John Dryden's Controversy about A Poet

Also Read

      John Dryden enjoyed a good reputation as a poet in his own time. All through the eighteenth century, he was regarded as a great English poet. It was with the coming of the Romantic Age that Dryden's reputation met with a sharp decline. He was now regarded as a second-rate poet. Indeed, the opinion was that Dryden was no poet at all. Matthew Arnold, the Victorian critic, declared that Dryden and Pope were classics of English prose rather than of poetry. E. Gosse called Dryden "a verseman" while Garnett considered him to be "the most prosaic of all our great poets." Walter Pater and Hazlitt, too, regarded his poetry to be prosaic, and Rossetti remarked that Dryden "created a style in prose and wrenched its characteristics to form... poetry." But these extreme opinions of the Romantics and the Victorians have been questioned by twentieth-century critics.

      Allardyce Nicoll put forward the main question: "was Dryden a poet?" Modern critics say: "Yes", and that Dryden was not only a poet, but a good poet. The most staunch supporters of Dryden as a poet are Mark Van Doren and T.S. Eliot.

      T.S. Eliot demolishes the opinions of Arnold, Pater and Hazlitt and comes to the conclusion: "It would be truer to say, indeed even in the form of the impressive paradox, that Dryden is distinguished principally by his poetic ability... 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."

      Although many modern critics have championed Dryden's poetry, controversy over his merits continues. The basis of this controversy lies in the fact that Dryden's poetry lacked some qualities which people, in general, associate with poetry.

Previous Post Next Post