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John Dryden (1631-1700)

 

John Dryden, the first of the great English neo-classical poets, warmly admired Chaucer, whom he regarded as the founder of English verse, an equal to the great poets of classical antiquity.

At the end of his life Dryden produced The Fables, translations of works by Ovid and Chaucer. His Preface to The Fables is famous for its appreciative criticism of Chaucer -- "Here is God's Plenty" has become the ultimate characterization of Chaucer's art. It also provides some interesting insights on the state of English poetry at its time and Chaucer's stature in that canon. For excerpts see:

The Preface to The Fables

Dryden translated The Knight's Tale, The Nun's Priest's Tale, and The Wife of Bath's Tale. To read these tales in heroic couplets and neo-classical style tells a good deal about Dryden and his times; if, as Frost said, "poetry is what gets left out in translation," the translations also provide a means of defining, and perhaps understanding, the characteristics of Chaucer's own poetic style. See:

The Wife of Bath, Her Tale
Dryden also translated "The Flower and the Leaf," which he regarded as one of Chaucer's finest compositions. Later readers shared Dryden's admiration for this work, and it was one of the most popular poems in the canon until late in the nineteenth century, when W.W. Skeat demonstrated that it was not by Chaucer (indeed, was written by a woman) and excluded it from his authoritative Oxford Chaucer:
The Flower and the Leaf

 

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Last modified: April 29, 2006
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Gold Texts on this page prepared and maintained by L. D. Benson (ldb@wjh.harvard.edu)