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About this poet

Born in Northamptonshire, England, on August 9, 1631, John Dryden came from a landowning family with connections to Parliament and the Church of England. He studied as a King's Scholar at the prestigious Westminster School of London, where he later sent two of his own children. There, Dryden was trained in the art of rhetorical argument, which remained a strong influence on the poet's writing and critical thought throughout his life.

Dryden published his first poem in 1649. He enrolled at Trinity College in Cambridge the following year, where he likely studied the classics, rhetoric, and mathematics. He obtained his BA in 1654, graduating first in his class. In June of that year, Dryden's father died.

After graduation, Dryden found work with Oliver Cromwell's Secretary of State, John Thurloe, marking a radical shift in the poet's political views. Alongside Puritan poets John Milton and Andrew Marvell, Dryden was present at Cromwell's funeral in 1658, and one year later published his first important poem, Heroic Stanzas, eulogizing the leader.

In 1660, Dryden celebrated the regime of King Charles II with Astraea Redux, a royalist panegyric in praise of the new king. In that poem, Dryden apologizes for his allegiance with the Cromwellian government. Though Samuel Johnson excused Dryden for this, writing in his Lives of the Poets (1779) that "if he changed, he changed with the nation," he also notes that the earlier work was "not totally forgotten" and in fact "rased him enemies."

Despite this, Dryden quickly established himself after the Restoration as the leading poet and literary critic of his day. He published To His Sacred Majesty: A Panegyric on his Coronation (1662), and To My Lord Chancellor (1662), possibly to court aristocratic patrons. That year, Dryden was proposed for membership in the Royal Society, and was elected an early fellow. In 1663, he married Lady Elizabeth, the royalist sister of Sir Robert Howard.

Following the death of William Davenant in April 1668, Dryden became the first official Poet Laureate of England, conferred by a letters patent from the king. The royal office carried the responsibility of composing occasional works in celebration of public events. Dryden, having exhibited that particular dexterity with his earlier panegyrics, was a natural choice. Though the position was most often held for life (until 1999), Dryden was the lone exception. He was dismissed by William III and Mary II in 1688 after he refused to swear an oath of allegiance, remaining loyal to James II.

As a playwright, Dryden published The Wild Gallant in 1663. Though it was not financially successful, he was commissioned to produce three plays for the King's Company, in which he later became a shareholder. His best known dramatic works are Marriage á la Mode (1672) and All for Love (1678), which was written in blank verse.

When the bubonic plague swept through London in 1665, Dryden moved to Wiltshire where he wrote Of Dramatick Poesie (1668). The longest of his critical works, the piece takes the form of a dialogue among characters debating and defending international dramatic works and practices. In 1678, Dryden wrote Mac Flecknoe (1682), a work of satiric verse attacking Thomas Shadwell, one of Dryden's prominent contemporaries, for his "offenses against literature." Other works of satire, a genre for which Dryden has received significant praise, include Absalom and Achitophel (1681) and The Medal (1682).

Though his early work was reminiscent of the late metaphysical work of Abraham Cowley, Dryden developed a style closer to natural speech which remained the dominant poetic mode for more than a century. He is credited with standardizing the heroic couplet in English poetry by applying it as a convention in a range of works, including satires, religious pieces, fables, epigrams, prologues, and plays.

Dryden died on May 1, 1700, and was initially buried in St. Anne's Cemetery. In 1710, he was moved to the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, where a memorial has been erected.

Alexander's Feast; or, the Power of Music

John Dryden, 1631 - 1700
A song in honour of St. Cecilia's day, 1697.

'Twas at the royal feast for Persia won   
        By Philip's warlike son—   
    Aloft in awful state   
    The godlike hero sate   
        On his imperial throne; 
  His valiant peers were placed around,   
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound   
  (So should desert in arms be crown'd);   
The lovely Thais by his side   
Sate like a blooming Eastern bride 
In flower of youth and beauty's pride:—   
   Happy, happy, happy pair!   
        None but the brave   
        None but the brave   
  None but the brave deserves the fair! 
   
    Timotheus placed on high   
        Amid the tuneful quire   
With flying fingers touch'd the lyre:   
    The trembling notes ascend the sky   
        And heavenly joys inspire. 
The song began from Jove   
Who left his blissful seats above   
Such is the power of mighty love!   
    A dragon's fiery form belied the god;   
    Sublime on radiant spires he rode 
    When he to fair Olympia prest,   
    And while he sought her snowy breast,   
  Then round her slender waist he curl'd,   
And stamp'd an image of himself, a sovereign of the world.   
  The listening crowd admire the lofty sound; 
  A present deity! they shout around:   
  A present deity! the vaulted roofs rebound:   
        With ravish'd ears   
        The monarch hears,   
        Assumes the god; 
        Affects to nod,  
    And seems to shake the spheres.   
   
