'Ode' by John Dryden

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To the Pious Memory of the Accomplished Young Lady, Mrs Anne Killigrew,
Excellent in the Two Sister-arts of Poesy and Painting

Thou youngest Virgin Daughter of the skies,
Made in the last promotion of the blest;
Whose palms, new-plucked from Paradise,
In spreading branches more sublimely rise,
Rich with immortal green, above the rest:
Whether, adopted to some neighbouring star,
Thou roll'st above us in thy wand'ring race,
Or, in procession fixed and regular
Moved with the heavens' majestic pace;
Or, called to more superior bliss,
Thou tread'st with seraphims the vast abyss:
Whatever happy region be thy place,
Cease thy celestial song a little space;
(Thou wilt have time enough for hymns divine,
Since Heaven's eternal year is thine.)
Hear then a mortal muse thy praise rehearse
In no ignoble verse;
But such as thy own voice did practise here,
When thy first fruits of poesie were given,
To make thyself a welcome inmate there;
While yet a young probationer
And candidate of Heaven.

If by traduction came thy mind,
Our wonder is the less to find
A soul so charming from a stock so good;
Thy father was transfused into thy blood:
So wert thou born into the tuneful strain,
(An early, rich, and inexhausted vein.)
But if thy pre-existing soul
Was formed, at first, with myriads more,
It did through all the mighty poets roll
Who Greek or Latin laurels wore,
And was that Sappho last, which once it was before;
If so, then cease thy flight, O Heav'n-born mind!
Thou hast no dross to purge from thy rich ore:
Nor can thy soul a fairer mansion find
Than was the beauteous frame she left behind:
Return, to fill or mend the choir of thy celestial kind.

May we presume to say that at thy birth
New joy was sprung in Heav'n as well as here on earth?
For sure the milder planets did combine
On thy auspicious horoscope to shine,
And ev'n the most malicious were in trine.
Thy brother-angels at thy birth
Strung each his lyre, and tuned it high,
That all the people of the sky
Might know a poetess was born on earth;
And then if ever, mortal ears
Had heard the music of the spheres!
And if no clust'ring swarm of bees
On thy sweet mouth distilled their golden dew,
'Twas that such vulgar miracles
Heav'n had not leisure to renew:
For all the blest fraternity of love
Solemnized there thy birth, and kept thy holyday above.

O gracious God! how far have we
Profaned thy Heav'nly gift of poesy!
Made prostitute and profligate the Muse,
Debased to each obscene and impious use,
Whose harmony was first ordained above,
For tongues of angels and for hymns of love!
Oh wretched we! why were we hurried down
This lubrique and adult'rate age
(Nay, added fat pollutions of our own)
T' increase the steaming ordures of the stage?
What can we say t' excuse our second fall?
Let this thy vestal, Heav'n, atone for all:
Her Arethusian stream remains unsoiled,
Unmixed with foreign filth and undefiled;
Her wit was more than man, her innocence a child.

Art she had none, yet wanted none,
For nature did that want supply:
So rich in treasures of her own,
She might our boasted stores defy:
Such noble vigour did her verse adorn,
That it seemed borrowed, where 'twas only born.
Her morals too were in her bosom bred
By great examples daily fed,
What in the best of books, her father's life, she read.
And to be read herself she need not fear;
Each test and ev'ry light her muse will bear,
Though Epictetus with his lamp were there.
Ev'n love (for love sometimes her muse expressed)
Was but a lambent-flame which played about her breast,
Light as the vapours of a morning dream;
So cold herself, while she such warmth expressed,
'Twas Cupid bathing in Diana's stream.

