Poetry created using traditional standards of ancient Greek and Roman literature falls into the realm of
classicism or neoclassicism.
Classicism can refer to art produced either in antiquity or later.
Neoclassicism always refers to art created later but inspired by the artistic standards of ancient times.
In England, classicism reached its peak in the works of poets like John Dryden and Alexander Pope. In
the following poem, you can see the most important ideas of rigid structure, formal accuracy, simplicity,
restraint, and order represented. Each line has ten syllables written in a very strict rhythmic pattern. The
rhyme scheme is consistent—every two lines rhyme. This poem is an elegy—a poem written as a memorial
after someone has died—which is among the oldest purposes of poetry. It is a poem of praise for a man whom
Dryden obviously valued. He also chooses to include natural images reminiscent of antiquity, specifically ivy
and laurels. Dryden also mentions Nisus, a figure in Greek mythology. This poem is an excellent example of
neoclassicist poetry in its use of all the most essentially proper methods of producing art.
To the Memory of Mr. Oldham
Farewell, too little, and too lately known,
Whom I began to think and call my own:
For sure our souls were near allied, and thine
Cast in the same poetic mold with mine.
One common note on either lyre did strike,
And knaves and fools we both abhorr’d alike.
To the same goal did both our studies drive;
The last set out the soonest did arrive.
Thus Nisus fell upon the slippery place,
While his young friend perform’d and won the race.
O early ripe! to thy abundant store
What could advancing age have added more?
It might (what nature never gives the young)
Have taught the numbers of thy native tongue.
But satire needs not those, and wit will shine
Thro’ the harsh cadence of a rugged line:
A noble error, and but seldom made,
When poets are by too much force betray’d.
Thy generous fruits, tho’ gather’d ere their prime,
Still shew’d a quickness; and maturing time
But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of rhyme.
Once more, hail and farewell; farewell, thou young,
But ah too short, Marcellus of our tongue;
Thy brows with ivy, and with laurels bound;
But fate and gloomy night encompass thee around.
— John Dryden (1684)