Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In his formative years, Dryden saw the chaos and destruction brought by a religiously inspired civil war in England. Most of Dryden’s major poems, including Absalom and Achitophel (1681-1682), Mac Flecknoe (1682), and Religio Laici (1682), deal with his search for an authority and a coherent tradition that could stand against anarchy and the destructive power of radical individualism. The Hind and the Panther is Dryden’s longest and most ambitious treatment of this theme. His fear of and scorn for the radical individualism that leads to extreme sectarianism is evident throughout the poem. In part 1, the sectarian animals (the wolf, the fox, the hare, and the boar) are all satiric portraits revealing the dangers of “private reason.” For Dryden, all religious sects are tainted by pride, arrogance, confusion, violence, and a generally rebellious spirit. This sectarian rebelliousness has dangerous political and religious implications. Also for Dryden, sectarian belief in the efficacy of reason presents a fundamental and profound problem. In Dryden’s view, the very essence of religion is that it deals with things beyond reason. Reason is valuable in those areas where it is appropriate, but it is helpless and misleading in the higher sphere of divinity: “Let Reason then at her own quarry fly,/ But how can finite grasp Infinity?”

In part 2 of The Hind and the Panther, Dryden sees the Anglican...

(The entire section is 468 words.)