Thursday, September 16, 2010

Satirical poetry

Poetry can be a powerful vehicle for satire. The punch of an insult delivered in verse can be many times more powerful and memorable than that of the same insult, spoken or written in prose. The Romans had a strong tradition of satirical poetry, often written for political purposes. A notable example is the Roman poet Juvenal's satires, whose insults stung the entire spectrum of society.

The same is true of the English satirical tradition. Embroiled in the feverish politics of the time and stung by an attack on him by his former friend, Thomas Shadwell (a Whig), John Dryden (a Tory), the first Poet Laureate, produced in 1682 Mac Flecknoe, one of the greatest pieces of sustained invective in the English language, subtitled "A Satire on the True Blue Protestant Poet, T.S." In this, the late, notably mediocre poet, Richard Flecknoe, was imagined to be contemplating who should succeed him as ruler "of all the realms of Nonsense absolute" to "reign and wage immortal war on wit."

Another master of 17th-century English satirical poetry was John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. He was known for ruthless satires such as "A Satyr Against Mankind" (1675) and a "A Satyr on Charles II."

Another exemplar of English satirical poetry was Alexander Pope, who famously chided critics in his Essay on Criticism (1709). Dryden and Pope were writers of epic poetry, and their satirical style was accordingly epic; but there is no prescribed form for satirical poetry.

The greatest satirical poets outside England include Poland's Ignacy Krasicki, Azerbaijan's Sabir and Portugal's Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage, commonly known as Bocage.

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