Verse > John Dryden > Poems
John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
Epistles and Complimentary Addresses
To the Earl of Roscomon, on his Excellent Essay on Translated Verse
WHETHER 1 the fruitful Nile, or Tyrian Shore
The seeds of Arts and Infant Science bore,
’Tis sure the noble Plant translated, first 2
Advanced its head in Grecian Gardens nurst.
The Grecians added Verse, their tuneful Tongue        5
Made Nature first and Nature’s God their song.
Nor stopt Translation here: For conquering Rome
With Grecian Spoils brought Grecian Numbers home;
Enrich’d by those Athenian Muses more
Than all the vanquish’d World cou’d yield before.        10
Till barb’rous Nations and more barb’rous Times
Debas’d the majesty of Verse to Rhymes;
Those rude at first: a kind of hobbling Prose:
That limp’d along and tinckl’d in the close:
But Italy, reviving from the trance        15
Of Vandal, Goth, and Monkish ignorance,
With pauses, cadence, and well-vowell’d Words,
And all the Graces a good Ear affords,
Made Rhyme an Art: and Dante’s polish’d page
Restor’d a silver, not a golden Age:        20
Then Petrarch follow’d, and in him we see,
What Rhyme improv’d in all its height can be;
At best a pleasing Sound, and fair barbarity:
The French pursu’d their steps; and Brittain, last
In Manly sweetness all the rest surpass’d.        25
The Wit of Greece, the Gravity of Rome,
Appear exalted in the Brittish Loome;
The Muses Empire is restor’d agen,
In Charles his reign, and by Roscomon’s Pen.
Yet modestly he does his Work survey        30
And calls a finish’d Poem an ESSAY;
For all the needful Rules are scatter’d here;
Truth smoothly told, and pleasantly severe;
(So well is Art disguis’d, for Nature to appeare.)
Nor need those Rules to give Translation light;        35
His own example is a flame so bright;
That he, who but arrives to copy well,
Unguided will advance; unknowing will excel.
Scarce his own Horace cou’d such Rules ordain;
Or his own Virgil sing a nobler strain.        40
How much in him may rising Ireland boast,
How much in gaining him has Britain lost!
Their Island in revenge has ours reclaim’d,
The more instructed we, the more we still are sham’d.
’Tis well for us his generous bloud did flow,        45
Deriv’d from British Channels long ago;
That here his conquering ancestors were 3 nurst,
And Ireland but translated England first:
By this Reprisal we regain our right;
Else must the two contending Nations fight        50
A nobler quarrel for his Native earth,
Than what divided Greece for Homer’s birth.
To what perfection will our Tongue arrive,
How will Invention and Translation thrive
When Authors nobly born will bear their part,        55
And not disdain th’ inglorious praise of Art!
Great Generals thus descending from command,
With their own toil provoke the Souldiers hand.
How will sweet Ovid’s Ghost he pleas’d to hear
His Fame augmented by a Brittish 4 Peer, 5        60
How he embellishes His Helen’s loves,
Out does his softness, and his sense improves?
When these translate, and teach Translators too,
Nor Firstling Kid nor any vulgar vow
Shou’d 6 at Apollo’s grateful Altar stand;        65
Roscomon writes, to that auspicious hand,
Muse feed the Bull that spurns the yellow sand.
Roscomon, whom both Court and Camps commend,
True to his Prince and faithful to his friend;
Roscomon first in Fields 7 of honour known,        70
First in the peaceful Triumphs of the Gown;
Who both Minerva’s justly makes his own.
Now let the few belov’d by Jove, and they
Whom infus’d Titan form’d of better Clay,
On equal terms with ancient Wit ingage,        75
Nor mighty Homer fear, nor sacred Virgil’s page;
Our English Palace opens wide in state;
And without stooping they may pass the Gate.

Note 1. Text from the original prefixt to Roscomon’s Essay on Translated Verse, 1684. [back]
Note 2. Plant translated, first] Plant, translated first; 1684. [back]
Note 3. were] was 1684. Dryden writing to Tonson pointed out the misprint. [back]
Note 4. a Brittish] Some editions wrongly give an English. [back]
Note 5. The Earl of Mulgrave. [back]
Note 6. Shou’d] Thou’d 1684. [back]
Note 7. Fields] Christie and others wrongly give field. [back]

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