'Alexander's Feast; Or, The Power Of Music' by John Dryden

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'Twas at the royal feast for Persia won
By Philip's warlike son-Aloft in awful state
The godlike hero sate
On his imperial throne;
His valiant peers were placed around,
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound
(So should desert in arms be crowned);
The lovely Thais by his side
Sate like a blooming eastern bride
In flower of youth and beauty's pride:-Happy, happy, happy pair!
None but the brave
None but the brave
None but the brave deserves the fair!Timotheus placed on high
Amid the tuneful quire
With flying fingers touched the lyre;
The trembling notes ascend the sky
And heavenly joys inspire.
The song began from Jove
Who left his blissful seats above-Such is the power of mighty love!
A dragon's fiery form belied the god
Sublime on radiant spires he rode
When he to fair Olympia prest,
And while he sought her snowy breast,
Then round her slender waist he curled,
And stamped an image of himself, a sovereign of the world.
- The listening crowd admire the lofty sound!
A present deity! they shout around:
A present deity! the vaulted roofs rebound!
With ravished ears
The monarch hears,
Assumes the god,
Affects to nod,
And seems to shake the spheres.The praise of Bacchus then the sweet musician sung,
Of Bacchus ever fair and ever young:
The jolly god in triumph comes!
Sound the trumpets, beat the drums!
Flushed with a purple grace
He shows his honest face:
Now give the hautboys breath; he comes, he comes!
Bacchus, ever fair and young,
Drinking joys did first ordain;
Bacchus' blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the soldier's pleasure:
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Sweet is pleasure after pain.Soothed with the sound, the king grew vain;
Fought all his battles o'er again,
And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain.
The master saw the madness rise,
His glowing cheeks, his ardent eyes;
And while he Heaven and Earth defied
Changed his hand and checked his pride.
He chose a mournful Muse
Soft pity to infuse:
He sung Darius great and good,
By too severe a fate
Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,
Fallen from his high estate,
And weltering in his blood;
Deserted, at his utmost need,
By those his former bounty fed;
On the bare earth exposed he lies
With not a friend to close his eyes.
- With downcast looks the joyless victor sate,
Revolving in his altered soul
The various turns of Chance below;
And now and then a sigh he stole,
And tears began to flow.The mighty master smiled to see
That love was in the next degree;
'Twas but a kindred-sound to move,
For pity melts the mind to love.
Softly sweet, in Lydian measures
Soon he soothed his soul to pleasures.
War, he sung, is toil and trouble,
Honour but an empty bubble;
Never ending, still beginning,
Fighting still, and still destroying;
If the world be worth thy winning,
Think, O think, it worth enjoying:
Lovely Thais sits beside thee,
Take the good the gods provide thee!
- The many rend the skies with loud applause;
So Love was crowned, but Music won the cause.
The prince, unable to conceal his pain,
Gazed on the fair
Who caused his care,
And sighed and looked, sighed and looked,
Sighed and looked, and sighed again:
At length with love and wine at once opprest
The vanquished victor sunk upon her breast.Now strike the golden lyre again:
A louder yet, and yet a louder strain!
Break his bands of sleep asunderAnd rouse him like a rattling peal of thunder.
Hark, hark! the horrid sound
Has raised up his head:
As awaked from the dead
And amazed he stares around.
Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries,
See the Furies arisel
See the snakes that they rear
How they hiss in their hair,
And the sparkles that flash from their eyes!
Behold a ghastly band,
Each a torch in his hand!
Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain
And unburied remain
Inglorious on the plain:
Give the vengeance due
To the valiant crew!
Behold how they toss their torches on high,
How they point to the Persian abodes
And glittering temples of their hostile gods.
- The princes applaud with a furious joy:
And the King seized a flambeau with zeal to destroy;
Thais led the way
To light him to his prey,
And like another Helen, fired another Troy!- Thus, long ago,
Ere heaving bellows learned to blow,
While organs yet were mute,
Timotheus, to his breathing flute
And sounding lyre,
Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.
At last divine Cecilia came,
Inventress of the vocal frame;
The sweet enthusiast from her sacred store
Enlarged the former narrow bounds,
And added length to solemn sounds,
With Nature's mother-wit, and arts unknown before.
- Let old Timotheus yield the prize
Or both divide the crown;
He raised a mortal to the skies;
She drew an angel down!

