HomePoetryAnalysis of To the Memory of Mr. Oldham by John DrydenAnalysis of To the Memory of Mr. Oldham by John Dryden
John Dryden (1631-1700) is an English poet of theseventeenth century and was a dominating literary figure in the period ofRestoration. He was reputed for his political satires like Mac Flecknoe (1682),The Medall (1682) and Absalom and Achitophel (1681). He also contributedgreatly to the literary field through his odes, elegies, prologues, andepilogues. Dryden was made England’s first Poet Laureate in 1668.
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To the Memory of Mr Oldham is written in 1684 with directreferences to the demise of John Oldham (1653- 1684) – an English poet whoexperienced a premature death in his 30s, and who explored, to a great extentin his satirical poems, the religious and political discontent and turmoil in thecontemporary England.
Title: Title is suggestive to a lament over Mr.Oldham, a contemporary poet in restoration period.
Form: Elegy (Usually an elegy is consisted of threesections: grief, admiration and consolation. However, in this poem, only thefirst two sections are found: measured grief on the departure of Mr. Oldham andthe admiration of his qualities)
Rhyme scheme: ABAB (couplet)
Tone: Measured grief (sees death in a positiveviewpoint)
Theme: Death as a universal truth experienced byhuman beings irrespective of their cast or creed, The lasting value of anartist and his work.
Narration: second person, Dryden himself addressesMr. Oldham
Main techniques: metaphor and allusion
(the poem consists of one stanza and is divided intosections for analyzing)
Farewell, too little and too lately known,
Whom I began to think and call my own:
For sure our souls were near allied, and thine
Cast in the same poetic mould with mine.
Metaphor: poetic mould (same poetic interests)
Contrast: first two lines (though Dryden knows littleabout him as they have acquainted only for a smaller period of time, he hascreated a very close relationship with Oldham.)
Dryden opens the poem in a dramatic way bidding farewell tohis ‘lately known’ poetic partner with whom he started a close bond due totheir same poetic interest. He compares their alikeness showing that they werecasted ‘in the same poetic mould.’ Their closeness of the relationship isvisible as Dryden calls Oldham ‘my own.’
One common note on either lyre did strike,
And knaves and fools we both abhorred alike,
To the same goal did both our studies drive:
The last set out the soonest did arrive.
Metaphor: common note on lyre (act in the sameway)
Irony: The last set out the soonest did arrive(This line is followed with the allusion to Virgil”s Aeneid, where the olderNisus falls in the race while his younger friend wins it. The message is thatage and experience isn”t always the preceding factor and that youth shouldn”tbe underestimated)
He further extends the similarities between their poeticinclinations. Both of them were satirists who explored the social, politicaland religious turmoil in contemporary England and both abhorred the dishonestpeople and fools. Dryden introduces death as a fulfillment of a mission bymentioning that the last person to set out finished the journey first.
Thus Nisus fell upon the slippery place,
Whilst his young friend performed and won the race,
O early ripe! To thy abundant store
What could advancing age have added more?
Allusion: Nisus (Refers to a Greek Mythologyof Nisus and Euryalus who served under a Trojan hero called Aeneas. During afoot race, Nisus fell on purpose so that Euryalus could win the race.) Here Drydenimplies himself as Nisus and Mr. Oldham as Euryalus.
Metaphor: abundant store (tree full of fruit,a well versed poet) early ripe (reached the peak of poetic mastery atearly age)
Rhetorical question: last line (his death is seen ina positive way)
Dryden claims that the death of Mr. Oldham is like a victoryas he completed his mission sooner than him. He indirectly implies that hesupported the young poet to master his art of poetry. However, Dryden praisesOldham’s achievements calling him an ‘abundant store.’ His rhetoric questionsuggests that Oldham has nothing more to achieve in his life as he has masteredthe art completely at his young age.
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
Foreshadowing: But satire needs not those, and witwill shine Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line. (The poet is hopefulthat Mr. Oldham”s work will be able to “shine” even after his earlydeath.)
Personification: satire needs not those, and witwill shine
Dryden keeps on admiring the young poet’s mastery as asatirist. As he says, had Mr. Oldham lived, he would have learned only thetechnical aspects of poetry but as Dryden says, satirist needs more wit thantechnical aspects. According to Dryden, Oldham has been gifted wit by nature.
A noble error, and but seldom made,
When poets are by too much force betrayed.
Thy generous fruits, though gather’d ere their prime,
Still showed a quickness; and maturing time
But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of rhyme
Oxymoron: a noble error (forgetting to complywith poetic conventions)
Metaphor: generous fruits (poetry of Oldham)
As Dryden reveals, although death stopped Oldham before hisskills could reach their optimum, he has been able to achieve great poeticmastery quickly. Dryden attributes Oldham’s poems to be ‘mellow’ as they cameout of young and matured poet. He claims that his own poems have lost theirvigor and become dull as a negative aspect of his maturity as a poet.
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.
Juxtaposition: hail and farewell! (shows thebrevity of Oldham’s life)
Allusion: Marcellus (Marcellus was thesuccessor of Augustus in Roman Empire and a character from Virgil”s Aeneid.Despite dying at young age his character was celebrated by Virgil)
Metaphor: Marcellus of our tongue (Here Oldhamis introduced as the successor of British literary empire probably after JohnDryden.)
Metonymy and Synecdoche: Marcellus of our tongue
Symbols: Ivy and laurels (to refer eternityand victory) gloomy night (It represents the end of a one cycle, oneday, just like the death represents the end of the cycle of life.)
Poem ends with the message of brevity of life. Death is acommon reality for everyone that comes to anyone uninvited despite of theircast or creed. However, Dryden shows the everlasting glory of an artist who engravedtheir service and works for fellow human beings.
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