the passenger shall see bark, passer-by
Thy name engraved, and worship Helen's tree.
Balm from a silver box distilled around
Shall all bedew the roots and scent the sacred ground;
The balm, 'tis true, can agèd plants prolong,
But Helen's name will keep it ever young.
Hail bride, hail bridegroom, son-in-law to Jove!
With fruitful joys Latona bless your Goddess of childbirth
Let Venus furnish you with full desires,
Add vigour to your wills, and fuel to your fires.
Almighty Jove augment your wealthy store,
Give much to you, and to his grandsons more.
From generous loins a generous race will spring, noble
Each girl, like her, a queen; each boy, like you, a king.
Now sleep, if sleep you can; but while you rest
Sleep close, with folded arms, and breast to breast.
Rise in the morn, but O, before you rise
Forget not to perform your morning sacrifice.
We will be with you ere the crowing cock
Salutes the light, and struts before his feathered flock.
Hymen, O Hymen, to thy triumphs run, God of marriage
And view the mighty spoils thou hast in battle won.'


Translation from English to English,
two masters at work on the same story.
Dryden's opening of Chaucer's

The Tale of the Wife of Bath

In days of old, when Arthur filled the throne,
Whose acts and fame to foreign lands were blown;
The king of elves and little fairy queen
Gamboll'd on heaths, and danced on every green;
And where the jolly troop had led the round,
The grass unbidden rose, and marked the ground:
Nor darkling did they dance, the silver light
Of Phbe served to guide their steps aright,
And with their tripping pleased, prolong the night.
Her beams they followed, where at full she played,
Nor longer than she shed her horns they stayed;
From thence with airy flight to foreign lands conveyed
Above the rest our Britain held they dear,
More solmnly they kept their sabbaths here,
And made more spacious rings, and revelled half the year.
      I speak of ancient times, for now the swain
Returning late may pass the woods in vain,
And never hope to see the nightly train:
In vain the dairy now with mints is dressed,
The dairymaid expects no fairy guest,
To skim the bowls, and after pay the feast.
She sighs and shakes her empty shoes in vain,
No silver penny to reward her pain:
For priests, with prayers, and other godly gear,
Have made the merry goblins disappear;
And where they played their merry pranks before,
Have sprinkled holy water on the floor:
And friars, that through the wealthy regions run,
Thick as the motes that twinkle in the sun,
Resort to farmers rich, and bless their halls,
And exorcise the beds, and cross the walls:
This makes the fairy quires forsake the place,
When once 'tis hallowed with the rites of grace:
But in the walks where wicked elves have been,
The learning of the parish now is seen,
The midnight parson, posting o'er the green,
With gown tucked up, to wakes, for Sunday next,
With humming ale encouraging his text;
Nor wants the holy leer to country girl betwixt.
From fiends and imps he sets the village free,
There haunts not any incubus but he.
The maids and women need no danger fear
To walk by night, and sanctity so near:
For by some haycock, or some shady thorn,
He bids his beads both even-song and morn.

(1700; just under a third of the lines are Dryden's own).


                            They would have disagreed about everything except
                            how to write fine verse. Dryden knew when he was in
                            the presence of his betters.

Under Mr Milton's Picture, Before his Paradise Lost
 [For Tonson's folio edition of 1688]

Three Poets, in three distant ages born,
Greece, Italy, and England, did adorn,
The first, in loftiness of thought surpass'ed;
The next, in majesty; in both the last.
The force of nature could no further go;
To make a third, she join'd the former two.
Taken from 'Poets on Poets'...
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