poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

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.

Astraea Redux

John Dryden, 1631 - 1700
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 yet abroad the winged thunder flies,
An horrid stillness first invades the ear,
And in that silence we the tempest fear.
The ambitious Swede, like restless billows tost,
On this hand gaining what on that he lost,
Though in his life he blood and ruin breathed,
To his now guideless kingdom peace bequeath'd.
And Heaven, that seem'd regardless of our fate,
For France and Spain did miracles create;
Such mortal quarrels to compose in peace,
As nature bred, and interest did increase.
We sigh'd to hear the fair Iberian bride
Must grow a lily to the lily's side;
While our cross stars denied us Charles' bed,
Whom our first flames and virgin love did wed.
For his long absence Church and State did groan;
Madness the pulpit, faction seized the throne:
Experienced age in deep despair was lost,
To see the rebel thrive, the loyal cross'd:
Youth that with joys had unacquainted been,
Envied gray hairs that once good days had seen:
We thought our sires, not with their own content,
Had, ere we came to age, our portion spent.
Nor could our nobles hope their bold attempt
Who ruin'd crowns would coronets exempt:
For when by their designing leaders taught
To strike at power, which for themselves they sought,
The vulgar, gull'd into rebellion, arm'd;
Their blood to action by the prize was warm'd.
The sacred purple, then, and scarlet gown,
Like sanguine dye to elephants, was shown.
Thus when the bold Typhoeus scaled the sky,
And forced great Jove from his own Heaven to fly,
(What king, what crown from treason's reach is free,
If Jove and Heaven can violated be?)
The lesser gods, that shared his prosperous state,
All suffer'd in the exiled Thunderer's fate.
The rabble now such freedom did enjoy,
As winds at sea, that use it to destroy:
Blind as the Cyclop, and as wild as he,
They own'd a lawless, savage liberty;
Like that our painted ancestors so prized,
Ere empire's arts their breasts had civilized.
How great were then our Charles' woes, who thus
Was forced to suffer for himself and us!
He, tost by fate, and hurried up and down,
Heir to his father's sorrows, with his crown,
Could taste no sweets of youth's desired age,
But found his life too true a pilgrimage.
Unconquer'd yet in that forlorn estate,
His manly courage overcame his fate.
His wounds he took, like Romans, on his breast,
Which by his virtue were with laurels drest.
As souls reach Heaven while yet in bodies pent,
So did he live above his banishment.
That sun, which we beheld with cozen'd eyes
Within the water, moved along the skies.
How easy 'tis, when destiny proves kind,
With full-spread sails to run before the wind!
But those that 'gainst stiff gales laveering go,
Must be at once resolved and skilful too.
He would not, like soft Otho, hope prevent,
But stay'd, and suffer'd fortune to repent.
These virtues Galba in a stranger sought,
And Piso to adopted empire brought.
How shall I then my doubtful thoughts express,
That must his sufferings both regret and bless?
For when his early valour Heaven had cross'd;
And all at Worcester but the honour lost;
Forced into exile from his rightful throne,
He made all countries where he came his own;
And viewing monarchs' secret arts of sway,
A royal factor for his kingdoms lay.
Thus banish'd David spent abroad his time,
When to be God's anointed was his crime;
And when restored, made his proud neighbours rue
Those choice remarks he from his travels drew.
Nor is he only by afflictions shown
To conquer other realms, but rule his own:
Recovering hardly what he lost before,
His right endears it much; his purchase more.
Inured to suffer ere he came to reign,
No rash procedure will his actions stain:
To business, ripen'd by digestive thought,
His future rule is into method brought:
As they who first proportion understand,
With easy practice reach a master's hand.
Well might the ancient poets then confer
On Night the honour'd name of Counsellor,
Since, struck with rays of prosperous fortune blind,
We light alone in dark afflictions find.
In such adversities to sceptre train'd,
The name of Great his famous grandsire gain'd:
Who yet a king alone in name and right,
With hunger, cold, and angry Jove did fight;
Shock'd by a covenanting league's vast powers,
As holy and as catholic as ours:
Till fortune's fruitless spite had made it known,
Her blows, not shook, but riveted, his throne.

