Alexander Pope

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True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.

Alexander Pope (21 May 1688 - 30 May 1744) is considered one of the greatest English poets of the eighteenth century.

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Unblemish'd let me live, or die unknown;
O grant an honest fame, or grant me none!
  • Happy the man whose wish and care
    A few paternal acres bound,
    Content to breathe his native air
    In his own ground.
    • Ode on Solitude, st. 1 (c. 1700).
  • Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
    Thus unlamented let me die;
    Steal from the world, and not a stone
    Tell where I lie.
    • Ode on Solitude, st. 5 (c. 1700).
  • They dream in Courtship, but in Wedlock wake.
    • The Wife of Bath her Prologue, from Chaucer (c.1704, published 1713), line 103.
  • The mouse that always trusts to one poor hole
    Can never be a mouse of any soul.
    • The Wife of Bath her Prologue, from Chaucer (c.1704, published 1713), lines 298-299. Compare: "I hold a mouses wit not worth a leke, That hath but on hole for to sterten to", Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, "The Wif of Bathes Prologue", line 6154; "The mouse that hath but one hole is quickly taken", George Herbert, Jacula Prudentum.
  • Love seldom haunts the breast where learning lies,
    And Venus sets ere Mercury can rise.
    • The Wife of Bath her Prologue, from Chaucer (c.1704, published 1713), line 369.
  • Histories are more full of Examples of the Fidelity of dogs than of Friends.
    • Letter to Henry Cromwell, October 19, 1709.
  • I am his Highness' dog at Kew;
    Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
    • On the Collar of a Dog.
  • Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night:
    God said, "Let Newton be!" and all was light.
    • Epitaph intended for Sir Isaac Newton.
  • The flying Rumours gather'd as they roll'd,
    Scarce any Tale was sooner heard than told;
    And all who told it, added something new,
    And all who heard it, made Enlargements too,
    In ev'ry Ear it spread, on ev'ry Tongue it grew.
    • The Temple of Fame (1711), lines 468-472.
  • Nor Fame I slight, nor her favors call;
    She comes unlooked for, if she comes at all.
    • The Temple of Fame (1711), line 513.
  • Unblemish'd let me live, or die unknown;
    O grant an honest fame, or grant me none!
    • The Temple of Fame (1711), closing line.
  • How vast a memory has Love!
    • Sappho to Phaon, line 52 (1712).
  • I find myself just in the same situation of mind you describe as your own, heartily wishing the good, that is the quiet of my country, and hoping a total end of all the unhappy divisions of mankind by party-spirit, which at best is but the madness of many for the gain of a few.
    • Letter to Edward Blount (August 27, 1714).
    • See also below in the section Thoughts on Various Subjects.
  • Dear, damned, distracting town, farewell!
    Thy fools no more I'll tease:
    This year in peace, ye critics, dwell,
    Ye harlots, sleep at ease!
    • A Farewell to London, st. 12 (1715).
  • Luxurious lobster-nights, farewell,
    For sober, studious days!
    • A Farewell to London, st. 1 (1715).
  • Who ne'er knew joy but friendship might divide,
    Or gave his father grief but when he died.
    • Epitaph on the Hon. S. Harcourt (1720).
  • Such were the notes thy once lov'd poet sung,
    Till death untimely stopp'd his tuneful tongue.
    • Epistle to Robert, Earl of Oxford and Mortimer preface to Thomas Parnell's Poems on Several Occasions (1721).
  • Absent or dead, still let a friend be dear.
    • Epistle to Robert, Earl of Oxford and Mortimer (1721).
  • "Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed" was the ninth beatitude which a man of wit (who, like a man of wit, was a long time in gaol) added to the eighth.
    • Letter, written in collaboration with John Gay, to William Fortescue (September 23, 1725). A similar remark was made in a letter to John Gay, October 16, 1727: I have many years magnify'd in my own mind, and repeated to you a ninth Beatitude, added to the eight in the Scripture: Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.
  • Let me tell you I am better acquainted with you for a long Absence, as men are with themselves for a long affliction: Absence does but hold off a friend, to make one see him the truer.
  • The saint sustain'd it, but the woman died.
    • Epitaph on Mrs. Corbet (1730).
  • Good God! how often are we to die before we go quite off this stage? in every friend we lose a part of ourselves, and the best part.
  • Of Manners gentle, of Affections mild;
    In Wit, a Man; Simplicity, a Child.
    • Epitaph on Gay (1733), lines 1-2. Reported in The Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. John Butt, sixth edition (Yale University Press, 1970), p. 818. Compare: "Her wit was more than man, her innocence a child", John Dryden, Elegy on Mrs. Killegrew, line 70.
  • For he lives twice who can at once employ
    The present well, and e'en the past enjoy.
    • Imitation of Martial, reported in Mr. Pope's Literary Correspondence (1737), Vol. V, p. 232; The Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. John Butt, sixth edition (Yale University Press, 1970), p. 117. Compare: "Ampliat ætatis spatium sibi vir bonus; hoc est Vivere bis vita posse priore frui" (Translated: "The good man prolongs his life; to be able to enjoy one's past life is to live twice"), Martial, X, 237.; "Thus would I double my life's fading space; For he that runs it well, runs twice his race", Abraham Cowley, Discourse XI, Of Myself, stanza xi.
  • There, take (says Justice), take ye each a shell:
    We thrive at Westminster on fools like you;
    'T was a fat oyster,—live in peace,—adieu.
    • Reported in The Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. John Butt, sixth edition (Yale University Press, 1970), p. 832: "Verbatim from Boileau", written c. 1740, published 1741.. Compare: "Tenez voilà", dit-elle, "à chacun une écaille, Des sottises d'autrui nous vivons au Palais; Messieurs, l'huître étoit bonne. Adieu. Vivez en paix", Nicholas Boileau-Despreaux, Epître II. (à M. l'Abbé des Roches).
  • Who dared to love their country, and be poor.
    • Reported in The Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. John Butt, sixth edition (Yale University Press, 1970), p. 707: "Verses on a Grotto by the River Thames at Twickenham, composed of Marbles, Spars and Minerals", line 14, written 1740, published 1741.
  • Vain was the chief's, the sage's pride!
    They had no poet, and they died.
    In vain they schem'd, in vain they bled!
    They had no poet, and are dead.
    • Odes, Book iv, Ode 9, reported in William Warburton, The Works of Alexander Pope, Esq (1751) p. 31.
  • Ye Gods! annihilate but space and time,
    And make two lovers happy.
    • Martinus Scriblerus on the Art of Sinking in Poetry, Chap. xi, reported in William Warburton, The Works of Alexander Pope, Esq (1751) p. 196.

