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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.

Aureng-Zebe, Prologue

John Dryden, 1631 - 1700
Our author, by experience, finds it true,
'Tis much more hard to please himself than you;
And out of no feign'd modesty, this day
Damns his laborious trifle of a play;
Not that it's worse than what before he writ,
But he has now another taste of wit;
And, to confess a truth, though out of time,
Grows weary of his long-loved mistress, Rhyme.
Passion's too fierce to be in fetters bound,
And nature flies him like enchanted ground:
What verse can do, he has perform'd in this,
Which he presumes the most correct of his;
But spite of all his pride, a secret shame
Invades his breast at Shakspeare's sacred name:
Awed when he hears his godlike Romans rage,
He, in a just despair, would quit the stage;
And to an age less polish'd, more unskill'd,
Does, with disdain, the foremost honours yield.
As with the greater dead he dares not strive,
He would not match his verse with those who live:
Let him retire, betwixt two ages cast,
The first of this, and hindmost of the last.
A losing gamester, let him sneak away;
He bears no ready money from the play.
The fate which governs poets, thought it fit
He should not raise his fortunes by his wit.
The clergy thrive, and the litigious bar;
Dull heroes fatten with the spoils of war:
All southern vices, Heaven be praised, are here;
But wit's a luxury you think too dear.
When you to cultivate the plant are loth,
'Tis a shrewd sign, 'twas never of your growth;
And wit in northern climates will not blow,
Except, like orange trees, 'tis housed with snow.
There needs no care to put a playhouse down,
'Tis the most desert place of all the town:
We, and our neighbours, to speak proudly, are,
Like monarchs, ruin'd with expensive war;
While, likewise English, unconcern'd you sit,
And see us play the tragedy of Wit.

Prologue to Aureng-Zebe, or The Great Mogul; 1675

Prologue to Aureng-Zebe, or The Great Mogul; 1675

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
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.

If I have
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