Translating Memory: Dryden, Oldham, and Friendship
Contribution to Book
1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics and Inquiries in the Early Modern Period
Kevin L. Cope
John Dryden is one of the great translators of the seventeenth century, translating Homer, Virgil, Juvenal, Persius, Horace, Theocritus, Boccaccio, Boileau, and other writers in language that still captivates as being among the most supple, most imaginative and capacious, and most sympathetically engaged. This essay reads Dryden’s commemorative poem, “To the Memory of Mr Oldham” (1684), with a view to unraveling its nature as translation. John Oldham (1653-1683) was a talented young poet and translator who died before realizing his full potential. Dryden’s poem registers Oldham’s high achievements while also probing Oldham’s immaturity as exemplified in his poetry. By engaging Oldham’s vision and attending minutely to Oldham’s actual words, Dryden writes a poem in Oldham’s vein but that also exceeds and encompasses Oldham’s work, and in doing so Dryden translates Oldham from obscurity to the present world of experience. Such a translation, I argue, exemplifies Dryden’s critical writings on translation, and is also commensurate with recent thinking about translation from Michael Montaigne, Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey Hill, David Ferry, and Paul Hammond. In addition, I argue that in Dryden’s hands, the act of translation is an enactment of memory, registering the friendship that obtained between the two and that may characterize all poetic translation.
Clingham, Greg, "Translating Memory: Dryden, Oldham, and Friendship" (2011). Faculty Contributions to Books. 119.