Some lazy ages, lost in sleep and ease,
No action leave to busy chronicles:
Such, whose supine felicity but makes
In story chasms, in epoch's mistakes;
O'er whom Time gently shakes his wings of down,
Till, with his silent sickle, they are mown.
Such is not Charles' too, too active age,
Which, govern'd by the wild distemper'd rage
Of some black star infecting all the skies,
Made him at his own cost, like Adam, wise.
Tremble, ye nations, which, secure before,
Laugh'd at those arms that 'gainst ourselves we bore;
Roused by the lash of his own stubborn tail,
Our lion now will foreign foes assail.
With alga who the sacred altar strews?
To all the sea-gods Charles an offering owes:
A bull to thee, Portumnus, shall be slain,
A lamb to you, ye Tempests of the main:
For those loud storms that did against him roar,
Have cast his shipwreck'd vessel on the shore.
Yet as wise artists mix their colours so,
That by degrees they from each other go;
Black steals unheeded from the neighbouring white,
Without offending the well-cozen'd sight:
So on us stole our blessed change; while we
The effect did feel, but scarce the manner see.
Frosts that constrain the ground, and birth deny
To flowers that in its womb expecting lie,
Do seldom their usurping power withdraw,
But raging floods pursue their hasty thaw.
Our thaw was mild, the cold not chased away,
But lost in kindly heat of lengthen'd day.
Heaven would no bargain for its blessings drive,
But what we could not pay for, freely give.
The Prince of peace would like himself confer
A gift unhoped, without the price of war:
Yet, as he knew his blessing's worth, took care,
That we should know it by repeated prayer;
Which storm'd the skies, and ravish'd Charles from thence,
As heaven itself is took by violence.
Booth's forward valour only served to show
He durst that duty pay we all did owe.
The attempt was fair; but Heaven's prefixed hour
Not come: so like the watchful traveller,
That by the moon's mistaken light did rise,
Lay down again, and closed his weary eyes.
'Twas Monk whom Providence design'd to loose
Those real bonds false freedom did impose.
The blessed saints that watch'd this turning scene,
Did from their stars with joyful wonder lean,
To see small clues draw vastest weights along,
Not in their bulk, but in their order, strong.
Thus pencils can by one slight touch restore
Smiles to that changed face that wept before.
With ease such fond chimeras we pursue,
As fancy frames for fancy to subdue:
But when ourselves to action we betake,
It shuns the mint like gold that chemists make.
How hard was then his task! at once to be,
What in the body natural we see!
Man's Architect distinctly did ordain
The charge of muscles, nerves, and of the brain,
Through viewless conduits spirits to dispense;
The springs of motion from the seat of sense.
'Twas not the hasty product of a day,
But the well-ripen'd fruit of wise delay.
He, like a patient angler, ere he strook,
Would let him play a while upon the hook.
Our healthful food the stomach labours thus,
At first embracing what it straight doth crush.
Wise leeches will not vain receipts obtrude,
While growing pains pronounce the humours crude:
Deaf to complaints, they wait upon the ill,
Till some safe crisis authorise their skill.
Nor could his acts too close a vizard wear,
To 'scape their eyes whom guilt had taught to fear,
And guard with caution that polluted nest,
Whence Legion twice before was dispossess'd:
Once sacred house; which, when they enter'd in,
They thought the place could sanctify a sin;
Like those that vainly hoped kind Heaven would wink,
While to excess on martyrs' tombs they drink.
And as devouter Turks first warn their souls
To part, before they taste forbidden bowls:
So these, when their black crimes they went about,
First timely charm'd their useless conscience out.
Religion's name against itself was made;
The shadow served the substance to invade:
Like zealous missions, they did care pretend
Of souls in show, but made the gold their end.
The incensed powers beheld with scorn from high
An heaven so far distant from the sky,
Which durst, with horses' hoofs that beat the ground,
And martial brass, belie the thunder's sound.
'Twas hence at length just vengeance thought it fit
To speed their ruin by their impious wit.
Thus Sforza, cursed with a too fertile brain,
Lost by his wiles the power his wit did gain.
Henceforth their fougue must spend at lesser rate,
Than in its flames to wrap a nation's fate.
Suffer'd to live, they are like helots set,
A virtuous shame within us to beget.
For by example most we sinn'd before,
And glass-like clearness mix'd with frailty bore.
But, since reform'd by what we did amiss,
We by our sufferings learn to prize our bliss:
Like early lovers, whose unpractised hearts
Were long the May-game of malicious arts,
When once they find their jealousies were vain,
With double heat renew their fires again.
'Twas this produced the joy that hurried o'er
Such swarms of English to the neighbouring shore,
To fetch that prize, by which Batavia made
So rich amends for our impoverish'd trade.
Oh! had you seen from Schevelin's barren shore,
(Crowded with troops, and barren now no more,)
Afflicted Holland to his farewell bring
True sorrow, Holland to regret a king!
While waiting him his royal fleet did ride,
And willing winds to their lower'd sails denied.
The wavering streamers, flags, and standard out,
The merry seamen's rude but cheerful shout:
And last the cannon's voice, that shook the skies,
And as it fares in sudden ecstasies,
At once bereft us both of ears and eyes.
The Naseby, now no longer England's shame,
But better to be lost in Charles' name,
(Like some unequal bride in nobler sheets)
Receives her lord: the joyful London meets
The princely York, himself alone a freight;
The Swiftsure groans beneath great Gloster's weight:
Secure as when the halcyon breeds, with these,
He that was born to drown might cross the seas.
Heaven could not own a Providence, and take
The wealth three nations ventured at a stake.
The same indulgence Charles' voyage bless'd,
Which in his right had miracles confess'd.
The winds that never moderation knew,
Afraid to blow too much, too faintly blew;
Or, out of breath with joy, could not enlarge
Their straighten'd lungs, or conscious of their charge.
The British Amphitrite, smooth and clear,
In richer azure never did appear;
Proud her returning prince to entertain
With the submitted fasces of the main.
And welcome now, great monarch, to your own!
Behold the approaching cliffs of Albion:
It is no longer motion cheats your view,
As you meet it, the land approacheth you.
The land returns, and, in the white it wears,
The marks of penitence and sorrow bears.
But you, whose goodness your descent doth show,
Your heavenly parentage and earthly too;
By that same mildness, which your father's crown
Before did ravish, shall secure your own.
Not tied to rules of policy, you find
Revenge less sweet than a forgiving mind.
Thus, when the Almighty would to Moses give
A sight of all he could behold and live;
A voice before his entry did proclaim
Long-suffering, goodness, mercy, in his name.
Your power to justice doth submit your cause,
Your goodness only is above the laws;
Whose rigid letter, while pronounced by you,
Is softer made. So winds that tempests brew,
When through Arabian groves they take their flight,
Made wanton with rich odours, lose their spite.
And as those lees, that trouble it, refine
The agitated soul of generous wine;
So tears of joy, for your returning spilt,
Work out, and expiate our former guilt.
Methinks I see those crowds on Dover's strand,
Who, in their haste to welcome you to land,
Choked up the beach with their still growing store,
And made a wilder torrent on the shore:
While, spurr'd with eager thoughts of past delight,
Those, who had seen you, court a second sight;
Preventing still your steps, and making haste
To meet you often wheresoe'er you past.
How shall I speak of that triumphant day,
When you renew'd the expiring pomp of May!
(A month that owns an interest in your name:
You and the flowers are its peculiar claim.)
That star that at your birth shone out so bright,
It stain'd the duller sun's meridian light,
Did once again its potent fires renew,
Guiding our eyes to find and worship you.

