1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir John Denham

William Lisle Bowles, Note to Windsor Forest; Works of Alexander Pope, ed. Bowles (1806) 1:144n.



VER 271. majestic Denham] Pope, by the expression of "majestic," has justly characterized the flow of Denham's couplets. It is extraordinary that Pope, who by this expression seems to have appreciated the general cast of harmony in Cooper's Hill, should have made his own cadences so regular and almost unvaried. Denham's couplets are often irregular, but the effect of the pauses in the following lines was obviously the result of a fine ear. The language truly suits the subject.

But his proud head the airy mountain hides
Among the clouds; his shoulders and his sides
A shady mantle clothes; his curled brows
Frown on the gentle stream, which calmly flows,
Whilst winds and storms his lofty forehead beat!

The occasional introduction of such passages should be managed with great care, but I appeal to any judge of Poetry, whether he does not feels the effect intended to be raised by the pauses of the lines just quoted? Webb's introducing blank verse, to prove its sonorous superiority to couplets, is not fair criticism; — it is trying one thing, by the effect and laws of another. Dryden forcibly felt the loftiness of Denham's couplet, and says of the Cooper's Hill: "it is a Poem which for 'majesty' of style is, and ever will be, the standard of good writing.' From hence, no doubt, Pope took the word 'majestic."