How might one paraphrase and explain the meaning of the first stanza of Dryden's poem "'Zimri': The Duke of Buckingham"?Zimri(The Duke of Buckingham)by John DrydenSome of their chiefs were princes...

How might one paraphrase and explain the meaning of the first stanza of Dryden's poem "'Zimri': The Duke of Buckingham"?

Zimri
(The Duke of Buckingham)
by John 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

The poem "'Zimri': The Duke of Buckingham" by John Dryden is actually an excerpt beginning at line 543 of the much longer poem Absalom and Achitophel:

Some of their chiefs were princes of the land:
In the first rank of these did Zimri stand;

The poem is not written in stanza form, but for the purpose of paraphrase we can consider the first two full sentences to be the value of one stanza (though it is not). This portion extends from "Some of their chiefs ..." to "that died in thinking." Before Zimri enters--whom Dryden satirized, as Jack Lynch, Ph.D., of Rutgers University says, in an earlier play, The Rehearsal (1671)--the poem is discussing those who battle against governments that "enslave the nation" and who are described as:

... the herd of such,
Who think too little, and who talk too much.

Zimri is added as one of these, since he was, in fact, involved in an unsuccessful plot against the King of England. With this background, it will be easier to understand the whole excerpt and paraphrase the first portion properly.

PARAPHRASE
1. Some of their chiefs were princes of the land:

Some of the leaders of those who were against the government were royal princes.

2. In the first rank of these did Zimri stand;

In their top leadership, did Zimri hold a place.

3. A man so various, that he seem'd to be
4. Not one, but all mankind's epitome:

Zimri was a man of many talents and interests and for that reason seemed to be the best of all types of experts.

5. Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong;

Zimri had very fixed opinions that were always wrong!

6. Was everything by starts, and nothing long;

He tried every sort of occupation suddenly and without holding to one thing long.

7. But, in the course of one revolving moon,

Thus in the course of one lunar month,

8. Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon:

Zimri was a chemist, a violinist, a politician, and a fool's fool:

9. Then all for woman, painting, rhyming, drinking,

As a fool, he gave all his time to flirting with women, painting, rhyming poems, and heavy drinking,

10. Beside ten thousand freaks that died in thinking.

and was the companion of great crowd of other fools who died by trying to think!

The paraphrase should give a clear explanation, but, in case it doesn't, the summary is this: Zimri was a leader of a rebellion against the royal court. This didn't work out very well for him because, not only was he deeply opinionated, he was very foolish and wrong-headed. He experimented with every occupation imaginable but gave them all up for womanizing and drinking. In the end, his companions were people whose thinking was so ineffectual that thinking could be the death of them!

Sources:

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