From True Satire by Dryden:
A witty Man is tickl’d while he is hurt in this manner, and a Fool feels it not. The occasion of an Offence may possibly be given, but he cannot take it. If it be granted that in effect this way does more Mischief; that a Man is secretly wounded, and though he be not sensible himself, yet the malicious World will find it for him: yet there is still a vast difference betwixt the slovenly Butchering of a Man, and the fineness of a stroke that separates the Head from the Body, and leaves it standing in its place.
Taking the above into account, Dryden’s MacFlecknoe does seem to be overtly blunt, and perhaps lacking the finesse that the above quote portends. One expects a little more subtlety than:
Shadwell alone my perfect image bears,
Mature in dullness from his tender years:
Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he
Who stands confirmed in full stupidity.
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.
Some beams of wit on other souls may fall,
Strike through, and make a lucid interval;
But Shadwell’s genuine night admits no ray;
His rising fogs prevail upon the day.
Besides, his goodly fabric fills the eye,
And seems designed for thoughtless majesty;
Thoughtless as monarch oaks that shade the plain,
And, spread in solemn state, supinely reign.
Undoubtedly the imagery and the allusions in the rest of the poem, and the rhythm achieved are laudable: MacFlecknoe is a poem that made me laugh out loud while reading. It’s just that as I read this portion, a year after I had first read the poem, it seemed to be too direct- more of an attempt at butchering than that fine stroke that Dryden mentions above.
However, I’d rather study MacFlecknoe than all the boring serious reading I’m forcing myself to do. Strangely enough, I find that I no longer have the appetite for The Heart of Darkness and The Power and the Glory, both of which seemed drab. I found the relatively ‘exotic’ story Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, about the disintegration of African culture in a tribal village, brought about by the setup of a Church, much more interesting.