Anne Killigrew

John Dryden and critical reception

Killigrew is best known for being the subject of John Dryden's famous, extolling ode, which praises Killigrew for her beauty, virtue, and literary talent. However, Dryden was one of several contemporary admirers of Killigrew, and the posthumous collection of her work published in 1686 included several additional poems commending her literary merit, irreproachable piety, and personal charm.

Nonetheless, critics often disagree about the nature of Dryden's ode: some believe his praise to be too excessive, and even ironic. These individuals condemn Killigrew for using well worn and conventional topics, such as death, love, and the human condition, in her poetry and pastoral dialogues. In fact, Alexander Pope, a prominent critic, as well as the leading poet of the time, labelled her work "crude" and "unsophisticated." As a young poet who had only distributed her work via manuscript prior to her death, it is possible that Killigrew was not ready to see her work published so soon.

Some say Dryden defended all poets because he believed them to be teachers of moral truths; thus, he felt Killigrew, as an inexperienced yet dedicated poet, deserved his praise. However, Anthony Wood in his 1721 essay defends Dryden's praise, confirming that Killigrew "was equal to, if not superior" to any of the compliments lavished upon her. Furthermore, Wood asserts that Killigrew must have been well received in her time, otherwise “her Father would never have suffered them to pass the Press” after her death.

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