'To The Memory Of Mr Oldham' by John Dryden

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Farewell, too little and too lately known,
Whom I began to think and call my own;
For sure our souls were near allied, and thine
Cast in the same poetic mould with mine.
One common note on either lyre did strike,
And knaves and fools we both abhorred alike.
To the same goal did both our studies drive;
The last set out the soonest did arrive.
Thus Nisus fell upon the slippery place,
While his young friend performed and won the race.
O early ripe! to thy abundant store
What could advancing age have added more?
It might (what Nature never gives the young)
Have taught the numbers of thy native tongue.
But satire needs not those, and wit will shine
Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line.
A noble error, and but seldom made,
When poets are by too much force betrayed.
Thy generous fruits, though gathered ere their prime,
Still showed a quickness; and maturing time
But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of rhyme.
Once more, hail and farewell! farewell, thou young,
But ah too short, Marcellus of our tongue!
Thy brows with ivy and with laurels bound;
But fate and gloomy night encompass thee around.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Tribute to Mr. Oldham: A Literary Critique of Dryden's Poem

John Dryden's poem "To the Memory of Mr. Oldham" is a classic piece of literature that has been studied and analyzed by scholars for centuries. It is a tribute to the young poet John Oldham, who died at the age of 30, leaving behind a legacy of poetry that greatly influenced Dryden himself. In this literary critique, we will examine the themes, style, and structure of the poem, and explore its meaning and significance in the context of its time.

The Theme of Death and Immortality

At its core, "To the Memory of Mr. Oldham" is a meditation on the theme of death and immortality. Dryden begins the poem by acknowledging the inevitability of death, and the fact that even the most talented and virtuous among us must eventually succumb to it. He writes:

Farewell, too little and too lately known, Whom I began to think and call my own; For sure our souls were near allied, and thine Cast in the same poetic mould with mine.

Here, Dryden is expressing his grief at the loss of Oldham, whom he felt a deep connection with. He compares their souls to be "near allied," indicating a kindred spirit that is shared between them. This sense of connection is further reinforced by Dryden's description of Oldham's poetry as being "cast in the same poetic mould with mine." This line suggests that they both shared a similar style and way of looking at the world, and that their poetry was born out of a common set of experiences and values.

The theme of death is also explored in the second stanza of the poem, where Dryden writes:

But thou, false guardian of a charge too good, Thou, mean deserter of thy brother's blood! See on these ruby lips the trembling breath, These cheeks now fading at the blast of death;

Here, Dryden is addressing Death itself, personifying it as a "false guardian" and a "mean deserter" who has robbed Oldham of his life. He describes the physical signs of death, such as the "trembling breath" and "fading cheeks," which serve as a reminder of the transience of life.

However, despite the inevitability of death, Dryden also expresses a belief in the immortality of the soul. In the final stanza, he writes:

And I, who after him my Muses raise, Am, by his death, compelled to sing his praise: And tell the world, no villain's hand hath slain So dear a youth, nor hath his virtues stain'd. Heav'n was his aim, and every Muse his friend, Peace was his prize, till Heaven his life did end.

These lines suggest that even though Oldham is gone, his legacy lives on in his poetry, and in the memories of those who knew him. Dryden sees himself as continuing Oldham's work, and through his own poetry, he is able to keep his friend's memory alive.

The Style and Structure of the Poem

Dryden's writing style in "To the Memory of Mr. Oldham" is typical of the period in which it was written. It is characterized by a formal, ornate language, and a reliance on classical references and allusions. The poem is written in heroic couplets, which consist of two rhyming lines of iambic pentameter. This form was commonly used in the 17th and 18th centuries for epic and heroic poetry.

The structure of the poem is also typical of the period. It consists of four stanzas, each composed of heroic couplets. The first three stanzas are dedicated to describing Oldham's virtues and accomplishments, while the final stanza reflects on his legacy and the immortality of his soul.

The Significance of the Poem

"To the Memory of Mr. Oldham" is significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is an important example of 17th-century poetry, and provides insight into the themes and concerns of the period. It also serves as a tribute to John Oldham, a poet who had a significant impact on Dryden's own work. Dryden was greatly influenced by Oldham's use of satire and his engagement with contemporary political and social issues. In many ways, Dryden saw himself as carrying on Oldham's legacy, and his tribute to his friend reflects this sense of continuity.