And now Time's whiter series is begun,
Which in soft centuries shall smoothly run:
Those clouds, that overcast your morn, shall fly,
Dispell'd to farthest corners of the sky.
Our nation with united interest blest,
Not now content to poise, shall sway the rest.
Abroad your empire shall no limits know,
But, like the sea, in boundless circles flow.
Your much-loved fleet shall, with a wide command,
Besiege the petty monarchs of the land:
And as old Time his offspring swallow'd down,
Our ocean in its depths all seas shall drown.
Their wealthy trade from pirates' rapine free,
Our merchants shall no more adventurers be:
Nor in the farthest East those dangers fear,
Which humble Holland must dissemble here.
Spain to your gift alone her Indies owes;
For what the powerful takes not, he bestows:
And France, that did an exile's presence fear,
May justly apprehend you still too near.

At home the hateful names of parties cease,
And factious souls are wearied into peace.
The discontented now are only they
Whose crimes before did your just cause betray:
Of those, your edicts some reclaim from sin,
But most your life and blest example win.
Oh, happy prince! whom Heaven hath taught the way,
By paying vows to have more vows to pay!
Oh, happy age! oh times like those alone,
By fate reserved for great Augustus' throne!
When the joint growth of arms and arts foreshow
The world a monarch, and that monarch you.

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
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
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
Written after his funeral.

And now 'tis time; for their officious haste
Who would before have borne him to the sky,
Like eager Romans, ere all rites were past,
Did let too soon the sacred eagle fly,

Though our best notes are treason to his fame
Joined with the loud applause of public voice,
Since heaven