Defeat and the Relevance of Epic

Howard Erskine-Hill

in Poetry and the Realm of Politics

Published in print June 1996 | ISBN: 9780198117315
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191670916 | DOI:
Defeat and the Relevance of Epic

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Milton and Dryden, though conventionally considered to belong to different phases of English literary culture, inhabited the same historical world. They were part-contemporaries (Dryden living through the major crises of Milton's career) and each, towards the end of his life, survived a change of state, Milton the revolution of 1660, Dryden that of 1688, in which almost all his political hopes were dashed. Each of them produced an epic poem, Dryden's Aeneis being a sufficiently independent version of its original to sustain comparison with Milton's original Christian epic, Paradise Lost, which was sufficiently aware of the Aeneid to make comparison with Dryden's Aeneis a matter of interest. Before the forcing away of James II Dryden wrote, in support of that monarch and of the Catholic faith they now shared, his greatest and most mysterious long poem, The Hind and the Panther (1687). To some, perhaps, Catholicism seemed to be enjoying a triumph in that year; to the intelligent and politically sagacious Drydenthe scene was lit as much by portents of disaster as of ‘James his late nocturnal victory’ (II. 655) of Sedgernore. There could hardly be a less triumphalist poem, politically speaking, than The Hind and the Panther. Like certain of Milton's later writings to Oliver Cromwell it conveys anxiety about the future. Like Paradise Regained it is a poem of temptation and isolation, of argument, statement, and counter-statement. Utterly different in faith and form, each poem is at heart a vision of the Word in the wilderness and in each the dangers of the secular kingdom are never far from view. The poets have so much in common, but are yet so different, that they could be subjects of a parallel-life study, such as one finds in Plutarch.

Keywords: Milton; Dryden; poetry; epic poem; The Hind and the Panther; Paradise REgained

Chapter.  17348 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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