One Happy Moment
No, no poor suff’ring Heart, no Change endeavour,
Choose to sustain the smart, rather than leave her;
My ravish’d eyes behold such charms about her,
I can die with her, but not live without her:
One tender Sigh of hers to see me languish,
Will more than pay the price of my past anguish:
Beware, O cruel Fair, how you smile on me,
‘Twas a kind look of yours that has undone me.
Love has in store for me one happy minute,
And She will end my pain who did begin it;
Then no day void of bliss, or pleasure leaving,
Ages shall slide away without perceiving:
Cupid shall guard the door the more to please us,
And keep out Time and Death, when they would seize us:
Time and Death shall depart, and say in flying,
Love has found out a way to live, by dying.
Annotation and Analysis
This poem of Dryden’s, “One Happy Moment,” is a very intense and sensual love poem to another person. To begin, the poem opens with the statement: “No, no poor suff’ring Heart, no Change endeavour / Choose to sustain the smart, rather than leave her” (lines 1-2). The speaker instantly creates a tone that he has suffered from the difficulties of love in the past (“poor suffr’ing Heart” and “ravish’d eyes) but how he now cannot keep himself away from this woman (lines 1-3). Dryden explicitly states that he would “die with her” just to “not live without her” due to her intoxicating charms, which connects to a common characteristic surrounding love in literature at this time: the heart is so infatuated with another it will disregard everything just to be with that person (i.e. Romeo and Juliet) (line 4).
The speaker is also subjugating himself to the powers of this attraction – he will fall to his knees with “one sigh” of hers – and her mere breath will be worth all his past troubles (lines 5-6). However, there is a darker side to this infatuation that Dryden presents: he writes, “Beware, O cruel Fair, how you smile on me,
‘Twas a kind look of yours that has undone me” (lines 7-8). This “look” has “undone” the speaker which could mean a multitude of things: the speaker has lost his control or even gone crazy trying to love this woman (again, similar to how love draws people to do dangerous things, i.e. Romeo and Juliet). Although the poem is a love poem, Dryden – similar to many poets of his time – foreshadows that love may have darker consequences.
As the poem continues, it is important to point out that Dryden is writing in heroic couplets: two lines of complete iambic pentameter that convey a complete thought. As the poem progresses into the next stanza, Dryden again continues with a foreboding tone that indicates love does have dire consequences: “Love has in store for me one happy minute, / And She will end my pain who did begin it” (lines 9-10). This “one happy minute” can be interpreted in numerous ways: a kiss, an orgasm, or just a time when both lovers were completely content. However, the significance of this line is that it sets up the next one and draws readers back to the darker side of love: this lover is ending the pain, but she is also the one who started the pain in the first place, creating an interesting paradox concerning love.
This “one happy moment” is described in more detail by Dryden and has the ability to “keep out Time and Death, when they would seize us [the lovers]” which again illustrates the mystical powers of love (line 14). Personally, this idea seems very related to John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” specifically his images of a man lusting after a woman: “She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, / For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair” (Keats)! In Keats’ poem, the idea that love is everlasting and transcends time is present since he describes an image of a man and woman forever etched on a Grecian urn. In Dryden’s love poem, he too writes about how this “one happy moment” has the ability to disregard time – the lovers are truly living in the moment.
As the poems draws to an ending, one final dark statement concerning romance is made by Dryden: “Love has found out a way to live, by dying” (line 16). Here, Dryden is expressing that if lovers die together, their love will then live on forever, very similar to Keats’ ideas that love or beauty will remain preserved on the urn. Although love is real in the physical world, if two lovers die, their love will always remain intact (hypothetically) since they will both be together in heaven. Although this is a somewhat romantic image, it is also quite dark because Dryden is showing that love and life are in fact fleeting – that love does not have the power to make humans immortal or slow down time. Overall, Dryden composes a very lyrical and beautiful poem that at first glance appears to be just a love ballad, but really, is much more intricate and complex. Dryden does create the image of two people fully in love, but also shares some serious truths regarding mortality, a fate that even love cannot suppress.