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Eternal Sunshine: Ways of looking at Alexander Pope

 
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Alan Edward Roberts



Joined: 26 Nov 2008
Posts: 188
Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Wed Feb 20, 2013 9:22 am    Post subject: Eternal Sunshine: Ways of looking at Alexander Pope Reply with quote

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) wrote lovely poetry in heroic couplets - that is, in pairs of lines that rhyme, with the lines themselves following a regular pattern or rhythm (iambic pentameter).

Here are three examples of his couplets:

“Never elated while one man’s oppressed,
Never dejected while another’s blessed.”


(From “Man and Happiness”, the fourth part of “Essay on Man”. For the Victorian essayist John Ruskin, these words provided the key to the living of an ethical life).

“Could he, whose rules the rapid comet bind,
Describe or fix one movement of his mind?”


(From “Man with Respect to Himself”, the second part of “Essay on Man”. For Shakespeare scholar Helen Vendler, Pope’s writing in “Essay on Man” reveals “what thinking is ‘really’ like as it happens ... Pope creates a cinematic flow of living thought”).

“’Tis with our judgments, as our watches, none
Go just alike, yet each believes his own.”


(From “Essay on Criticism”, an early work, where Pope expressed - in iambic pentameter - his view that ...
“A little learning is a dangerous thing”).

Today, lines and phrases first written by Alexander Pope form part of our language:

“Hope springs eternal”

“To err is human, to forgive divine”


And even find their way to Hollywood, as with the film title

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Pope has been dismissed as a writer of sing-song verse and, by Matthew Arnold, as a master of English prose (ie of not being a true poet); by followers of Voltaire as being a naive optimist and almost by tradition as being a mean-minded satirist.

But he has found fierce defenders in poets from Lord Byron to Edith Sitwell, and - as a Scriblerian, one of the group of humourists that included Jonathan Swift and John Gay - in the Victorian novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

I hold him to be much more than just “a Poet of Reason” or humourist. Alexander Pope, heard rightly, is the voice of a wise counsellor and great-hearted friend to humanity.


Last edited by Alan Edward Roberts on Tue May 12, 2015 10:54 am; edited 15 times in total
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Alan Edward Roberts



Joined: 26 Nov 2008
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Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Thu Mar 14, 2013 10:09 am    Post subject: The Universe Reply with quote

One of the classic poems of the ancient world is De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things or On the Nature of the Universe), the Latin didactic work by the Roman epicurean philosopher Lucretius.

The philosopher Anthony Ashley Cooper (1671-1713), the third Earl of Shaftesbury, referred to Lucretius as the impersonal or “the anti-enthusiast poet”.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744), in a letter to Jonathan Swift, refers to adopting the “grave march of Lucretius” when composing his poetic Essay on Man.

The Essay consists of four Epistles or letters, each written in the verse form of rhyming couplets.

Attached is the first letter, entitled: “Of the Nature of Man with respect to the Universe”.

These are the thought-provoking final six lines of the Epistle:


All nature is but art, unknown to thee;

All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;

All discord, harmony not understood;

All partial evil, universal good:

And, spite of pride in erring reason’s spite,

One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.



The first Epistle was published 280 years ago in February 1733, with the second and third Epistles following in March and May that year, and the fourth in January 1734.

In the full Epistle 1 (attached below) the St John of the opening line (“Awake, my St John”) was Pope's friend, the political philosopher Henry St John, Lord Bolingbroke.



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Alan Edward Roberts



Joined: 26 Nov 2008
Posts: 188
Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2013 12:11 pm    Post subject: The Individual Reply with quote

In Epistle (or letter) 2 of his Essay on Man, Alexander Pope redirects his focus in studying the Nature of Man to “the Individual”. The opening lines are among his most famous:

“Know, then, thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.”


Writing of the scientific revolution of his time, and of the discovery by Newton and other natural philosophers of many of the laws that bind the physical universe, Pope with his acute awareness of his own inner life comments:

“Could he, whose rules the rapid comet bind,
Describe or fix one movement of his mind?”


This is Pope's eight-line encapsulation of the rather melancholy Jacques-ian ages of man:

"Behold the child, by Nature’s kindly law,

Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw:
Some livelier plaything gives his youth delight,

A little louder, but as empty quite:

Scarves, garters, gold, amuse his riper stage,

And beads and prayer-books are the toys of age:

Pleased with this bauble still, as that before;

Till tired he sleeps, and life’s poor play is o’er."



And this is how he notes how "reason" - what now might be called the bigger view - can positively resolve the necessary but limited view of "self-love", or self-concern:

"Each want of happiness by hope supplied,

And each vacuity of sense by pride:

These build as fast as knowledge can destroy;

In folly’s cup still laughs the bubble, joy;

One prospect lost, another still we gain;

And not a vanity is given in vain;

Even mean self-love becomes, by force divine,

The scale to measure others’ wants by thine."




