How can we analyze and paraphrase the poem "Zimri (The Duke of Buckingham)" by Dryden?  Zimri(The Duke of Buckingham)By Dryden Some of  their chiefs were princes of the land: In the first rank of...

How can we analyze and paraphrase the poem "Zimri (The Duke of Buckingham)" by Dryden?

 

Zimri
(The Duke of Buckingham)
By Dryden

Some of  their chiefs were princes of the land:

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 woman, painting, rhyming, drinking,

Beside 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.

In squandering wealth was his peculiar art:

Nothing went unrewarded but desert.

Beggad'd by fools, whom still he found too late;

He had his jest, and they had his estate.

He laugh'd himself from court; then sought relief

By forming parties, but could ne'er be chief:

For, spite of him the weight of business fell

On Absalom and wise Achitophel:

Thus, wicked but in will, of means bereft,

He left not faction, but of that was left.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

This is a funny poem because it is Horatian satire: that which is funny; witty; kindly, yet revealing of error; and tolerant (not Juvenalian satire: mean, angry, resentful). This satirical poem is to the Duke of Buckingham (Zimri) after political trouble ("He left not [the political] faction, but of that was left.").

What makes it a satire and funny? Some satiric devices (Ms. T. Watson, AP English. Citadel High School, Halifax, Novia Scotia) Dryden uses are exaggeration, incongruity, irony, mock encomium, and comic juxtaposition, undergirded by a couplet rhyme scheme: aabbccdd etc. This sing-song of adjoining couplets adds an amusing lilt to satiric meanings.

The first four lines are introductory and give no clue to the satire that is to come:

Some of their chiefs were princes of the land:  (a)
In the first rank of these did Zimri stand;  (a)
A man so various, that he seem'd to be   (b)
Not one, but all mankind's epitome:   (b)

Line 5 has the first clue through the incongruity it introduces between epitome (line 4) and wrong (line 5). Epitome means the perfect example of some characteristic or quality: the epitome of generosity is the most generous person. Dryden is saying Zimri is so talented and "various" that he seems to be the epitome (the best) of the whole collection of humankind. He then promptly tells us that Zimri's "stiff" (i.e., fixed, inflexible, unyielding) opinions are always wrong. Here we have incongruity: Zimri is the epitome of being wrong-headed. This satire is funny. Wrongness ought not to be epitomized!

Line 8 gives our next clue to the humor and satire: "Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon: ...." A buffoon is a ridiculous clown of a person. A chemist, a fiddler (musician), a statesman are all praise-worthy persons. The association of the clown with the chemist etc is mock encomium: praise is seemingly given or implied but, in truth, blame is being cast. Now we are firmly on the path of satire. With these two clues, we can look for the other satiric statements and enjoy the humor knowing that the Duke of Buckingham is being tolerantly (not maliciously) ridiculed for his foolishness.

Being almost out of room, I'll list some instances of the other satiric devices and paraphrase some phrases.

SATIRIC DEVICE
1. Exaggeration:
"Beside ten thousand freaks that died in thinking."

2. Irony:
"Beggad'd by fools, ...
He had his jest, and they had his estate."

3. Comic juxtaposition:
"In the first rank of [princes] did Zimri stand;
[...]
In squandering wealth was his peculiar art:"

PARAPHRASES   
"A man so various"
[with so many various talents]

"Was everything by starts"
[he was everything, but inconsistently]

"in the course of one revolving moon"
[in one month's time]

"So over violent"
[overly, too much so]

"Nothing went unrewarded but desert."
[nothing went unrewarded but that which deserved reward (ironic)]

"Beggad'd by fools" {beggared}
[tricked by fools]

"laughed himself from court"
[his behavior got him thrown out of the royal Court (not legal)]

"forming parties"
[political parties]

"left not faction, but of that was left."
[didn't leave the party; it abandoned him: political rejection]

Absalom: Biblical allusion; slew his brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28-29)

Achitophel: Biblical allusion; adviser to Absalom's rebellion (2 Samuel 15-17)

(.txt, Firefox)

Sources:

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