English 6236: Restoration Literature
Death and Dying; or, Serious Lyrics
To My Honoured Kinsman (Hammond 161-166), To the
Memory of Mr. Oldham (Hammond 177-8); An Ode on the To the Pious Memory of Mrs.
Anne Killigrew (Walker 310, also course docs); Death
of Mr. Henry Purcell (Walker 461; also course docs)
Rochester: Upon Nothing (Hammond 378) and Satire Against Reason and Mankind (Hammond 371)
Scholarly Article Summary: Maggie Wilson--- Wheeler, David. "Beyond Art: Reading Dryden's 'Anne Killigrew' in Its Political Moment." South Central Review 15.2 (1998): 1-15.
Oroonoko Annotation: Melody Thomas
Today's reading provides a number of more serious lyrics to discuss, but the two that stand out for special attention are Dryden's "To Anne Killigrew" and Rochester's "Satyr against Mankind," both considered representative of the respective poets' best work. The themes for these works reflect our mortality and the meaning of life and so give us the opportunity to explore how artists from the early modern era approached such topics. What about life in this culture might profoundly influence their views of life and death? How might they differ from our own views? What might we learn from them?
Consider the requirements of the genre of the elegy. How do these poems differ from other famous elegies (Lycidas, Adonais, In Memoriam A.H.H. for example)? What conventions do they share with other Restoration poetic genres?
Compare Dryden's four elegies. What is his relationship to the respective subjects of the poems? How do Dryden's practices in the lyric differ from those of his contemporaries? To what extent did Dryden possess the talents necessary for writing good lyric poetry?
How valid are the evaluations of poetic achievement expressed in the commemorative poems?
What classical and Christian themes do the poets employ in service of their praise?
II. To Anne Killigrew
Keeping in mind Dennis' hierarchy of literary genres, comment on Samuel Johnson's description of Dryden's poem to Killigrew as the "noblest ode in English."
Dryden's biographer, James Winn, identifies five overlapping relationships Dryden maintains with his subject in this poem: the professional to the amateur poet, the older master to the young beginner, the man praising a woman, "a poet sensitive to the beauty of painting, but convinced in the superiority of poetry," and a survivor grieving for the dead. In what ways do these relationships shape the structure, style and content of this ode? How do these roles compare with Dryden's others elegies?
What is the tone and/or value of Dryden's assessment of Killigrew's artistic skill?
Winn contends that "when he stressed the innate talents of Anne Killigrew, [Dryden] was avoiding describing her as a learned woman -- not, I believe, because he was unaware of her learning or threatened by it, but because learned women had long been the targets of savage misogynist satire" ('When Beauty Fires the Blood' 90).
To what extent is Dryden successful in forestalling criticism? Do you believe such motivations are genuine?
Evaluate Dryden's passage on "the steaming ordures of the stage." Again, to what extent is this genuine? What are the implications for Dryden's poetry? For the poetry of the age? Are these values informed by gendered distinctions?
The editors of the Norton Anthology argue that "Dryden's Ode to Anne Killigrew is not so much the expression of private grief as it is a decorous ceremonial gesture dignifying a public occasion." In what ways does this poem transcend the particular to incorporate universal themes? To what extent does its "greatness" rely on this transcendence?
III. Satyr Against Reason and Mankind
We might have studied Rochester's great poem along side of his other satires earlier in the semester. Recall the discussion of Rochester's satire. How does this poem compare with his other writings? Make an argument for or against including "Satyr against Reason and Mankind" among the serious lyrics (as opposed to his satires).
Barbara Everett writes:
This 'satire' is no satire, but simply a poem, which we cannot understand unless we believe its medium, its verbal surface; and this poem, which seems to have so much public clarity, in fact works through style like a misty secret labyrinth in which the person who reads will get lost. (33).
Identify the play of paradox in Rochester's poem. To what extent is Everett's assessment of the poem's verbal complexity accurate?
Righter comments on the Satyr's
poise between a firm conviction of the empirical limits of man's mind and an underlying agony that he should in fact be bounded by sense experience. The theme of limitation is everywhere in Rochester, and never, not even in poems where it seems most straightforwardly a physical matter . . . is it without its transcendental shadow. (24)
Gillian Manning argues that it is, in essence, an occasional poem:
Like all great occasional works the Satyr takes account of, yet transcends, those immediate circumstances which contributed to its inception. (16)
To what extent is the Satyr grounded in the historical reality of Restoration England? What philosophical and literary traditions is Rochester working against in the poem? What intellectual trends during the Restoration period does the poem reflect?
To what extent does the Satyr actually transcend its historical context? And what do we mean by "transcend"? In what ways does such transcendence make it a better poem?