Thursday 27 February 2014

Song - John Dryden; Californian Wines

CJ is away this week - so, as with last year's offering from William Burroughs, Sediment takes the opportunity to present another discovery from the wine/literature interface.

John Dryden (1631 - 1700) was a man of parts: critic, dramatist, satirist, translator, Poet Laureate. He is best-remembered today for such poems as Annus Mirabilis (1667) and Absalom and Achitophel (1681) – quasi-epic in form, often tinged with satirical wit; dramas such as All For Love (1678) and Marriage à la Mode (1673); essays - Of Dramatic Poesie (1667) and Defence of the Epilogue (1672); and a host of shorter poems, some playful in tone (Rondelay; Song - Sylvia the Fair), others threnodic (On the Death of Mr. Purcell). So central was he to the culture of Restoration England, that – in the literary world at least – the latter part of the seventeenth century became known as the Age of Dryden.

This little-known Song is a relatively early work, dating from 1661: a modestly comic adversion to the perils of drink. Does it deserve a larger reputation? 

Well, while it displays some typically Drydenesque metrical daring, its effects seem, all the same, underpowered; and its reliance on Caesarean imagery, predictable. As an apprentice piece, therefore, it's bearable; but not much more.

The only thing to make it stand out is this curious anomaly - spotted by the Sediment research team a while ago: the poem is an acrostic, in which the first letter of every line, read from top to bottom, spells out a name. In this case, JACKTONE RANCH, nowadays associated with a popular Californian wine range. Coincidence? Prescience? How could Dryden have known of Californian wines, three hundred and sixty years ago? And why this particular brand? The mystery remains. As the does the poem itself:


Just Caesar, whom the world obeyed,
Augustus Great, proud Tiberine
Could ne'er have drunk, sure ne'er have made
Kind Bacchus! such an ardent wine.
Tell Princes, Kings; tell France; tell Spain
Of Hippocrene
Empurpled as Augustus' train.

Recalling this alone:
All men are free to drown their sorrow -
Not Caesar only – and to sell the morrow
Cheap. But this once done –
How costly seems the morning sun!



  1. I am not all that well read. My research so far has not found this song online. Acrostic it may be but has there been any revision by McManis Family Vineyards, Kingsland Wine & Spirits. or even Tesco?

    1. Not to our knowledge - but these comments are open to all...


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