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Johnson, Samuel. Lives of the English Poets. Vol. 1, 1777.
New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958. Miner, Earl, ed. Selected Poetry and Prose of John Dryden.
New York: The Modern Library, 1985. Plumsky, Roger. "Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel." The
Explicator 60, no. 1 (fall, 2001): 60-63. Selden, Raman. John Dryden: Absalom and Achitophel. Har-mondsworth, England: Penguin, 1986.
"ADAM POSED" Anne Finch (1709) Anne Finch, countess of Winchilsea wrote at a time when poetry by women did not have a large appreciative audience; as a result she often offers an "apology" or attempts to explain her act of writing, to her readers. However, she also had strong supporters, including Alexander Pope, who encouraged her efforts. She enjoyed country life and included pastoral themes in several of her poems. Even a playful attempt like "Adam Posed" reflects her affection for nature.
For Finch's usage the term Posed meant "Puzzled," as her speaker wonders what Adam's reaction might have been had he, after his expulsion from Eden, encountered a "nymph," a well-dressed and fashionable woman. Keeping in mind that Adam had remained naked in the Garden of Eden and had as his assignment the naming of all creatures he found there, and that he and Eve were deemed the only humans on earth, Finch's light irony is amusing. While in other poems she dealt self-consciously with the idea that women enslaved men for all times when Eve tempted Adam with fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, Finch's amusing fantasy in "Adam Posed" offers sheer entertainment.
Finch often incorporated rhetorical questions into her poetry, and she uses that technique in the first four lines of this poem:
Could our first father, at his toilsome plough, Thorns in his path, and labor on his brow, Clothed only in a rude, unpolished skin, Could he a vain fantastic nymph have seen.
Her imagery remains strong, helping readers conjure a clear picture of a man working in the field, and the great contrast to his surroundings that a "vain fantastic nymph" would cause. The speaker continues by describing the nymph, who has "airs" and "antic graces," wearing "various fashions, and more various faces." Such an active woman would surely confuse Adam, accustomed only to Eve. The description suggests a colorful creature, such as a strutting bird or a changeable chameleon, again in contrast to the drab Adam, sweating over brown or gray dirt in a world colorless by comparison to the Garden he had left behind. The nymph would have "posed that skill, which late assigned / Just appellations to each several kind," as Finch references Adam's assigning of names, "appellations," to all living beings. The nymph would try Adam's skill in applying such labels. To enjoy the poem fully, one must keep in mind that all of the creatures Adam observed and labeled, he was seeing for the first time, with no basis for comparison. Therefore the fashionable woman would have seemed one more in a collection of mysterious creatures who moved by various means, from flying to crawling in the dirt. Finch concludes her playful riddle with three lines:
A right idea of the sight to frame; T'have guessed from what new element she came;
T'have hit the wavering form, or given this thing a name!
She never expresses an opinion as to whether Adam would have "hit" upon the perfect label for the nymph. Instead, she invites readers simply to enjoy his conundrum.
"AELLA" Thomas Chatterton (?date) Written by Thomas Chatterton and published sometime after his death, "Aella" contains a popular song easily located online in electronic versions. It represents the musical, as well as poetic, form known as a roundelay, meaning that it contains a line or phrase that is repeated as a refrain. Used as a mourning song, the poem's three-line repeated refrain is "My love is dead, / gone to his death-bed / All under the willow-tree." That refrain concludes each seven-line verse, while the first four lines of each, with a repeated rhyme scheme of abab and an iambic rhythm in four feet, falls into the ballad format, perfect for telling the sad tale of a maiden parted by death from her lover.
Chatterton begins by inviting readers, "o sing unto my roundelay / O drop the briny tear with me," so that the audience joins in the song as well as the grieving of its persona. Although readers are invited to sing, the voice continues, "Dance no more at holyday, / Like a running river be," indicating that the song will not be one of celebration, as no dancing accompanies it. The comparison to a river is the first of many strong images that imbue the poem with a haunting and active quality. The dead man is compared to a dark winter night, with dark a traditional symbol of death, as is winter. The winter reference is reemphasized in the next line with the phrase "summer snow," a paradox that represents nature's fracture of its natural order in the death of one too young to die. The lover's face is red "as the morning light," where morning should represent a new beginning, but "cold he lies in the grave below" the willow tree, itself a figure of mourning with its branches that bend to the ground.
FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE (FIGURE OF SPEECH) continues as the dead man's tongue is compared to the sweetness of "the throstle's note," or that of the thrush, while his quickness in dance reminds the speaker of a swift thought. The audience understands that the speaker is now missing her dance partner and partner in life. She continues praising him, adding, "Deft his tabor, cudgel stout; / O he lies by the willow-tree!" Regardless of his former strength, he now lies prone, felled by death. The double reference to the tree in this third verse emphasizes her grief. She calls again, beginning the first and third lines of the next verse with the exclamation "Hark!" The audience is asked to listen to a raven flapping his wings and is informed that "the death-owl loud doth sing / To the nightmares, as they go." Again with birds this time symbolizing death, the chaotic state of affairs is referenced with an allusion to nightmares, in which no natural laws apply.
The next verse emphasizes the imagery of white, with references to a white moon, traditional symbol of the female; a white morning sky; and a white evening cloud, the audience learning that the lover's shroud is whiter than any of those. The speaker identifies herself as a maid in the next stanza, comparing herself to "the barren flowers" that shall be lain on the grave, as she notes, "Not one holy saint to save / All the coldness of a maid." She may suggest that she will remain barren, her passion having become as cold as the object of her love. The following verse makes literal her reference as she notes that her own body will lie upon his grave. She calls upon a spirit and a fairy to light their fires to help her grieve. She concludes by bidding the mystical creatures,
Come, with acorn-cup and thorn,
Drain my heartes blood away;
Life and all its good I scorn,
Dance by night, or feast by day, suggesting that her passion will drain from her body one drop at a time, a torture, while others may continue in their orderly way. She, however, rejects life and any good it might offer to others, as "My love is dead, / gone to his death-bed / All under the willow-tree."
While the speaker consistently returns to the traditional comparison of death to sleep by referring to her lover's "death-bed," she undercuts that peaceful connotation with her own unrest. Her once orderly life, directed by trustworthy icons of time, such as the moon and the morn, and the cyclical revelry sought by youth in holiday dancing and feasting, has been destroyed. No longer interested in the activities of the living, her maiden passion cold and unresponsive, she chooses to prostrate herself with grief above the corpse of her lover.
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