Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 41 (John Dryden)

Selected Poems
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dryden, John
Selected Poems

Purchased for $4 at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall discount book store. I am not sure I have read this volume. I bought it more for reference than anything else. I did read Dryden in college. I took a grad course as an undergraduate called "The Augustans." It was taught by an elfin man named Chris Gomez, who was an extraordinarily demanding professor. I recall we read thousands of pages of poetry and drama: Dryden, Pope Swift, Aphra Behn, the Grub Street poets, Addison, and so on and so forth. We had a mid-term as well as a final, plus two research papers.

One of the exam questions involved us memorizing Dryden's, "To The Memory of Mr. Oldham." In the exam we were required to transcribe the poem by memory and then to answer several questions about it, none of which could be answered without a correctly rendered text before us.

One assignment, which I rather liked, was to attempt to write an imitation of an Augustan poem. He taught us all about heroic couplets and the various other elements of Augustan verse and asked us to write 10-20 lines of our own. He then wrote us each a detailed critique of our efforts, pointing out the areas in which the poems succeeded in imitating the form and also the areas in which they failed. He told me that I was the only person in the class who wrote a "real" poem and that he was very impressed. However, he also said that my poem bore almost no resemblance to an Augustan poem and was more in the mode of a metaphysical poet like John Donne because it contained the unfolding of a complex metaphor the likes of which would have been anathema to an Augustan.

He then went on to interpret the metaphor as an anti-abortion screed (which it was not), because there was a line something like "lucid generation swell." I guess you can only hope for so much, even from the most scrupulous reader.

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 mold with mine.
One common note on either lyre did strike,
And knaves and fools we both abhorr'd 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,
While his young friend perform'd 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
Thro' the harsh cadence of a rugged line:
A noble error, and but seldom made,
When poets are by too much force betray'd.
Thy generous fruits, tho' gather'd ere their prime,
Still shew'd a quickness; and maturing time
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 tongue;
Thy brows with ivy, and with laurels bound;
but fate and gloomy night encompass thee around.

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