Dryden likes his rhyming couplets and nearly all (or perhaps just ‘all’) his major poems seem to be written in the form. I read a section (167 lines) from Religio Laici, an interesting poem in many ways and I’ll try to say something about it soon, but it was something of a relief – after all this Religion and Reason – to find a short poem about a young woman.
A New Song: ‘Sylvia the fair’ may (almost) be written in couplets, but the anapaestic rhythm fairly drives the verse along. Poor Sylvia:
…had heard of a pleasure, and something she guessed
By the towsing and tumbling and touching her breast:
She saw the men eager, but was at a loss
What they meant by their sighing and kissing so close
Despite the country being full of Christians, they can’t come to the young virgin’s aid. Not even the parson and priest seem able to instruct her and the politicians are helpless. Fun stuff!
Finally Cupid comes along and, well, he:
…showed her his arrow, and bid her not fear,
For the pain was no more than a maiden may bear
Of course, Dryden doesn’t go into the consequences of the discovery, whether she became pregnant and ended up being thrown out the village – nothing like that. He stops with the discovery. As a poem, it’s full of rhythmic and verbal energy, and highly memorable. He calls it a song and I’m sure it would work to music. I wonder if Dryden ever sang it.