Despite John Dryden's subtitle to his ode "To the Pious Memory of the Accomplish'd Young Lady Mrs. Anne Killigrew," describing Anne Killigrew as "Excellent in the Two Sister-Arts of Poesy and Painting," scholars have categorized her art as marginal and forgettable. Feminist critics disagree with those adjectives, claiming that Killigrew's work has never been properly assessed on its own merits. Those who devalue Killi-grew's painting and poetry justify Dryden's high praise of her by attributing it to his choice of form. By selecting the elevated Pindaric ode in which to couch his praise, he automatically elevates his subject.
Indisputably beautiful, Killigrew died young and thus provided an immediately sympathetic subject that allowed Dryden to move from elegy to panegyric. In addition the suffering of her father, the Reverend Henry Killigrew, an acquaintance of Dryden's, over her loss likely motivated Dryden to the supreme effort that Samuel Johnson deemed "undoubtedly the noblest ode that our language ever has produced," particularly its opening stanza. That stanza reads, in part:
Thou youngest virgin-daughter of the skies, Made in the last promotion of the blessed; Whose palms, new plucked from Paradise,
In spreading branches more sublimely rise,
"TO THE PIOUS MEMORY OF THE ACCOMPLISH'D YOUNG LADY
Rich with immortal green above the rest: Whether, adopted to some neighbouring star, Thou roll'st above us, in they wandering race, Or, in procession fixed and regular, Moved with the heaven's majestic pace. (1-9)
The phrase virgin-daughter suggests the innocence that Dryden will adopt as a theme. It was a theme Killi-grew herself used, and Dryden cleverly co-opts a line from her poem "To My Lady Berkeley," which reads "Though more than man, obedient as a child," converting it to "Her wit was more than man, her innocence a child!" His abundant use of alliteration supports the regal movement of the poem, which is not meant to flow quickly. Rather it suggests the slow and moving style of a pageant or stage presentation, as Dryden had extensive experience in writing dramatic dialogue.
Throughout the ode Dryden uses traditional classic references, such as the "music of the spheres," referencing the supposed emission of musical notes by the planets, in this instance, to welcome Killigrew's birth, and the bees that supposedly clustered on Pindar as an infant to sweeten his lips with their honey. If the bees did not grace Killigrew, the speaker explains, it was only because heaven wanted to welcome her in a more solemn, less vulgar fashion. His speaker also labels Killigrew a Vestal in reference to the vestal virgins.
Dryden praises Killigrew's ability as a poet when his speaker tells God that other poets have "Profaned thy heavenly gift of poesy! / Made prostitute and profligate the muse," declaring that she will "atone for all!" However, his speaker begins the next (fifth) stanza by stating, "Art she had none," as if declaring her to be without talent. Feminists might argue that by art Dryden means "artifice," which would then make his judgment a positive one; Killigrew worked honestly at her craft, independent of false trappings. That interpretation could be justified by Dryden's constant emphasis of her innocence, her virginity, unassailed by worldly arts. To extend the dispute, those critics who believe that Dryden clearly indicated that Killigrew lacked talent feel his next phrase tempers his criticism. He quickly adds about her lack of art, "yet wanted none: / For Nature did that want supply." As a kindness he claims that Nature supplied Killigrew with charm and beauty to balance her lack of talent. The opposing critical camp can legitimately claim that Nature could represent natural talent, rather than artifice, indicating that Killigrew did not have to depend on tricks of the pen.
The speaker again praises Killigrew's talents when he says she was "Born to the spacious empire of the Nine," referring to the nine muses who inspire art. He continues to emphasize her innocence when referencing her painting by associating her with the pastoral tradition. He states that her pictures often proved superior to her mind's concept, describing them as
The sylvan scenes of herds and flocks, And fruitful plains and barren rocks, of shallow brooks that flowed so clear, The bottom did the top appear. (108-111)
He later compares her to another bluestocking Restoration poet, Katherine Philips, known as "the Matchless Orinda," when he mourns the loss of two talented poets to smallpox. Not only do the two women share early deaths to the same disease and the physical effects of the pox, but because Philips gave to herself and her friends classical nicknames, her reference works stylistically in Dryden's piece. In lines 160-164 he writes, o double sacrilege on things divine, To rob the relic and deface the shrine! But thus orinda di'd:
Heav'n by the same disease did both translate; As equal were their souls, so equal was their fate.
Dryden's elevated style creates elegant images such as the "rattling bones together fly," describing the day when dead souls shall rise together toward heaven:
From the four corners of the sky; When sinews o'er the skeletons are spread, Those clothed with flesh, and life inspires the dead;
The sacred poets first shall hear the sound, And foremost from the tomb shall bound. (185-189)
on that day Killigrew will be among the group "Like mounting larks" that sing of heaven. She especially will help to show others "The way which thou so well hast learned below."
As critics claim, Dryden's images prove classic enough to allow a disjunction between them and Killigrew herself, as they involve so much hyperbole as not to be taken literally. He succeeds in shaping Killigrew as a metaphor for all that is accomplished, cherished, respected, and revered on earth as the arts. In doing so, he makes clear his faith in his own art to lift a topic so mundane as the death of a human above its quotidian station. If some verses appear superior to others, this should not surprise, according to Johnson. After declaring, "All the stanzas are not equal," Johnson explains, "An imperial crown cannot be one continued diamond; the gems must be held together by some less valuable matter."
Was this article helpful?
Tap into your inner power today. Discover The Untold Secrets Used By Experts To Tap Into The Power Of Your Inner Personality Help You Unleash Your Full Potential. Finally You Can Fully Equip Yourself With These “Must Have” Personality Finding Tools For Creating Your Ideal Lifestyle.