Born to the spacious empire of the Nine,
One would have thought she should have been content
To manage well that mighty government;
But what can young ambitious souls confine?
To the next realm she stretched her sway,
For painture near adjoining lay,
A plenteous province, and alluring prey.
A chamber of dependences was framed,
(As conquerers will never want pretence,
When armed, to justify th' offence),
And the whole fief, in right of poetry, she claimed.
The country open lay without defence;
For poets frequent inroads there had made,
And perfectly could represent
The shape, the face, with ev'ry lineament;

And all the large domains which the dumb-sister swayed,
All bowed beneath her government,
Received in triumph wheresoe'er she went.
Her pencil drew whate'er her soul designed,
And oft the happy draught surpassed the image in her mind.
The sylvan scenes of herds and flocks,
And fruitful plains and barren rocks;
Of shallow brooks that flowed so clear,
The bottom did the top appear;
Of deeper too and ampler floods
Which as in mirrors showed the woods;
Of lofty trees, with sacred shades,
And perspectives of pleasant glades,
Where nymphs of brightest form appear,
And shaggy satyrs standing near,
Which them at once admire and fear.
The ruins too of some majestic piece,
Boasting the pow'r of ancient Rome or Greece,
Whose statues, friezes, columns, broken lie,
And, though defaced, the wonder of the eye;
What nature, art, bold fiction, e'er durst frame,
Her forming hand gave feature to the name.
So strange a concourse ne'er was seen before,
But when the peopled ark the whole creation bore.

The scene then changed; with bold erected look
Our martial king the sight with rev'rence strook:
For, not content t' express his outward part,
Her hand called out the image of his heart,
His warlike mind, his soul devoid of fear,
His high-designing thoughts were figured there,
As when, by magic, ghosts are made appear.
Our phoenix Queen was portrayed too so bright,
Beauty alone could beauty take so right:
Her dress, her shape, her matchless grace,
Were all observed, as well as heavenly face.
With such a peerless majesty she stands,
As in that day she took the crown from sacred hands:
Before a train of heroines was seen,
In beauty foremost, as in rank, the Queen!
Thus nothing to her genius was denied,
But like a ball of fire, the farther thrown,
Still with a greater blaze she shone,
And her bright soul broke out on ev'ry side.
What next she had designed, Heaven only knows:
To such immod'rate growth her conquest rose,
That Fate alone its progress could oppose.

Now all those charms, that blooming grace,
That well-proportioned shape, and beauteous face,
Shall never more be seen by mortal eyes;
In earth the much-lamented virgin lies!
Not wit nor piety could Fate prevent;

Nor was the cruel destiny content
To finish all the murder at a blow,
To sweep at once her life and beauty too;
But, like a hardened felon, took a pride
To work more mischievously slow,
And plundered first, and then destroyed.
O double sacrilege on things divine,
To rob the relic, and deface the shrine!
But thus Orinda died:
Heaven, by the same disease, did both translate;
As equal were their souls, so equal was their fate.

Meantime, her warlike brother on the seas
His waving streamers to the winds displays,
And vows for his return, with vain devotion, pays.
Ah, gen'rous youth! that wish forbear,
The winds too soon will waft thee here!
Slack all thy sails, and fear to come,
Alas, thou know'st not, thou art wrecked at home!
No more shalt thou behold thy sister's face,
Thou hast already had her last embrace.
But look aloft, and if thou kenn'st from far
Among the Pleiads a new-kindled star,
If any sparkles than the rest more bright,
'Tis she that shines in that propitious light.

When in mid-air the golden trump shall sound,
To raise the nations underground;
When in the valley of Jehosaphat
The judging God shall close the book of Fate;
And there the last assizes keep
For those who wake and those who sleep;
When rattling bones together fly
From the four corners of the sky,
When sinews o'er the skeletons are spread,
Those clothed with flesh, and life inspires the dead;
The sacred poets first shall hear the sound,
And foremost from the tomb shall bound:
For they are covered with the lightest ground;
And straight with in-born vigour, on the wing,
Like mounting larks, to the New Morning sing.
There thou, sweet saint, before the choir shall go,
As harbinger of Heav'n, the way to show,
The way which thou so well hast learned below.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Ode by John Dryden: A Masterpiece of Poetic Brilliance

Are you looking for a poem that will leave you awestruck? A poem that will make you feel every emotion deeply, and leave you pondering its meaning long after you’ve read it? Look no further than John Dryden’s “Ode.”

Written in 1685, “Ode” is a masterpiece of poetic brilliance. It is a celebration of the coronation of James II, the new king of England, and it captures the energy and excitement of the moment perfectly. But it is more than just a political poem – it is a meditation on power, on the nature of rulership, and on the relationship between the ruler and the ruled.

