John Dryden

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What contributions did Alexander Pope and John Dryden make to English poetry?

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John Dryden and Alexander Pope brought a new polish and epic allusiveness to English poetry, accompanied by stinging satire. Both poets employed grandiose diction to describe scabrous subject matter.

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John Dryden and Alexander Pope are among the most instantly identifiable of English poets. Both wrote in smooth, measured rhyming couplets, and both combined a stately, elevated diction with satire that was often vicious and abusive. Dryden received a conventional English education at Westminster and Cambridge, while Pope was debarred from membership of such institutions from his Catholic background, but both poets are self-consciously learned Augustans. They make frequent allusions to the classics, continually pointing out the absurdity of their mock-epic targets by comparing them to the heroes of Virgil and Homer.

Both Dryden and Pope contributed major works of satire and mock epic to English poetry. In Dryden's case, the early satires Mac Flecknoe and Absalom and Achitophel remain his best-known works. He also translated Virgil's Aeneid into rhyming verse. Pope is remembered for his translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, clearly much influenced by Dryden, as well as his own mock epics, The Dunciad and "The Rape of the Lock."

It is important to distinguish these original contributions from the general influence of Dryden and Pope, which even Pope himself saw was not positive (The Dunciad is, in part, a recognition of this). The aphoristic style Dryden and Pope both adopted became feeble and irritating in the hands of lesser poets. Byron was one of the few who learned from their example and was a great enough talent in his own right to be flexible in his use of Pope's style. The other Romantics rejected this polished, urbane way of writing altogether.

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