Furthermore, the poem can be seen as a reflection on the nature of poetry itself. Dryden's use of the term "poetic mould" suggests that poetry is not simply an expression of individual creativity, but rather a product of shared experience and cultural influence. The poem also suggests that poetry has the power to immortalize its subject, and to give voice to the feelings and emotions of those who have passed on.


In conclusion, "To the Memory of Mr. Oldham" is a powerful tribute to a young poet whose legacy has lived on through his poetry. It explores the themes of death and immortality, and reflects on the nature of poetry itself. Dryden's use of ornate language and heroic couplets is typical of the period, and serves to elevate his subject to the level of classical heroes and gods. The poem is significant not only as a piece of literature, but also as a reflection of the historical and cultural context in which it was written.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry To The Memory Of Mr Oldham: A Masterpiece of Elegy

John Dryden, the celebrated poet of the Restoration era, is known for his mastery of various genres of poetry. His works range from satires to heroic plays, but his elegies stand out as some of the most moving and poignant pieces of literature. Among his elegies, Poetry To The Memory Of Mr Oldham is a masterpiece that showcases Dryden's skill in capturing the essence of a person's life and legacy.

The poem was written in 1683, shortly after the death of John Oldham, a young poet who had gained some recognition for his works. Oldham died at the age of 30, leaving behind a small but impressive body of work. Dryden, who was a friend and mentor to Oldham, was deeply affected by his death and decided to write an elegy in his memory.

The poem is structured as a series of stanzas, each of which focuses on a different aspect of Oldham's life and character. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, with Dryden lamenting the loss of a promising young poet:

"Farewell, too little and too lately known, Whom I began to think and call my own; For sure our souls were near allied, and thine Cast in the same poetic mould with mine."

Here, Dryden expresses his regret that Oldham's talent was not recognized sooner, and that he did not have more time to develop his skills. He also suggests that he saw a kindred spirit in Oldham, someone who shared his passion for poetry and his approach to the craft.

The second stanza focuses on Oldham's personal qualities, describing him as a man of integrity and honesty:

"For all the muses weep at your disease, And poets' minds must needs be more than these, And must be sensible of your misfortunes; For virtue's self must feel that grief that you have gone."

Dryden here emphasizes Oldham's moral character, suggesting that his death is a loss not just to the world of poetry, but to society as a whole. He also suggests that poets have a special sensitivity to the suffering of others, and that Oldham's death has affected them deeply.

The third stanza shifts the focus to Oldham's literary achievements, praising his skill as a poet:

"Your early youth the Muses' darling seat, Nor could your studies make the Muses less; For by your verse you made the reader know That you could write, and write with ease and flow."

Here, Dryden acknowledges Oldham's talent as a writer, suggesting that he had a natural gift for poetry that was evident from an early age. He also praises Oldham's ability to write with ease and flow, suggesting that his poetry was both technically proficient and emotionally resonant.

The fourth stanza returns to the theme of Oldham's untimely death, expressing Dryden's sadness at the loss of such a promising young talent:

"But fate has snatch'd thee from the Muses' train, The only loss that she could well sustain; Thus young, thus lovely, and thus much admir'd, Dear to my eyes, and to my soul inspir'd."

Here, Dryden laments the fact that Oldham was taken from the world so soon, and suggests that his death is a great loss not just to poetry, but to humanity as a whole. He also expresses his personal affection for Oldham, suggesting that he was not just a talented poet, but a dear friend.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most moving, as Dryden imagines Oldham's spirit ascending to heaven and joining the ranks of the great poets who have gone before him:

"Yet after death, when I shall latest lie, And lie full low, and be forgot by thee, Then shall thy ghost walk gently o'er the sky, And call my ghost to come and dwell with thee."

Here, Dryden suggests that Oldham's legacy will live on long after his death, and that his spirit will continue to inspire future generations of poets. He also suggests that he himself will one day join Oldham in the afterlife, where they will continue to share their love of poetry and their mutual admiration for each other's work.

In conclusion, Poetry To The Memory Of Mr Oldham is a masterpiece of elegy that showcases Dryden's skill as a poet and his deep affection for his friend and fellow writer. Through his use of language and imagery, Dryden captures the essence of Oldham's life and legacy, and pays tribute to a young talent whose potential was cut short by an untimely death. The poem is a moving and poignant reminder of the power of poetry to capture the human experience, and of the enduring legacy of those who have dedicated their lives to the craft.

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