Nov 22, 2021
In this sixth season of The Well Read Poem, we will read a
number of examples of classic satire in verse. English poetry is
particularly rich in satire, and we will take a close look at some
of the best instances of literary mockery that the past several
centuries have bequeathed to us. Some of these are playfully
teasing, while others are deliberately savage. All of them taken
together, I trust, will provide a happy introduction to the fine
art of verbal annihilation. Today’s selection is from a longer
piece called Absalom and Achitophel, by John Dryden. This passage
titled Zimri is a satirical character sketch of the Duke of
Buckingham. Poem begins at timestamp 5:19.
"Zimri" from "Absalom and Achitophel"
by John Dryden
numerous host of dreaming saints succeed;
the true old enthusiastic breed:
form and order they their pow'r employ;
to build, and all things to destroy.
far more numerous was the herd of such,
think too little, and who talk too much.
out of mere instinct, they knew not why,
their father's God, and property:
by the same blind benefit of fate,
Devil and the Jebusite did hate:
to be saved even in their own despite;
they could not help believing right.
were the tools; but a whole Hydra more
of sprouting heads too long, to score.
of their chiefs were princes of the land:
the first rank of these did Zimri stand:
so various, that he seem'd to be
one, but all Mankind's Epitome.
in opinions, always in the wrong;
everything by starts, and nothing long:
in the course of one revolving moon,
chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon:
all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking;
ten thousand freaks that died in thinking.
madman, who could every hour employ,
something new to wish, or to enjoy!
and praising were his usual themes;
both (to show his judgment) in extremes:
over violent, or over civil,
every man, with him, was god or devil.
squandering wealth was his peculiar art:
went unrewarded, but desert.
by fools, whom still he found too late:
had his jest, and they had his estate.
laugh'd himself from court; then sought relief
forming parties, but could ne'er be chief:
spite of him, the weight of business fell
Absalom and wise Achitophel:
wicked but in will, of means bereft,
left not faction, but of that was left.