Prologue To The University Of Oxford, 1674. By John Dryden
Poets, your subjects have their parts assign’d
To unbend, and to divert their sovereign’s mind:
When tired with following nature, you think fit
To seek repose in the cool shades of wit,
And, from the sweet retreat, with joy survey
What rests, and what is conquer’d, of the way.
Here, free yourselves from envy, care, and strife
You view the various turns of human life:
Safe in our scene, through dangerous courts you go,
And, undebauch’d, the vice of cities know
Your theories are here to practice brought,
As in mechanic operations wrought;
And man, the little world, before you set,
As once the sphere of crystal show’d the great.
Blest, sure, are you above all mortal kind,
If to your fortunes you can suit your mind:
Content to see, and shun, those ills we show,
And crimes on theatres alone to know.
With joy we bring what our dead authors writ,
And beg from you the value of their wit:
That Shakspeare’s, Fletcher’s, and great Jonson’s claim,
May be renew’d from those who gave them fame.
None of our living poets dare appear;
For Muses so severe are worshipp’d here,
That, conscious of their faults, they shun the eye,
And, as profane, from sacred places fly,
Rather than see the offended God, and die.
We bring no imperfections but our own;
Such faults as made are by the makers shown:
And you have been so kind, that we may boast,
The greatest judges still can pardon most.
Poets must stoop, when they would please our pit,
Debased even to the level of their wit;
Disdaining that, which yet they know will take,
Hating themselves what their applause must make.
But when to praise from you they would aspire,
Though they like eagles mount, your Jove is higher.
So far your knowledge all their power transcends,
As what _should be_ beyond what _is_ extends.