Editor 1 Interpretation

Alexander's Feast; Or, The Power Of Music


John Dryden's "Alexander's Feast; Or, The Power Of Music" is a classic poem that was first published in 1697. The poem celebrates the power of music in ancient Greece, telling the story of Alexander the Great's feast and the performance of Timotheus, the famous musician. The poem is written in an ode form, using a variety of poetic devices to create a powerful and emotional piece of literature. In this literary criticism, we will explore the themes and literary devices used in this poem, and how they contribute to its overall power and significance.


The theme of music is central to this poem, as it celebrates the power of music to move and inspire people. Dryden uses music as a metaphor for the power of poetry and literature, suggesting that just as music can excite and move people, so too can poetry and literature. The poem also explores the theme of power, as it describes the power of Alexander the Great and the power of music to move and control people. This theme is particularly relevant to the historical context of the poem, as it was written during a time of political instability and uncertainty in England.

Literary Devices

Dryden uses a variety of literary devices to create a powerful and emotional poem. The most notable of these is the use of imagery and metaphor, which creates vivid and memorable images in the reader's mind. For example, in describing the performance of Timotheus, Dryden writes:

Sooth'd with the sound, the king grew vain; Fought all his battles o'er again; And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain.

Here, Dryden uses metaphor to describe the power of music, suggesting that it can transport people to another place and time, and even make them feel invincible.

Another important literary device used in the poem is the use of repetition and rhyme. Dryden repeats the word "music" multiple times throughout the poem, creating a sense of unity and continuity. He also uses rhyme to create a sense of rhythm and musicality, further enhancing the poem's overall impact.


"Alexander's Feast; Or, The Power Of Music" is a significant poem in English literature, as it marks a transition from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. The poem is written in a style that is both formal and emotional, reflecting the changing attitudes of the time. It also reflects the growing interest in classical literature and culture, as Dryden draws on ancient Greek history and mythology to create a powerful and memorable poem.

The poem is also significant in its exploration of the power of music and poetry. Dryden suggests that music and poetry have the power to move and inspire people, and that they can even change the course of history. This idea is still relevant today, as music and literature continue to play an important role in shaping culture and society.


In conclusion, John Dryden's "Alexander's Feast; Or, The Power Of Music" is a powerful and emotional poem that celebrates the power of music and poetry. Through the use of vivid imagery, metaphor, and repetition, Dryden creates a poem that is both memorable and significant. The poem reflects the changing attitudes of the time, as well as the growing interest in classical literature and culture. It is a testament to the enduring power of literature and music, and a reminder of their ability to move and inspire us.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Alexander's Feast; Or, The Power Of Music is a classic poem written by John Dryden in 1697. This poem is a celebration of music and its power to move people. It tells the story of Alexander the Great's feast, where the musician Timotheus played his lyre and moved Alexander to tears. The poem is a masterpiece of English literature and is still widely read and studied today.

The poem begins with a description of the feast that Alexander the Great held after his victory over the Persian king Darius. The feast is described in great detail, with the food, wine, and decorations all contributing to the festive atmosphere. The guests are all dressed in their finest clothes, and the air is filled with the sound of music.

The poem then introduces Timotheus, the musician who will play for Alexander. Timotheus is described as a master of his craft, with the ability to play his lyre in a way that can move people to tears or make them feel joy. He is the perfect musician for this occasion, and his performance will be the highlight of the evening.

As Timotheus begins to play, the poem describes the effect that his music has on Alexander. The music is so powerful that it seems to take control of Alexander's emotions, causing him to feel a range of different feelings. At first, he is filled with joy and excitement, as the music fills him with energy and enthusiasm. But then, as Timotheus changes the tempo and the mood of the music, Alexander's emotions change as well.

The poem describes how Timotheus uses his music to manipulate Alexander's emotions, causing him to feel a range of different feelings. At one point, the music is so sad and mournful that Alexander begins to weep. At another point, the music is so fast and exciting that Alexander is filled with a sense of triumph and victory.

The poem then describes how Timotheus uses his music to tell the story of Alexander's victory over Darius. He describes the battle in vivid detail, using his music to create a sense of drama and excitement. The guests at the feast are all caught up in the story, and they cheer and applaud as Timotheus reaches the climax of his performance.

The poem ends with a description of the effect that Timotheus's music has on Alexander. The music has moved him so deeply that he is filled with a sense of awe and wonder. He realizes that music has the power to move people in a way that nothing else can, and he is grateful to Timotheus for showing him this.

Overall, Alexander's Feast; Or, The Power Of Music is a masterpiece of English literature. It celebrates the power of music to move people and tells the story of one of the greatest musicians of all time. The poem is filled with vivid descriptions and powerful imagery, and it is a joy to read and study. If you are a fan of poetry or music, then this is a must-read.

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