John Dryden’s elegy “To the Memory of Mr. Oldham” presents a tribute in verse to the poetic achievement of John Oldham (1653-1683), whom Dryden knew as a younger contemporary. Although he produced a variety of poems and translations, Oldham gained fame through his highly topical Satyrs upon the Jesuits (1681). In twenty-five lines of heroic couplets, an unusual verse form for an elegy, Dryden laments Oldham’s premature death and assesses his literary merit.
In the first of the poem’s three sections (lines 1-10), Dryden follows established elegiac convention by announcing the loss and, speaking in the first person, identifying himself with the younger poet. Their souls were allied through their mutual devotion to study and art as well as their mutual dislike of knaves and fools. Yet Oldham, as Dryden admits, achieved poetic fame earlier in life than Dryden had, a condition comparable to the race narrated by Vergil in the Aeneid (c. 29-19 b.c.e.), book 5, involving Nisus and Euryalus. The older Nisus, leading in a foot race, falls down but manages to trip the nearest competitor. As a result, he has the pleasure of seeing his young friend, Euryalus, become the victor. This classical allusion foreshadows another less optimistic Vergilian reference and concludes the poem’s introductory section.
In the second section (lines 11-21), Dryden assesses Oldham’s literary achievement, remarking...
(The entire section is 432 words.)