Critic's View on John Dryden as Poet

Also Read

      Dr. Johnson on Dryden as a Poet: Of Dryden's works it was said by Pope, that he could select from them better specimens of every mode of poetry than any other English writer could supply. Perhaps no nation ever produced a writer that enriched his language with such variety of models. To him, we owe that improvement, perhaps the completion of our meter, the refinement of our language, and much of the correctness of our sentiments. By him, we were taught to think naturally and express forcibly. He was the first who joined argument with poetry. He showed us the true bounds of a translator's liberty. What was said of Rome, adorned by Augustus, may be applied by an easy metaphor to English poetry embellished by Dryden... "He found it brick, and he left it marble."

      Lowell on Dryden as a Poet: Was he, then, a great poet? Hardly in the narrowest definition. But he was a strong thinker who sometimes carried common sense to a height where it catches the light of a diviner air, and warmer reason till it had well nigh the illuminating property of intuition. Certainly, he is not, like Spenser, the poet’s poet, but other men have their rights. Among other things, that a man who undertakes to write should first have a meaning perfectly defined to himself, and then should be able to set it forth clearly in the best words. He blows the mind clear. In ripeness of mind and bluff heartiness of expression, he takes rank with the best. In poetry, to be next-best is, in one sense, to be nothing; and yet to be among the first in any kind of writing, as Dryden had beyond most the gift of the right word. And if he does not, like one or two of the greater masters of song, stir our sympathies by that indefinable aroma so magical in arousing the subtle association of the soul, he has this in common with the few great writers that the winged seeds of his thought embed themselves in the memory and germinate there.

      Saintsbury on Dryden: Dryden's peculiar gift, in which no poet of any language has surpassed him, is the faculty of treating any subject which he does treat poetically. His range is enormous, and wherever it is deficient, it is possible to see that external circumstances had to do with the apparent limitation. That the author of the tremendous satire of the political pieces should be the author of the exquisite lyrics scattered about the plays: that the special pleader of Religio Laid should be the tale-teller of Palamon and Arcite, are things which, the more carefully I study other poets and their comparatively limited perfection, astonish me the more. The whirling of time has altered and is altering this relation between poet and reader in every generation. But what it cannot alter is the fact that the poetical virtue, which is present in Dryden is the same poetical virtue that is present in Lucretius and in Aeschylus, in Shelley and in Spenser, in Heine and in Hugo.

      T.S. Eliot on the Poetry of Dryden: To those whose taste in poetry is formed entirely upon the English poetry of the nineteenth century - to the majority - it is difficult to explain or excuse Dryden... yet Dryden is distinguished principally by his poetic ability. We prize him, as we do Mallarme, for what he made of his material. Our estimate is only in part the appreciation of ingenuity; in the end the result is poetry. Much of Dryden's unique merit consists in his ability to make the small into the great, the prosaic into the poetic, the trivial into the magnificent. In this, he differs not only from Milton, who required a canvas of the largest size, but from Pope, who required one of the smallest. If you compare any satiric (character) of Pope with one of Dryden, you will see that the method and intention are widely divergent. When Pope alters, he diminishes; he is a master of miniature - but the effect of the portraits of Dryden is to transform the object into something greater.

A fiery soul, which working out its way,
Frittered pigmy body to decay;
And O’er informed the tenement of clay.

      These lines are not merely a magnificent tribute. They create the object which they contemplate.... As in Jonson, the effect is far from laughter; the comic is the material, the result is poetry; Dryden lacked what his master Jonson possessed, a large and unique view of life; he lacked insight, and he lacked profundity. But where Dryden fails to satisfy the nineteenth century does not satisfy us either... He remains one of those who have set standards for English verse which it is desperate to ignore.

      George Sampson on Dryden as a Poet: In his (Dryden's) non-dramatic verse he left scarcely any kind of poetry unattempted except the epic proper, in which, had his heart's desire been fulfilled, he would have followed the example of the great poet whom no political or religious difference ever prevented him from paying an unstinted tribute of admiration. His satirical and didactic poems are among the most successful attempts ever made to conduct arguments and deliver attacks in polished metrical form. He is one of the most English of poets in his chief defect as well as in his excellence; he could not wear his heart upon his sleeve and he seemed ashamed to allow himself a visible excess of emotion. What he was not he at no time made any pretense of being. What he did, he did with the whole strength of any of the most, vigorous in generosity of effort and at the same time, with masculine directness and clear simplicity of purpose.

Previous Post Next Post