Page images


The name of ALEXANDER POPE, (1688–1744), is inseparably connected with that of Swift. The poetical genius of Pope, however, was of an order greatly superior to that of his friend. Indeed, in some species of writing, he stands confessedly unequalled. For elegance, and the easy flow of his verse, he is without a competitor among English poets. He is, too, fully equal to Dryden, perhaps superior to him, in the power of arguing, in verse. He consequently excels very much in his didactic pieces. It would be difficult to conceive an argument put with greater force or with more condensation of thought and expression than is done in many parts of his Essays and Epistles. At the same time, it would be ridiculous to rank Pope in the same class with Shakspeare or Milton. He has none of the magnificent sublimity of the latter, none of the universality of the former. He is eminently the poet of artificial life and manners, always polished and brilliant, but seldom truly great. He had in an eminent degree the irritability characteristic of the poetical temperament. A large portion of his works consists of satire upon his contemporaries. The Dunciad, which was written to satirize the inferior writers of his own day, was very celebrated in its time. It is now little read. Those of his poems which have been most read are his Essay on Man, Rape of the Lock, Messiah, Eloisa and Abelard, his Epistles, and his Translation of Homer.


(From the Iliad.)

The troops exulting sat in order round,
And beaming fires illumined all the ground,
As when the moon, refulgent lamp of night!
O'er heaven's clear azure spreads her sacred light,
When not a breath disturbs the deep serene,
And not a cloud o'ercasts the solemn scene;
Around her throne the vivid planets roll,
And stars unnumbered gild the glowing pole;
O'er the dark trees a yellower verdure shed,
And tip with silver every mountain's head;
Then shine the vales, the rocks in prospect rise,
A flood of glory bursts from all the skies :
The conscious swains, rejoicing in the sight,
Eye the blue vault, and bless the useful light.
So many flames before proud Ilion blaze,
And lighten glimmering Xanthus with their rays
The long reflections of the distant fires
Gleam on the walls and tremble on the spires.
A thousand piles the dusky horrors gild,
And shoot a shady lustre o'er the field.
Full fifty guards each flaming pile attend,
Whose umbered arms, by fits, thick flashes send;
Loud neigh the coursers o'er their heaps of corn,
And ardent warriors wait the rising morn.


(From the Rape of the Lock.)

And now, unveiled, the toilet stands displayed, Each silver vase in mystic order laid ; First, robed in white, the nymph intent adores, With head uncovered, the cosmetic powers. A heavenly image in the glass appears, To that she bends, to that her eye she rears; The inferior priestess, at her altar's side, Trembling begins the sacred rites of pride. Unnumbered treasures ope at once, and here The various offerings of the world appear; From each she nicely culls with curious toil, And decks the goddess with the glittering spoil. This casket India's glowing gems unlocks, And all Arabia breathes from yonder box: The tortoise here and elephant unite, Transformed to combs, the speckled and the white. Here files of pins extend their shining rows, Puffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux. Now awful beauty puts on all its arms; The fair each moment rises in her charms, Repairs her smiles, awakens every grace, And calls forth all the wonders of her face; Sees by degrees a purer blush arise, And keener lightnings quicken in her eyes. The busy sylphs surround their darling care, These set the head, and those divide the hair. Some fold the sleeve, whilst others plait the gown, And Betty's praised for labours not her own.


Were there one whose fires True genius kindles, and fair fame inspires ; Blest with each talent and each art to please, And born to write, converse, and live with ease: Should such a man, too fond to rule alone, Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne, View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes, And hate for arts that caused himself to rise; Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer; Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike, Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike; Alike reserved to blame, or to commend, A timorous foe, and a suspicious friend; Dreading even fools, by flatterers besieged, And so obliging, that he ne'er obliged; Like Cato, give his little senate laws, And sit attentive to his own applause ; While wits and Templars every sentence raise, And wonder with a foolish face of praise. Who but must laugh, if such a man there be ? Who would not weep, if Atticus were he ?


Vital spark of heavenly flame,
Quit, oh quit this mortal frame:
Trembling, hoping, lingering, flying –
Oh the pain, the bliss of dying!

Cease, fond Nature, cease thy strife,
And let me languish into life!

Hark! they whisper; angels say,
Sister spirit, come away!
What is this absorbs me quite ?

Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
Drowns my spirits, draws my breath ?
Tell me, my soul, can this be death?
The world recedes; it disappears !
Heaven opens on my eyes! my ears

With sounds seraphic ring:
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O Grave! where is thy victory?

O Death! where is thy sting ?

All the extracts which follow are from the Essay on Man.



Respecting man, whatever wrong we call,
May,-must be right, as relative to all.
In human works, though laboured on with pain,
A thousand movements scarce one purpose gain;
In God's one single can its end produce,
Yet serves to second too some other use:
So man, who here seems principal alone,
Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown,
Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal:
'T is but a part we see, and not a whole.

« PreviousContinue »