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Short poem

Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

An Account of the Greatest English Poets


              1     Long had our dull forefathers slept supine,
              2Nor felt the raptures of the tuneful Nine;
              3Till Chaucer first, the merry bard, arose,
              4And many a story told in rhyme and prose.
              5But age has rusted what the poet writ,
              6Worn out his language, and obscur'd his wit;
              7In vain he jests in his unpolish'd strain,
              8And tries to make his readers laugh, in vain.

              9     Old Spenser next, warm'd with poetic rage,
            10In ancient tales amus'd a barb'rous age;
            11An age that yet uncultivate and rude,
            12Where'er the poet's fancy led, pursu'd
            13Through pathless fields, and unfrequented floods,
            14To dens of dragons and enchanted woods.
            15But now the mystic tale, that pleas'd of yore,
            16Can charm an understanding age no more;
            17The long-spun allegories fulsome grow.
            18While the dull moral lies too plain below.
            19We view well-pleas'd at distance all the sights
            20Of arms and palfreys, battles, fields, and fights,
            21And damsels in distress, and courteous knights;
            22But when we look too near, the shades decay,
            23And all the pleasing landscape fades away.

            24     Great Cowley then (a mighty genius) wrote,
            25O'er-run with wit, and lavish of his thought:
            26His turns too closely on the reader press;
            27He more had pleas'd us, had he pleas'd us less,
            28One glitt'ring thought no sooner strikes our eyes
            29With silent wonder, but new wonders rise;
            30As in the milky-way a shining white
            31O'er-flows the heavn's with one continu'd light,
            32That not a single star can show his rays,
            33Whilst jointly all promote the common blaze.
            34Pardon, great poet, that I dare to name
            35Th' unnumber'd beauties of thy verse with blame;
            36Thy fault is only wit in its excess,
            37But wit like thine in any shape will please.
            38What muse but thine can equal hints inspire,
            39And fit the deep-mouth'd Pindar to thy lyre;
            40Pindar, whom others, in a labour'd strain
            41And forc'd expression, imitate in vain?
            42Well-pleas'd in thee he soars with new delight,
            43And plays in more unbounded verse, and takes a nobler flight.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: John Dryden, The Annual Miscellany, for the year 1694 (London: R. E. for J. Tonson, 1694). B-10 4946 Fisher Rare Book Library
First publication date: 1694
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP 1.537.
Recent editing: 4:2002/4/20

Form: Heroic Couplets

Other poems by Joseph Addison