Verse > John Dryden > Poems
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John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
 
Epistles and Complimentary Addresses
To Sir Godfrey Kneller, principal Painter to His Majesty
 
ONCE 1 I beheld the fairest of her Kind,
(And still the sweet Idea charms my Mind:)
True, she was dumb; for Nature gaz’d so long,
Pleas’d with her Work, that she forgot her Tongue,
But, smiling, said, She still shall gain the Prize;        5
I only have transferr’d it to her Eyes.
Such are thy Pictures, Kneller, Such thy Skill,
That Nature seems obedient to thy Will;
Comes out, and meets thy Pencil in the Draught,
Lives there, and wants but words to speak her thought.        10
At least thy Pictures look a Voice; and we
Imagine Sounds, deceiv’d to that degree,
We think ’tis somewhat more than just to see.
  Shadows are but Privations of the Light;
Yet, when we walk, they shoot before the Sight,        15
With us approach, retire, arise, and fall,
Nothing themselves, and yet expressing all.
Such are thy Pieces, imitating Life
So near, they almost conquer’d in the strife;
And from their animated Canvass came,        20
Demanding Souls; and loosened from the Frame.
  Prometheus, were he here, wou’d cast away
His Adam, and refuse a Soul to Clay,
And either wou’d thy Noble Work Inspire
Or think it warm enough without his Fire.        25
  But vulgar Hands may vulgar Likeness raise;
This is the least Attendant on thy Praise:
From hence the Rudiments of Art began;
A Coal, or Chalk, first imitated Man:
Perhaps, the Shadow, taken on a Wall,        30
Gave out-lines to the rude Original;
Ere Canvass yet was strain’d: before the Grace
Of blended Colours found their use and place:
Or Cypress Tablets first receiv’d a Face.
  By slow degrees the Godlike Art advanc’d;        35
As man grew polish’d, Picture was inhanc’d:
Greece added Posture, Shade, and Perspective,
And then the Mimick Piece began to Live.
Yet Perspective was lame, no distance true,
But all came forward in one common View:        40
No point of Light was known, no bounds of Art;
When Light was there, it knew not to depart,
But glaring on remoter Objects play’d;
Not languish’d and insensibly decay’d.
  Rome rais’d not Art, but barely kept alive,        45
And with Old Greece unequally did strive:
Till Goths, and Vandals, a rude Northern race,
Did all the matchless Monuments deface.
Then all the Muses in one ruine lye,
And Rhyme began t’ enervate Poetry.        50
Thus, in a stupid Military State,
The Pen and Pencil find an equal Fate.
Flat Faces, such as wou’d disgrace a Skreen,
Such as in Bantam’s Embassy were seen,
Unrais’d, unrounded, were the rude delight        55
Of Brutal Nations only born to Fight.
  Long time the Sister Arts, in Iron Sleep,
A heavy Sabbath did supinely keep;
At length, in Raphael’s Age, at once they rise,
Stretch all their Limbs and open all their Eyes.        60
  Thence rose the Roman and the Lombard Line;
One colour’d best, and one did best design.
Raphael’s, like Homer’s, was the Nobler part,
But Titian’s Painting looked like Virgil’s Art.
  Thy Genius gives thee both; where true Design,        65
Postures unforc’d, and lively Colours joyn,
Likeness is ever there; but still the best,
Like proper Thoughts in lofty Language drest,
Where Light, to Shades descending, plays, not strives,
Dyes by degrees, and by degrees revives.        70
Of various Parts a perfect whole is wrought;
Thy Pictures think, and we Divine their Thought.
  Shakespear, 2 thy Gift, I place before my Sight;
With awe I ask his Blessing e’re I write;
With Rev’rence look on his Majestick Face;        75
Proud to be less, but of his Godlike Race.
His Soul Inspires me, while thy Praise I write,
And I like Teucer, under Ajax Fight;
Bids thee thro’ me, be bold; with dauntless breast
Contemn the bad and Emulate the best.        80
Like his, thy Criticks in th’ attempt are lost:
When most they rail, know then they envy most.
In vain they snarl a-loof; a noisie Crowd,
Like Womens Anger, impotent and loud.
While they their barren Industry deplore,        85
Pass on secure, and mind the Goal before.
Old as she is, my Muse shall march behind,
Bear off the Blast, and intercept the Wind.
Our Arts are Sisters, though not Twins in Birth,
For Hymns were sung in Edens happy Earth        90
By the first Pair; while Eve was yet a Saint;
Before she fell with Pride and learn’d to paint.