Let’s dive into this poem and explore its many layers of meaning.

Structure and Form

First, let’s take a look at the structure and form of the poem. “Ode” is a Pindaric ode, a type of poem that imitates the style of the ancient Greek poet Pindar. The Pindaric ode is characterized by its irregular structure and its use of complex meters, often with a refrain or choral interlude.

Dryden’s “Ode” follows this form closely. It is divided into three stanzas, each with its own unique meter and rhyme scheme. The first stanza is written in iambic pentameter, with an ABABCDECDE rhyme scheme. The second stanza is written in irregular meter, with a more complex rhyme scheme (ABABCDCD) that repeats the last line of each stanza. The third and final stanza is written in a dactylic meter, with a rhyme scheme that follows the pattern ABCCBDDEE.

This irregular structure lends the poem a sense of energy and momentum. It is as if the poem is building towards a climax, a moment of emotional release.

Themes and Motifs

Now, let’s turn our attention to the themes and motifs of the poem. “Ode” is a poem of celebration – it celebrates the coronation of James II and the arrival of a new era of peace and prosperity. But it is also a poem of reflection and contemplation, a meditation on the nature of power and the responsibilities of rulership.

One of the key motifs in the poem is that of the “Chain of Being.” This was a concept that was popular in the Renaissance, and it held that all things – from the lowliest insect to the highest angel – were arranged in a hierarchical order. At the top of this hierarchy was God, followed by the angels, then the human rulers, and finally the common people and the natural world.

Dryden references this concept several times in the poem. In the first stanza, he writes:

From harmony, from heavenly harmony, This universal frame began: When Nature underneath a heap Of jarring atoms lay, And could not heave her head, The tuneful voice was heard from high, Arise, ye more than dead!

Here, Dryden suggests that the harmony of the universe is maintained by a divine force – that there is a kind of cosmic order that governs all things. The “tuneful voice” that he mentions is likely a reference to the biblical account of creation, in which God speaks the world into being.

Later in the poem, Dryden returns to this motif, writing:

From thee, great God, we spring, to thee we tend,— Path, motive, guide, original, and end.

This stanza reinforces the idea that all things are connected, and that the source of all power and authority is God. It suggests that even the most powerful ruler is subject to this cosmic order, that they are merely a part of a larger whole.

Another key motif in the poem is that of the “heroic couplet.” This is a form of poetry that was popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it is characterized by its use of rhymed iambic pentameter. Dryden was one of the masters of this form, and his use of it in “Ode” is masterful. Here is an example:

Unbounded courage and compassion joined, Temp'ring each other in the victor's mind, Alternately proclaim him good and great, And make the hero and the man complete.

This couplet highlights another important theme of the poem – the idea that a ruler must balance courage and compassion. Dryden suggests that a great ruler must be both strong and merciful, that they must be able to lead their people with both a firm hand and a kind heart.

Language and Imagery

Finally, let’s look at the language and imagery of the poem. Dryden’s use of language is masterful – he is able to convey complex ideas and emotions with precision and clarity. His imagery is equally impressive, and he uses a wide range of metaphors and similes to bring his ideas to life.

One of the most striking images in the poem is that of the sun. Dryden uses the metaphor of the sun to represent the power and authority of the king. In the second stanza, he writes:

The sun himself, which makes our day, Which should have made it always, but he stay'd, For not without alloy was his estate, Surrounded with a vast circumference of night.

This metaphor suggests that the king is like the sun, providing light and warmth to his people, but also subject to the same forces that govern the universe. The “vast circumference of night” that surrounds the sun represents the challenges and obstacles that a ruler must face – the darkness that threatens to overwhelm the light.

Another powerful image in the poem is that of the eagle. Dryden uses the eagle as a symbol of strength and courage, and he suggests that a great ruler must possess these qualities. In the third stanza, he writes:

The eagle's fate and mine are one, Which on the shaft that made him die Espied a feather of his own, Wherewith he wont to soar so high.

This stanza suggests that even the strongest and most powerful ruler is subject to the same fate as everyone else – that they are mortal, and that they will one day die. But it also suggests that the legacy of a great ruler can live on – that their example can inspire others to greatness, just as the eagle’s feather inspired Dryden to write this poem.


