John Dryden's Literary Craftsmanship

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      A neo-classicist to the core, John Dryden show’s superb 'artistic control'. He always strove towards "better literary forms, better vocabulary, better meters, better constructions, better style," as Saintsbury says. He is explicit, concise, copious or precise as the situation or idea demanded. Skillful use of meter, imagery and language mark his stylistic achievement. He found English a tangled forest shrubbery and left it a grove of flowering trees, says Bonamy Dobree. Eliot makes a similar remarks that "Dryden found the English speechless, and he gave them speech."

A Controlled Artist in the Use of Language

      Dryden's technical skill and artistry gained him his reputation as an excellent craftsman. It is his artistic skill which enabled him to "make the small into the great, the prosaic into the poetic, the trivial into the magnificent." He varied.his style to suit satire, lyrics and odes.

      Dryden has masterly control over his language. He is in such full command over his words that he expresses the most complex ideas and thoughts with ease and clarity. He brought the language of poetry closer to the language of ordinary speech among civilized people. He uses words on the basis of their "sound and significance." He borrows from German, French and Latin writers, i.e., terseness from German and sonorousness from French and Latin. His selection of words is so effective that he generates the "energy divine" of the poetry.

      The control over language leads to precision, force and clarity in Dryden's verse. It is especially appropriate to satiric verse. It also helps him to produce musical effects when required in his songs and odes. Dryden experimented with language and rhythm in an "attempt to capture the various shades of emotion conveyed by different musical instruments" in his St. Cecilia Odes.

Dryden's Verification

      Dryden tried his hand at a variety of meters and verse forms in his songs, odes, satires and plays. His handling of the heroic couplet has been praised. He perfected the heroic couplet and used it in most of his poetry. He varied the heroic couplet to prevent monotony. He brought polish and epigrammatic wit to the metrical form.

Dryden's Style

      Dryden was a master at using a style appropriate to the literary form which he was using. Songs, mock-heroic, satires, odes, or lyrics, whatever the literary form, Dryden employs a suitable style, meter and diction. He often justifies the style which he uses as particularly suited to the kind of poetry he was writing. Brilliant comic effect is achieved in his satirical portraits. Control of language and meter helps him in producing musical effects in his songs and odes. He was a true craftsman.


      Dryden is a superb craftsman. We have his "beautifully modulated flow, the variation of phrase from the long, supple sentence to the epigrammatic thrust, as also vigour, the incisive stress where he wants it, for the clarification of meaning." Dr. Johnson's remark that "by him, we were taught to think naturally and express forcibly" is a fitting tribute to Dryden's craftsmanship. He may not have been "original" in conception, but he brought originality to the treatment of his matter.

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