Here is the complete Epistle:



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Alan Edward Roberts



Joined: 26 Nov 2008
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Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2014 9:50 am    Post subject: The Human and Society Reply with quote

Here, then, we rest: “The Universal Cause

Acts to one end, but acts by various laws.”



Thus Alexander Pope begins the dedication at the beginning of the third Epistle or (verse) Letter of his Essay on Man, in which the concern shifts from "the Individual" to "the Nature and State of Man with respect to Society".

Pope's main opening injunction is:

Look round our world; behold the chain of love

Combining all below and all above.



These are the final verses, hinting perhaps at the human need to balance the use of both the inward and the outward eye:

On their own axis as the planets run,

Yet make at once their circle round the sun;

So two consistent motions act the soul;

And one regards itself, and one the whole.

Thus God and Nature linked the general frame,

And bade self-love and social be the same.


The full Letter, initially published in 1733, 25 years ahead of Adam Smith's "The Theory of Moral Sentiments", is attached:



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Last edited by Alan Edward Roberts on Wed May 14, 2014 8:24 am; edited 1 time in total
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Alan Edward Roberts



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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2014 12:30 pm    Post subject: Happiness Reply with quote

This year marks 280 years from the publication of the fourth and final Epistle or (Verse) Letter of Pope’s Essay on Man.

In many ways the Georgian period of early eighteenth-century Britain feels more unknown to us today than the earlier period of Elizabethan and Shakespearean England.

Pope’s own language may feel initially alien, as in the following excerpt from the final section (VII) of the final Epistle, in which Earth and Heaven are personified - Earth as a boundless, smiling being and Heaven as a being holding an image of Earth within their breast.

Pope’s world is romantic, but not in the sense that later Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge would envision that word in response to the natural world. This is Pope encapsulating a vision of God, family, society, humanity and the world, in 12 lines:

God loves from whole to parts: but human soul

Must rise from individual to the whole.

Self-love but serves the virtuous mind to wake,

As the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake!

The centre moved, a circle straight succeeds,

Another still, and still another spreads;

Friend, parent, neighbour, first it will embrace;

His country next; and next all human race;

Wide and more wide, the o’erflowings of the mind

Take every creature in, of every kind;

Earth smiles around, with boundless bounty blest,

And Heaven beholds its image in his breast.


May 21st marks the anniversary of Pope’s birth and May 30th the 270th anniversary of his death.

The full Epistle IV - Of the Nature and State of Man with Respect to Happiness - is attached in a four-page document below. (With the first two pages covering sections 1-5, and the final two sections 6-7).



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Alan Edward Roberts



Joined: 26 Nov 2008
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Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Thu Aug 10, 2017 5:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A most wonderful program, "In Search of Arcadia", was shown in Britain on BBC4 last night, and will be available for viewing via BBC4 and iPlayer for another four weeks.

"In Search of Arcadia" tells the story of how the vision and "taste" of Alexander Pope changed the world! It does not mention my favourite poem, "An Essay on Man", but it does set out how through Pope's words and his own five-acre garden in Twickenham he influenced the movers and shakers of his day, including Henrietta Howard and Lord Burlington, and how through himself and his friends, the landscape and architecture of England (and America) were transformed.

A great deal is packed into the hour - angling (including a reference to the poet George Herbert's first biographer, Izaak Walton), the flood plains of Syon Park (a reference to Herbert's godparent, John Donne, could be squeezed in here), the riverside White Hart pub in Twickenham, Pope's Grotto, Sir David Attenborough looking down on the world's best view, from Richmond Hill.

The entire setting is the 10-mile stretch of the Thames between Chiswick and Hampton. The main guide is art historian Janina Ramirez, with John Bailey providing a riverman's angle.

Recommended to lovers of gardens, architecture, English history, rivers, nature, the classical world, poetry and Alexander Pope as essential viewing!
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Peter Blumsom



Joined: 09 Mar 2007
Posts: 1093
Location: Wembley, London, UK

PostPosted: Tue Aug 15, 2017 9:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you, Alan.
I've just got round to watching this programme. Entrancing, I'd like to see it in all the seasons. I knew a little about the Arcadian movement, which I believe stretches back to Sidney - Colin Cloute, the Areopagite poets and even the Shakespearean concept of Merry England. But it was the landscape gardens that seemed to mark this mini renaissance off.
I'm going to persuade my wife to watch it with me tomorrow. And for others, still a couple of weeks left on BBC IPlayer.
Pete
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Alan Edward Roberts



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Posts: 188
Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Mon Aug 28, 2017 4:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have just watched the programme for a third-time, Pete - I am glad that you also found it entrancing! For me it is, on reflection a reminder that our land-scape, our given world, is God-given or Good-given in a way that men of words as varied as land economist Henry George and poet and translator W B Yeats inherently recognise. I feel we need to tread softly with the magic of our given world in order to both release and to embrace its wonder.
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