The praise of Bacchus then the sweet musician sung,   
    Of Bacchus ever fair and ever young:   
        The jolly god in triumph comes; 
        Sound the trumpets, beat the drums!   
            Flush'd with a purple grace   
            He shows his honest face:   
Now give the hautboys breath; he comes, he comes!   
    Bacchus, ever fair and young, 
        Drinking joys did first ordain;   
    Bacchus' blessings are a treasure,   
    Drinking is the soldier's pleasure:   
        Rich the treasure,   
        Sweet the pleasure, 
    Sweet is pleasure after pain.   
   
    Soothed with the sound, the king grew vain;   
        Fought all his battles o'er again,   
And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain!   
    The master saw the madness rise, 
    His glowing cheeks, his ardent eyes;   
    And while he Heaven and Earth defied   
    Changed his hand and check'd his pride.   
        He chose a mournful Muse   
        Soft pity to infuse: 
    He sung Darius great and good,   
        By too severe a fate   
    Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,   
        Fallen from his high estate.   
    And weltering in his blood; 
    Deserted at his utmost need   
    By those his former bounty fed;   
    On the bare earth exposed he lies   
    With not a friend to close his eyes.   
With downcast looks the joyless victor sate, 
        Revolving in his alter'd soul   
            The various turns of chance below;   
        And now and then a sigh he stole,   
            And tears began to flow.   
   
    The mighty master smiled to see  
    That love was in the next degree;   
    'Twas but a kindred sound to move,   
    For pity melts the mind to love.   
        Softly sweet, in Lydian measures   
        Soon he soothed his soul to pleasures. 
    War, he sung, is toil and trouble,   
    Honour but an empty bubble;   
        Never ending, still beginning,   
    Fighting still, and still destroying;   
        If the world be worth thy winning, 
    Think, O think, it worth enjoying:   
        Lovely Thais sits beside thee,   
    Take the good the gods provide thee!   
The many rend the skies with loud applause;   
So Love was crown'd, but Music won the cause.  
    The prince, unable to conceal his pain,   
            Gazed on the fair   
            Who caused his care,   
    And sigh'd and look'd, sigh'd and look'd,   
    Sigh'd and look'd, and sigh'd again:   
  At length with love and wine at once opprest   
  The vanquish'd victor sunk upon her breast.   
   
Now strike the golden lyre again:   
A louder yet, and yet a louder strain!   
Break his bands of sleep asunder 
And rouse him like a rattling peal of thunder.   
        Hark, hark! the horrid sound   
            Has raised up his head:   
            As awaked from the dead   
        And amazed he stares around. 
    Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries,   
        See the Furies arise!   
        See the snakes that they rear   
        How they hiss in their hair,   
    And the sparkles that flash from their eyes! 
        Behold a ghastly band,   
        Each a torch in his hand!   
  Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain   
            And unburied remain   
            Inglorious on the plain: 
            Give the vengeance due   
            To the valiant crew!   
  Behold how they toss their torches on high,   
      How they point to the Persian abodes   
  And glittering temples of their hostile gods. 
  The princes applaud with a furious joy:   
  And the king seized a flambeau with zeal to destroy;   
        Thais led the way   
        To light him to his prey,   
  And like another Helen, fired another Troy! 
   
            Thus, long ago,   
    Ere heaving bellows learn'd to blow,   
        While organs yet were mute,   
        Timotheus, to his breathing flute   
            And sounding lyre 
Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.   
    At last divine Cecilia came.   
    Inventress of the vocal frame;   
The sweet enthusiast from her sacred store   
    Enlarged the former narrow bounds, 
    And added length to solemn sounds,   
With Nature's mother-wit, and arts unknown before.   
    Let old Timotheus yield the prize,   
        Or both divide the crown;   
    He raised a mortal to the skies, 
        She drew an angel down!

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

John Dryden

John Dryden

Born on August 9, 1631, John Dryden was the leading poet and literary critic of his day and he served as the first official Poet Laureate of England

by this poet

poem
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,   
      This universal frame began:   
  When nature underneath a heap   
      Of jarring atoms lay,   
    And could not heave her head, 
The tuneful voice was heard from high,   
    'Arise, ye more than dead!'   
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,   
  In order to
poem
A Poem on the Happy Restoration and Return of His Second Majesty Charles II., 1660.

Now with a general peace the world was blest,
While ours, a world divided from the rest,
A dreadful quiet felt, and worser far
Than arms, a sullen interval of war:
Thus when black clouds draw down the labouring skies,
Ere
poem
Why should a foolish marriage vow, 
  Which long ago was made,
Oblige us to each other now
  When passion is decay'd?
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.

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