In conclusion, “Ode” by John Dryden is a masterpiece of poetic brilliance. It is a celebration of the coronation of James II, but it is also a meditation on power, on the nature of rulership, and on the relationship between the ruler and the ruled. Dryden’s use of structure, form, themes, motifs, language, and imagery all contribute to the poem’s power and impact, making it a true masterpiece of English literature. If you haven’t read “Ode” yet, I highly recommend that you do – it is a poem that will stay with you for a long time, and one that you will return to again and again.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Ode by John Dryden: A Masterpiece of Poetic Brilliance

John Dryden, one of the greatest poets of the 17th century, is known for his exceptional works that have stood the test of time. Among his many works, "Ode" is a classic masterpiece that has captured the hearts of poetry lovers for centuries. This poem is a perfect example of Dryden's poetic brilliance, as it showcases his mastery of language, imagery, and symbolism. In this article, we will delve into the depths of "Ode" and explore its themes, structure, and literary devices.

The poem "Ode" is a tribute to the English monarch, King Charles II, who was restored to the throne after the English Civil War. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each with a distinct theme and tone. The first stanza is a celebration of the king's return, the second is a reflection on the past, and the third is a prayer for the king's continued reign. The poem is written in iambic pentameter, a common meter in English poetry, and has a rhyme scheme of ABABCC.

The first stanza of the poem is a joyful celebration of the king's return. Dryden uses vivid imagery to describe the scene, painting a picture of a nation that is overjoyed at the return of its king. He writes, "The joyful nations in a dance unite, / And every heart is filled with new delight." The use of the word "joyful" and "delight" creates a sense of happiness and excitement, which is further emphasized by the image of people dancing in celebration. Dryden also uses personification to describe the Thames River, which is personified as a "silver stream" that "rejoices" at the king's return. This personification adds a sense of liveliness and energy to the poem, making it more engaging and memorable.

The second stanza of the poem is a reflection on the past and the struggles that the nation has faced. Dryden uses imagery to describe the chaos and destruction that occurred during the Civil War, writing, "The fields are ravished from the industrious swain, / From men their cities, and from gods their fane." The use of the word "ravished" creates a sense of violence and destruction, while the phrase "from gods their fane" suggests that even the sacred places were not spared. Dryden also uses symbolism to describe the nation's suffering, writing, "The starving army and the broken state, / Where only man is vile, and all beside is fate." The phrase "where only man is vile" suggests that the nation has lost its moral compass, while the phrase "all beside is fate" suggests that the nation's fate is out of its control. This stanza serves as a reminder of the nation's past struggles and the importance of the king's return in restoring order and stability.

The third stanza of the poem is a prayer for the king's continued reign. Dryden uses religious imagery to describe the king, writing, "Great God, thy mercy on thy people show, / That thou may'st be their king, and they thy foe." The use of the word "God" and the phrase "thy mercy" suggest that the king is divinely appointed and that his reign is a blessing from God. Dryden also uses the image of a ship to describe the king's reign, writing, "And when, like thee, Charles, he shall retire, / Sailing in triumph o'er the Stygian lake." The image of a ship sailing in triumph suggests that the king's reign will be successful and that he will be remembered as a great leader.

In addition to its themes and imagery, "Ode" is also notable for its use of literary devices. Dryden uses alliteration to create a sense of rhythm and musicality in the poem, such as in the line "And every heart is filled with new delight." He also uses metaphor to describe the king's reign, such as in the line "And when, like thee, Charles, he shall retire, / Sailing in triumph o'er the Stygian lake." The use of metaphor adds depth and complexity to the poem, making it more thought-provoking and memorable.

In conclusion, "Ode" is a masterpiece of poetic brilliance that showcases John Dryden's mastery of language, imagery, and symbolism. The poem is a celebration of the English monarch's return, a reflection on the nation's past struggles, and a prayer for the king's continued reign. Dryden's use of vivid imagery, personification, and symbolism creates a sense of depth and complexity in the poem, making it a timeless classic that continues to captivate poetry lovers to this day.

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