I love the poetry from this period.
When in mid-air the golden trump shall sound,
To raise the nations under ground;
When, in the Valley of Jehoshaphat,
The judging God shall close the book of Fate,
And there the last assizes keep
For those who wake and those who sleep;
When rattling bones together fly
From the four corners of the sky;
When sinews o’er the skeletons are spread,
Those cloth’d with flesh, and life inspires the dead;
The sacred poets first shall hear the sound,
And foremost from the tomb shall bound,
For they are cover’d with the lightest ground;
And straight, with inborn vigour, on the wing,
Like mounting larks, to the new morning sing.
There thou, sweet Saint, before the quire shalt go,
As harbinger of Heaven, the way to show,
The way which thou so well hast learn’d below
…Thy inoffensive satires never bite.
In thy felonious heart though venom lies,
It does but touch thy Irish pen, and dies.
Thy genius calls thee not to purchase fame
In keen iambics, but mild anagram.
Leave writing plays, and choose for thy command
Some peaceful province in acrostic land.
There thou mayst wings display and altars raise,
And torture one poor word ten thousand ways…
Yes – it could be said of me and my scrawling.
(I dabble in acrostics as my long-suffering poetry acquaintances can testify).
John Dryden wrote lines 3 centuries ago that still sting poetasters like me.
It hurts so good.
He could have been writing part of my unapproved biography here (just call me Zimri):
…In the first rank of these did Zimri stand:
A man so various, that he seem’d to be
Not one, but all Mankind’s Epitome.
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong;
Was everything by starts, and nothing long:
But in the course of one revolving moon,
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon:
Then all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking;
Besides ten thousand freaks that died in thinking.
Blest madman, who could every hour employ,
With something new to wish, or to enjoy!
Railing and praising were his usual themes;
And both (to show his judgment) in extremes:
So over violent, or over civil,
That every man, with him, was god or devil…
John Dryden was a great poet. Not only could he write nasty satires about the political movers and shakers of his day thinly disguised as Old Testament history; he also wrote thunderous lyrics such as one of my all-time favorite poems A Song For St. Cecelia’s Day, 1687.
Talk about a true Rock Star ! He was Poet Laureate of England for a while.
Dryden was born of Puritan parents and became an Anglican – only to convert to Roman Catholicism later in his life. We can forgive him for that.
You can learn way too much about his poetry here – really funny stuff, some of it.
I leave you with the celestially stupendous final lines of the above-mentioned Song for St. Cecelia:
As from the power of sacred lays
The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator’s praise
To all the bless’d above;
So when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky.