Read Absalom and Achitophel by John Dryden Free Online
Book Title: Absalom and Achitophel|
ISBN 13: 9780208018458
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 5.68 MB
The author of the book: John Dryden
Edition: Archon Books
Date of issue: February 1st 1987
City - Country: No data
Loaded: 2067 times
Reader ratings: 4.5
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I am nowhere near sufficiently well read in poetry to use the term "neglected classic" here, but I am surprised at how low Dryden's stock seems to be valued on Goodreads and among critics in general. In fact it seems so out of proportion to the obvious quality of this work that I've come up with a theory here:
When Dryden was writing, poetry seems to have been used in a very different way than it is today, with satire and political commentary and witty epigrams being the emphasis, whereas modern poetry, to paint with too broad a brush to be sure, is much more about internal emotional states or depictions of the natural world. You know:
"O the birds and the trees and the winds and the flowers, how pretty are they and then I have a bunch of feelings blah blah blah."
Except a little better, granted.
Dryden is going for something entirely different here, with insightful comments on political theories and historical drifts:
They led their wild desires to woods and caves,
And thought that all but savages were slaves.
And David's mildness managed it so well,
The bad found no occasion to rebel.
But when to sin our biased nature leans
The careful devil is still at hands with means.
No wandering lonely as a cloud down the path less traveled while glorying in god for dappled things and singing a song to himself for this poet. No sir. Augustan poets were ironic and looking for pithy insights into great events and human nature. Eg:
Plots, true or false, are necessary things,
To raise up commonwealths and ruin kings.
The particular event being chronicled is ostensibly King David of Israel dealing with the rebellion of his illegitimate but much loved son Absalom who has been lead astray by the sith-lord advisor Achitophel. However what it's actually about is Charles II, the king of England at the time (1681) and his son the Duke of Monmouth who had been similarly lead astray by the Earl of Shaftesbury. (Yes, you will need an edition with good footnotes.) Achitophel is brilliant and mad with ambition:
Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide.
He is full of plots within plots and incredibly cunning and persuasive. Wouldn't you be tempted into overambitious reaching if someone told you this?:
Swift unbespoken pomps thy steps proclaim,
And stammering babes are taught to lisp thy name.
How long wilt thou the general joy detain,
Starve and defraud the people of thy reign;
Believe me, royal youth, thy fruit must be
Or gathered ripe, or rot upon the tree.
But Achitophel is playing a game of his own. Monmouth/Absalon is of low birth on his mother's side and thus would be insecure in his kingship should he attain it:
That kingly power, thus ebbing out, might be
Drawn to the dregs of democracy.
Keep in mind that this is all taking place only a few decades after the English Civil war when Charles I (the father of Charles II) had been executed by Oliver Cromwell and the roundheads and while the monarchy had subsequently been restored, there were those who for reasons of either political theory or religion or just general discontent were unhappy with the current state of things. Dryden however, despite flirting with democratic sentiments as a young man is now a firm monarchist. Through allegory, satire and wit Dryden captures the ideas and controversies of the time in this epic poem and really puts you in the whirl of conflicting passions and ideologies of post-Restoration England. So why is it so unappreciated?! Here comes that aforementioned theory.
People who self-select as "liking poetry" in the modern context are as a general rule looking for something quite different than what Dryden is offering. Poetry changed entirely with the Romantics a la Keats and Byron and that's the school modern poetry readers are in or closer to. So who would like this poem? The kind of person who is interested in history and political theory, the kind who thinks Richard III or Julius Caesar are more interesting plays than The Tempest or Much Ado About Nothing, and probably the sort who would rather read a good biography of Andrew Jackson than Whitman's Song of Myself. And these are not the sort who will typically pick up a really long poem to read. Which is too bad, because they are really the ones who would enjoy this the most!
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Read information about the authorLibrarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
John Dryden (19 August [O.S. 9 August] 1631 – 12 May [O.S. 1 May] 1700) was an English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who was made Poet Laureate in 1668. He is seen as dominating the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden. Walter Scott called him "Glorious John."
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