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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.

Heroic Stanzas on the Death of Oliver Cromwell

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, what praise we offer to his name,
Hath rendered too authentic by its choice:

Though in his praise no arts can liberal be,
Since they whose muses have the highest flown
Add not to his immortal memory,
But do an act of friendship to their own:

Yet 'tis our duty and our interest too
Such monuments as we can build to raise,
Lest all the world prevent what we should do
And claim a title in him by their praise.

How shall I then begin or where conclude
To draw a fame so truly circular?
For in a round what order can be showed,
Where all the parts so equal-perfect are?

His grandeur he derived from heaven alone,
For he was great, ere fortune made him so;
And wars, like mists that rise against the sun,
Made him but greater seem, not greater grow.

No borrowed bays his temples did adorn,
But to our crown he did fresh jewels bring;
Nor was his virtue poisoned, soon as born,
With the too early thoughts of being king.

Fortune, that easy mistress of the young,
But to her ancient servants coy and hard,
Him at that age her favourites ranked among
When she her best-loved Pompey did discard.

He, private, marked the fruits of others' sway
And set as sea-marks for himself to shun;
Not like rash monarchs, who their youth betray
By acts their age too late would wish undone.

And yet dominion was not his design;
We owe that blessing not to him but heaven,
Which to fair acts unsought rewards did join,
Rewards that less to him than us were given.

Our former chiefs, like sticklers of the war,
First sought to inflame the parties, then to poise.
The quarrel loved, but did the cause abhor,
And did not strike to hurt, but make a noise.

War, our consumption, was their gainful trade;
We inward bled, whilst they prolonged our pain:
He fought to end our fighting, and essayed
To stanch the blood by breathing of the vein.

Swift and resistless though the land he passed,
Like that bold Greek who did the East subdue,
And made to battles such heroic haste
As if on wings of victory he flew.

He fought, secure of fortune as of fame,
Till by new maps the island might be shown,
Of conquests, which he strewed where'er he came,
Thick as the galaxy with stars is sown.

His palms, though under weights they did not stand,
Still thrived; no winter could his laurels fade:
Heaven in his portrait showed a workman's hand
And drew it perfect, yet without a shade.

Peace was the prize of all his toils and care,
Which war had banished and did now restore:
Bologna's walls thus mounted in the air
To seat themselves more surely than before.

Her safety rescued Ireland to him owes;
And treacherous Scotland to no interest true,
Yet blessed that fate which did his arms dispose
Her land to civilize as to subdue.

Nor was he like those stars which only shine
When to pale mariners they storms portend;
He had his calmer influence, and his mien
Did love and majesty together blend.

'Tis true his countenance did imprint an awe
And naturally all souls to his did bow,
As wands of divination downward draw
And point to beds where sovereign gold doth grow.

When, past all offerings to Feretrain Jove,
He Mars deposed and arms to gowns made yield,
Successful counsels did him soon approve
As fit for close intrigues as open field.

To suppliant Holland he vouchsafed a peace,
Our once bold rival in the British main,
Now tamely glad her unjust claim to cease
And buy our friendship with her idol, gain.

Fame of the asserted sea, through Europe blown,
Made France and Spain ambitious of his love;
Each knew that side must conquer he would own
And for him fiercely as for empire strove.

No sooner was the Frenchman's cause embraced
Than the light Monsieur the grave Don outweighed:
His fortune turned the scale where it was cast,
Though Indian mines were in the other laid.

When absent, yet we conquered in his right:
For though some meaner artist's skill were shown
In mingling colours or in placing light,
Yet still the fair designment was his own.

For from all tempers he could service draw;
The worth of each with its alloy he knew;
And, as the confident of nature, saw
How she complexions did divide and brew:

Or he their single virtues did survey
By intuition in his own large breast,
Where all the rich ideas of them lay
That were the rule and measure to the rest.

When such heroic virtue heaven sets out,
The stars, like commons, sullenly obey,
Because it drains them, when it comes about,
And therefore is a tax they seldom pay.

From this high spring our foreign conquests flow
Which yet more glorious triumphs do portend,
Since their commencement to his arms they owe,
If springs as high as fountains may ascend.

He made us freemen of the continent
Whom nature did like captives treat before,
To nobler preys the English lion sent,
And taught him first in Belgian walks to roar.

That old unquestioned pirate of the land,
Proud Rome, with dread the fate of Dunkirk heardl,
And trembling wished behind more Alps to stand,
Although an Alexander were her guard.

By his command we boldly crossed the line,
And bravely fought where southern stars arise;
We traced the far-fetched gold unto the mine,
And that which bribed our fathers made our prize.

Such was our prince; yet owned a soul above
The highest acts it could produce to show;
Thus poor mechanic arts in public move,
Whilst the deep secrets beyond practice go.

Nor died he when his ebbing fame went less,
But when fresh laurels courted him to live;
He seemed but to prevent some new success,
As if above what triumphs earth could give.

His latest victories still thicket came,
As near the centre motion does increase;
Till he, pressed down by his own weighty name,
Did, like the vestal, under spoils decrease.

But first the ocean as a tribute sent
That giant-prince of all her watery herd;
And the isle, when her protecting genius went,
Upon his obsequies loud sighs conferred.

No civil broils have since his death arose,
But faction now by habit does obey;
And wars have that respect for his repose
As winds for halcyons when they breed at sea.

His ashes in a peaceful urn shall rest;
His name a great example stands to show
How strangely high endeavours may be blessed
Where piety and valour jointly go.

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

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
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
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