“The last set out the soonest did arrive”

Nisus and Euryalus (1872) by Jean-Baptiste Roman (Louvre Museum)

The hot days of summer continue, and I am enjoying moments to leaf through some books which have not been opened for a very long time. The Selected Poems of John Dryden, is one such book. Dryden (1631-1700) not only a poet but a satirist, translator and playwright and first Poet Laureate in 1668. He is famous for his poem Absalom and Achitophel, but it is his 25 line elegy to his good friend, the poet and satirist, John Oldham (1653-1683) that I share with you today. Please note the very tight control of language, not one wasted word. Note also the balance between the themes of mournful and playful, as he tries to honor his friend and to score a few points over him even in his death! Enjoy the rhyming couplets in self contained pairs. One reading is never enough, so spoil yourself read it a good few times and then some more. Take a little time to search out the story of Nisus and don’t miss the reference to Marcellus, the great but short lived Roman general.

To the Memory of Mr. Oldham

Farewell, too little and too lately known,
Whom I began to think and call my own;
For sure our souls were near ally’d; and thine
Cast in the same poetic mould with mine.
One common note on either lyre did strike,
And knaves and fools we both abhorr’d alike:
To the same goal did both our studies drive,
The last set out the soonest did arrive.
Thus Nisus fell upon the slippery place,
While his young friend perform’d and won the race.
O early ripe! to thy abundant store
What could advancing age have added more?
It might (what nature never gives the young)
Have taught the numbers of thy native tongue.
But satire needs not those, and wit will shine
Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line.
A noble error, and but seldom made,
When poets are by too much force betray’d.
Thy generous fruits, though gather’d ere their prime
Still show’d a quickness; and maturing time
But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of rhyme.
Once more, hail and farewell; farewell thou young,
But ah too short, Marcellus of our tongue;
Thy brows with ivy, and with laurels bound;
But fate and gloomy night encompass thee around. John Dryden

Prayer:
Deliver us, O Lord, from evil.
O Lord Jesu Christ, guard ever in all good works.
O fount and author of all good things,
O God empty us from faults,
And replenish us with good virtues.
Through Thee, O Christ Jesu. (from The Book of Deer – 10th-century Latin Gospel
containing the earliest surviving Gaelic writing
)

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