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Dryden and PopeWhen I was at university around 1970 we spend quite a bit of time reading and studying Dryden and Pope, especially their long poems. The Rape of the Lock was a long satirical and humorous poem, which I probably didn't have the historical knowledge to appreciate completely, though I think we were given plenty of direction for this.
The Dryden poem was very long, and I remember nothing about it.
But no one talks of these poets here (or very rarely). Have they gone out of fashion in the last forty years, or was my university out on a limb even there, or are the sort of poets people study but nobody much actually reads and enjoys. People here talk at times of Milton and Wordsworth and Byron and Shelley and Donne and Keats and Hopkins and Auden and Stevie Smith (not known to me, but I know no modern poets unless they are NZers), but has Dryden ever been mentioned?
I was under the impression when we studied them that these two poets were close to the top drawer (as opposed to perhaps Clough and Herrick). We don''t talk much about George Herbert either, come to think of it.
Thank you for restoring Pope to our consciousness. "The Rape of the Lock" has long been a favourite of mine and I try to re-read it every year. It makes delightful reading, especially out loud. It's a mock epic derived from Homer's Iliad. But you don't really need to have a close knowledge of that to enjoy the poem's apparatus of lords and ladies (the Greeks and Trojans) and attendant sylphs (the Gods), the stealing of a lock of hair (the abduction of Helen?) to enjoy its many delights. I always think "The Rape of the Lock" would make a very good ballet to suitable 18thC music. I have a very nice copy of TROTL with decadent illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley.
A lot of the rest of Pope, like "The Dunciad", is very enjoyable, but its satire, so rooted in the personalities of its time, really needs many footnotes to be fully comprehensible. But even those poems are so deliciously written - Pope was a master of the rhymed couplet - that they are very enjoyable. Edith Sitwell considered Pope one of the great verse technicians in English. And she wrote an excellent Life of him. I especially like "Abelard to Eloise" or is it "Eloise to Abelard"? from which comes - surprisingly - the title of a recent film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"(a perfect iambic line). And "Windsor Forest".
I am not so conversant with Dryden. But I have read some of his translations of Ovid and Chaucer which are lovely and enjoyable. His translation of "Virgil's "Aeneid" is famous.
Michael (on a very breezy morning in Lancashire)
Breezy is better than sleet and threats of snow which is what we are getting at the beginning of spring.
We studied the Dunciad too; maybe that was what I was thinking of when I talking of needing knowledge to understand it. I was meaning a knowledge of the political figures of the time and the political events, really. Not classical knowledge. I do not remember the Dunciad. (I don't really remember The Rape of the Lock either, except that it was a long poem about Belinda's (?) little bit of hair being stolen and much fuss being made of it.
Dryden & Pope both seem very much out of fashion these days. One reason for this is, as Mike said, the wealth of topical references in their poems that require footnotes. And another, I think, is the certainty with which they pronounced their moral judgements. Modern taste, I think, prefers a level of ambivalence, and expression not so much of certainty but of the puzzling contradictions that we seem to see in life: we tend to be suspicious of those who claim to know moral truth for what it is, as we aren’t even sure that such a truth exists, or that it can be so clearly discerned even if it does.
Furthermore, I think Romanticism has conditioned us to expect poetry to touch our emotions directly: neither Dryden nor Pope really went in for that.
However, here is a favourite excerpt from Dryden. All you need to know is that Flecknoe and his protégé Shadwell were poets whom Dryden particularly hated. As character assassination, this is hard to beat:
All humane things are subject to decay,
And, when Fate summons, Monarchs must obey:
This Fleckno found, who, like Augustus, young
Was call'd to Empire, and had govern'd long:
In Prose and Verse, was own'd, without dispute
Through all the Realms of Non-sense, absolute.
This aged Prince now flourishing in Peace,
And blest with issue of a large increase,
Worn out with business, did at length debate
To settle the succession of the State:
And pond'ring which of all his Sons was fit
To Reign, and wage immortal War with Wit;
Cry'd, 'tis resolv'd; for Nature pleads that He
Should onely 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 confirm'd 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,
His rising Fogs prevail upon the Day:
Besides his goodly Fabrick fills the eye,
And seems design'd for thoughtless Majesty:
Thoughtless as Monarch Oakes, that shade the plain,
And, spread in solemn state, supinely reign.
