Excerpts from John Dryden’s Poetical Works

The 313th anniversary of the death of the major seventeenth-century Restoration dramatist and first Poet Laureate, John Dryden, occurred recently on the 1st of May (1700). I felt quite bad about neglecting such an event, so here’s my little homage to Dryden’s work:

John Dryden by James Maubert, NPG 1133. Image: © National Portrait Gallery, London

King David, from “Absalom and Achitophel”:

In pious times, ere priestcraft did begin,
Before polygamy was made 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 1  after heaven’s own heart,
His vigorous warmth did variously impart
To wives and slaves; and, wide as his command,
Scattered his Maker’s image through the land.
Michal, 2  of royal blood, the crown did wear,
A soil ungrateful to the tiller’s care:
Not so the rest; for several mothers bore
To godlike David several sons before.
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 Absalon; 3 
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.

[1] Charles II.
[2] Catherine of Braganza, Charles II’s wife.
[3] James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, Charles II’s eldest illegitimate son (whose mother was Lucy Walters or Barlow). The above poem was found in my copy of this book:

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Dryden was one of those fellows you would not have wanted to get on the bad side of. He could be scathing about people in his works. He had rivals, including naughty boy poet John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. The latter, who was for some time on very good terms with King Charles II, used his influence to secure his protege John Crowne the position of writing a masque – something that Dryden, by rights, should have been given. The masque was none other than Calisto, which was performed in the winter of 1674/75. The snub must have irritated Dryden, but he beat them all in the end, outliving Wilmot and outshining Crowne, and many other poet-dramatists of his day.

By a dismal cypress lying,
Damon cried, all pale and dying,
Kind is death that ends my pain,
But cruel she I lov’d in vain.
The mossy fountains
Murmur my trouble,
And hollow mountains
My groans redouble:
Ev’ry nymph mourns me,
Thus while I languish;
She only scorns me,
Who caus’d my anguish.
No love returning me, but all hope denying;
By a dismal cypress lying,
Like a swan, so sung he dying:
Kind is death that ends my pain,
But cruel she I lov’d in vain.
  – A Song from The Kind Keeper, by John Dryden.

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         The soft complaining flute
         In dying notes discovers
         The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whisper’d by the warbling lute.
– Stanza 4, from “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, by Dryden.

A few years ago, this painting of Dryden was discovered, which you can read about here:

John Dryden by John Michael Wright, NPG 6854. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Happy the man, and happy he alone, he who can call today his own; he who, secure within, can say, tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
– John Dryden



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