Matthew Prior, Poems on several occasions: consisting of odes, satyrs and epistles; with some select translations and imitations. 1707
Genre: vers d'société, poems on commonplace occasions and topics, enlivened with sophisticated turns of phrase and shifts of "register" from high to low diction.
Form: "An Epitaph" and "A True Maid" are in the iambic pentameter rhyming couplets Donne and Herrick used for secular songs. "A Better Answer: To Chloe Jealous" is in four-line stanzas composed of iambs (/^), trochees (reversed iambs), anapests (//^),and dactyls (^//), rhyming loosely abab. This informal rhythm is well-adapted to capturing colloquial speech and allows Prior to swerve from formal to street diction without pause.
Characters: Prior's works are an example of the movement away from Old-Comedy-style reference to specific persons and toward a New-Comedy use of "types" or frequently encountered examples of human behavior.
Summary: "Jack" and "Joan" ("An Epitaph") share with countless Londoners the bourgeois resistance to strong passions and fondness for creature comforts. Their response to great tragedies or triumphs (49-56) establish them as the first generation of "couch potatoes," hearing the evening news unmoved to more than token charity by the most profound horrors or joys. Similarly, "Dick" and "Rose" ("A True Maid") are the typical courting lovers we've seen since the courtly verse of Wyatt, but modernized by Prior's quick turn of the old "death before dishonor" trope. (Note: see the link to read the four-line lyric. Among the Norton 8th edition editors' more curious decisions was the deletion of "A True Maid," a tiny thing, from the Prior selections in the 7th--could it be the poem is no longer proper for a literature anthology?) Click here to read "A Better Answer: To Chloe Jealous," also cut between the shift from the Norton 7th to 8th editions. "Chloe" is asked by "I" ("Prior" in some sense) to settle down and avoid histrionics by comparison with the occasions which moved the greater and earlier literary figures of Falstaff and Horace. It also argues for the inherent triviality of verse, as opposed to the real dealings of real people which the speaker casts in prose (15-16).
Issues and Research Sources:
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