What qualities of Augustan poetry does the elegy "To The Memory of Mr Oldham" by Dryden display?
John Dryden's [1631-1700] elegy "To the Memory of Mr.Oldham" was published in the year 1684. It is a sober tribute combining praise of John Oldham's [1653-1683] poetic achievements with a lament for his premature death.
The most obvious qualities of Augustan poetry which are evident in the elegy are as follows:
1. The elegy has been written in heroic couplets. A heroic couplet is a pair of rhyming iambic pentameter lines:
One common note on either lyre did strike,
And knaves and fools we both abhorr'd alike:
The lines are end-stopped; that is to say, the meaning does not run on into the nest line or the next couplet. One couplet forms a complete logical whole. The heroic couplet became the standard line of verse during the neo-classical age and its popularity reached its peak at the time of Alexander Pope.
2. Classical allusions. The neo-classical age is also known as the Augustan Age because the English poets looked for inspiration and guidance to the poets of the ancient Augustan period who lived and wrote during the reign of Emperor Augustus (27 B.C.- 14 A.D.) namely, Virgil, Horace and Ovid. For instance Dryden to highlight the fact that Oldham became more famous earlier than himself alludes to an incident in Book V of Virgil's "Aeneid" involving Nisus and Euryalus:
Thus Nisus fell upon the slippery place,
While his young friend perform'd and won the race.
3. The neo-classical poets always privileged reason and intellect over feeling and emotion. Since Dryden was writing an elegy to mourn the death of his friend we would expect him express sorrow and grief at the premature death of Oldham. On the contrary, his elegy is a restrained and careful assessment of Oldham's poetic merits and his unfulfilled potential with just a hint of regret at his passing away at such an early age:
O early ripe! to thy abundant store
What could advancing age have added more?