Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. II. Ben Jonson to Dryden
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
 
Prologue to Aureng-Zebe, or the Great Mogul
By John Dryden (1631–1700)
 
[1675. 1]

OUR author by experience finds it true,
’Tis much more hard to please himself than you;
And, out of no feigned modesty, this day
Damns his laborious trifle of a play;
Not that it’s worse than what before he writ,        5
But he has now another taste of wit;
And, to confess a truth, though out of time,
Grows weary of his long-loved mistress, Rhyme.
Passion’s too fierce to be in fetters bound,
And Nature flies him like enchanted ground:        10
What verse can do he has performed in this,
Which he presumes the most correct of his;
But spite of all his pride, a secret shame
Invades his breast at Shakespeare’s sacred name:
Awed when he hears his godlike Romans rage,        15
He in a just despair would quit the stage;
And to an age less polished, more unskilled,
Does with disdain the foremost honours yield.
As with the greater dead he dares not strive,
He would not match his verse with those who live:        20
Let him retire, betwixt two ages cast,
The first of this and hindmost of the last.
A losing gamester, let him sneak away;
He bears no ready money from the play.
The fate which governs poets thought it fit        25
He should not raise his fortunes by his wit.
The clergy thrive, and the litigious bar;
Dull heroes fatten with the spoils of war:
All southern vices, Heaven be praised, are here;
But wit ’s a luxury you think too dear.        30
When you to cultivate the plant are loth,
’Tis a shrewd sign ’twas never of your growth:
And wit in northern climates will not blow,
Except, like orange trees, ’tis housed from snow.
There needs no care to put a playhouse down,        35
’Tis the most desert place of all the town:
We and our neighbours, to speak proudly, are,
Like monarchs, ruined with expensive war;
While, like wise English, unconcerned you sit,
And see us play the tragedy of Wit.        40
 
Note 1. Aureng-Zebe, the last of Dryden’s tragedies in rhyme, was produced at the Theatre Royal. ‘Our neighbours’ in line 37 refers to the rival house in Dorset Garden. [back]
 
 
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