That's wonderful isn't it? But, even as I admire Dryden's devastating invective, I can't help feeling some sympathy for poor old Shadwell being the victim of it.
It also makes me think that there is a lot to be said for formal qualities in poetry. Such poems as "The Dunciad" and other poems by Pope and Dryden make their effects and hit their targets absolutely because of brilliance with which the form is used. One can't imagine such devastating satire being as effective if penned in freer verse. The regular (regular, but deviating subtly from it), pulse of the rhythm, leading inevitably to the clinching rhyme is brilliantly effective. The reader waits eagerly to see what fresh rhyme the poet can come up with. It's so clever isn't it? And such fun.
I wonder, is satirical poetry like this possible without rhyme and rhythm? Imagine Byron's "Don Juan" without that verse form he uses. It's interesting to observe that a modern writer like Clive James uses old rhyme forms for his satirical poems. As does Tony Harrison.
This is by Shadwell. I wonder is it a metaphor about a an irritating relative. If this is representative of S's poetry no wonder Pope let fly.
YOUR AWFUL VOICE
Your awful voice I hear and I obey,
Brother to Jove and monarch of the sea.
Come down, my blusterers, swell no more,
Your stormy rage give o'er.
To your prisons below,
Down you must go,
In hollow rocks your revels make,
Nor 'till I call your trembling dens forsake.
Of course when we were at university we enjoyed going through Wordsworth's poems and find some dreadful doggeral, so this may just be an aberration.
Wordsworth did write some very bad stuff, but it's unfair to judge him on that. he also wrote a lot of very good stuff, and the best of his poetry - which, for me, is about as good as it gets - would fill a considerable volume.
Those Shadwell lines Mike quotes really are pretty awful, though! It's possibly not fair to judge him just on that, though. Dryden's invective, though pretty nasty, is, nonetheless, hilarious!
And i's a good point that satirical verse has to be rhymed. In fact, more or less any comic verse needs rhyme and a regular metre. And as far as outrageous rhymes are concerned, it's hard to beat the very first rhyme of Byron's Don Juan: you read the first line, and think to yourself "How is he going to rhyme Poet-laureate?" The solution is delightful:
Bob Southey! You're a poet -- Poet-laureate,
And representative of all the race,
Although 't is true that you turn'd out a Tory at
Last, -- yours has lately been a common case;
And now, my Epic Renegade! what are ye at?
With all the Lakers, in and out of place?
A nest of tuneful persons, to my eye
Like "four and twenty Blackbirds in a pye;
I suppose Southey was to Byron what Shadwell was to Dryden!
Byron could be beastly to anybody - this is from memory so may not be quite right - In digging up your bones Tom Paine
Will Cobbett has done well
You'll visit him on Earth again
He'll visit you in H*** (as my collected works put it)
I shall have to find the collected works out. There are some very good pithy short poems.
I'm afraid I'm not really familiar with Dryden, but I did study Pope for my degree. He has some wonderfully-cutting couplets. I must go and have a look at some.
Swift is another satirical poet I enjoy. He's probably still in vogue as he isn't just famous for his poetry.
One of the reasons Swift has fallen out of favour as a poet is that he can come across as rather misogynistic... I actually really enjoy Swift's prose writings, but have never found the time to get to grips with his poetry. He's one of these people, like, for instance, Hardy, who wrote a lot of poetry of variable quality.
Caro, I would have thought the long Dryden poem you studied would have been either Absalom and Achitophel, a political satire, or Annus Mirabilis? Pope and Dryden are certainly not out of fashion in Cambridge, but then very little is. I had to read all of their major poetical works. I have to say, I preferred Dryden; Pope just seemed so scathing about everything. That's probably unfair though...
Himadri mentioned romanticism in relation to the emotional impact of poetry, but it's also important in another way: our concepts of originality. Satire, parody and pastiche, which are what Swift, Dryden and Pope do well, have sort of become secondary.
And of course, Byron was not the only one to make fun of Southey:
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head –
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”
“You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door –
Pray, what is the reason of that?”
“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment – one shilling the box –
Allow me to sell you a couple?”
“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak –
Pray how did you manage to do it?”
“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”
“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose –
What made you so awfully clever?”
“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!”