Forgive th’ Allusion; ’twas not meant to bite;
But Satire will have Room, where e’re I write. 3
For 4 oh, the Painter Muse, though last in place,        95
Has seiz’d the Blessing first, like Jacob’s Race.
Apelles Art an Alexander found,
And Raphael did with Leo’s Gold abound,
But Homer was with barren Lawrel crown’d.
Thou hadst thy Charles a while, and so had I,        100
But pass we that unpleasing Image by.
Rich in thy self, and of thy self Divine,
All Pilgrims come and offer at thy Shrine.
A graceful Truth thy Pencil can Command;
The Fair themselves go mended from thy Hand.        105
Likeness appears in every Lineament;
But Likeness in thy Work is Eloquent.
Though Nature there her true Resemblance bears,
A nobler Beauty in thy Piece appears.
So warm thy Work, so glows the gen’rous Frame,        110
Flesh looks less living in the Lovely Dame.
  Thou paint’st as we describe, improving still,
When on wild Nature we ingraft our Skill,
But not creating Beauties at our Will.
  Some other Hand perhaps may reach a Face;        115
But none like thee a finish’d Figure place:
None of this Age, for that’s enough for thee,
The first of these Inferiour Times to be;
Not to contend with Heroes Memory.
  Due Honours to those mighty Names we grant,        120
But Shrubs may live beneath the lofty Plant;
Sons may succeed their greater Parents gone;
Such is thy Lott; and such I wish my own. 5
  But Poets are confin’d in Narr’wer space,
To speak the Language of their Native Place;        125
The Painter widely stretches his Command;
Thy Pencil speaks the Tongue of ev’ry Land.
From hence, my Friend, all Climates are your own,
Nor can you forfeit, for you hold of none.
All Nations all Immunities will give        130
To make you theirs, where e’re you please to live;
And not sev’n Cities, but the World, wou’d strive.
  Sure some propitious Planet then did smile
When first you were conducted to this Isle;
(Our Genius brought you here, t’ inlarge our Fame)        135
(For your good Stars are ev’ry where the same.)
Thy matchless Hand, of ev’ry Region free,
Adopts our Climate, not our Climate thee.
  Great Rome and Venice early did impart 6
To thee th’ Examples of their wondrous Art.        140
Those Masters, then but seen, not understood,
With generous Emulation fir’d thy Blood;
For what in Nature’s Dawn the Child admir’d,
The Youth endeavour’d, and the Man acquir’d.
  That yet thou hast not reach’d their high Degree,        145
Seems only wanting to this Age, not thee.
Thy Genius, bounded by the Times, like mine,
Drudges on petty Draughts, nor dare design
A more exalted Work, and more Divine.
For what a Song or senceless Opera        150
Is to the living Labour of a Play,
Or what a Play to Virgil’s Work wou’d be,
Such is a single Piece to History.
  But we, who Life bestow, our selves must live:
Kings cannot Reign unless their Subjects give;        155
And they who pay the Taxes bear the Rule:
Thus thou, sometimes, art forc’d to draw a Fool:
But so his Follies in thy Posture sink,
The senceless Ideot seems at last to think.
  Good Heav’n! that Sots and Knaves shou’d be so vain,        160
To wish their vile Resemblance may remain!
And stand recorded at their own Request,
To future Days, a Libel or a Jeast.
Mean time while just Incouragement you want,
You only Paint to Live, not Live to Paint.        165
  Else shou’d we see your noble Pencil trace
Our Unities of Action, Time, and Place;
A Whole compos’d of Parts, and those the best,
With ev’ry various Character exprest;
Heroes at large, and at a nearer View;        170
Less, and at distance, an Ignobler Crew;
While all the Figures in one Action joyn,
As tending to Compleat the main Design.
  More cannot be by Mortal Art exprest;
But venerable Age shall add the rest.        175
For Time shall with his ready Pencil stand;
Retouch your Figures with his ripening Hand,
Mellow your Colours, and imbrown the Teint,
Add every Grace, which Time alone can grant;
To future Ages shall your Fame convey;        180
And give more Beauties, than he takes away.
 
Note 1. Text from the Miscellanies, 1694. [back]
Note 2. Shakespear’s Picture drawn by Sir Godfrey Kneller, and given to the Author. [back]
Note 3. 91–94] Omitted by Tonson, 1701. [back]
Note 4. For] But 1701. [back]
Note 5. 115–123] Omitted by Tonson, 1701. [back]
Note 6. He travell’d very young into Italy. [back]
 
 
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