Pastorals (1709)

  • Where'er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade,
    Trees, where you sit, shall crowd into a shade:
    Where'er you tread, the blushing flow'rs shall rise,
    And all things flourish where you turn your eyes.
    • Summer, line 73.
  • Say, is not absence death to those who love?
    • Autumn.
  • Let opening roses knotted oaks adorn,
    And liquid amber drop from every thorn.
    • Autumn, line 36.
  • The garlands fade, the vows are worn away;
    So dies her love, and so my hopes decay.
    • Autumn, line 70.

The Dying Christian to His Soul (1712)

  • Vital spark of heav'nly flame!
    Quit, oh quit, this mortal frame:
    Trembling, hoping, ling'ring, flying,
    Oh the pain, the bliss of dying!
    • Stanza 1.
  • Hark! they whisper; angels say,
    Sister spirit, come away!
  • Tell me, my soul, can this be death?
  • Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
    O grave! where is thy victory?
    O death! where is thy sting?

Windsor Forest (1713)

  • Here hills and vales, the woodland and the plain,
    Here earth and water seem to strive again,
    Not chaos-like together crushed and bruised,
    But, as the world, harmoniously confused:
    Where order in variety we see,
    And where, though all things differ, all agree.
    • Line 11.
  • Not chaos-like together crush'd and bruis'd,
    But as the world, harmoniously confus'd,
    Where order in variety we see,
    And where, though all things differ, all agree.
    • Line 13.
  • A mighty hunter, and his prey was man.
    • Line 61.
  • Oft, as in airy rings they skim the heath,
    The clam'rous lapwings feel the leaden death;
    Oft, as the mounting larks their notes prepare,
    They fall, and leave their little lives in air.
    • Line 131.
  • From old Belerium to the northern main.
    • Line 316.

Prologue to Mr. Addison's Cato (1713)

  • To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
    To raise the genius, and to mend the heart;
    To make mankind, in conscious virtue bold,
    Live o'er each scene, and be what they behold:
    For this the Tragic Muse first trod the stage.
    • Line 1.
  • A brave man struggling in the storms of fate,
    And greatly falling with a falling state.
    While Cato gives his little senate laws,
    What bosom beats not in his country's cause?
    • Line 21. Pope also uses the reference, "Like Cato, give his little Senate laws", in his Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (1734), Prologue to Imitations of Horace.
  • Ignobly vain, and impotently great.
    • Line 29.

The Rape of the Lock (1712, revised 1714 and 1717)

  • What dire offense from amorous causes springs,
    What mighty contests rise from trivial things!
    • Canto I, line 1.
  • And all Arabia breathes from yonder box.
    • Canto I, line 134.
  • On her white breast a sparkling cross she wore
    Which Jews might kiss, and infidels adore.
    • Canto II, line 7.
  • If to her share some female errors fall,
    Look on her face, and you'll forget 'em all.
    • Canto II, line 17.
  • Fair tresses man's imperial race ensnare,
    And beauty draws us with a single hair.
    • Canto II, line 27. Compare: "No cord nor cable can so forcibly draw, or hold so fast, as love can do with a twined thread", Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, Part iii, Section 2, Membrane 1, Subsection 2.
  • Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey,
    Dost sometimes counsel take — and sometimes tea.
    • Canto III, line 7.
  • At every word a reputation dies.
    • Canto III, line 16.
  • The hungry judges soon the sentence sign,
    And wretches hang that jurymen may dine.
    • Canto III, line 21.
  • Let spades be trumps! she said, and trumps they were.
    • Canto III, line 46.
  • Coffee, which makes the politician wise,
    And see through all things with his half-shut eyes.
    • Canto III, line 117.
  • But when mischief mortals bend their will,
    How soon they find fit instruments of ill!
    • Canto III, line 125.
  • The meeting points the sacred hair dissever
    From the fair head, forever, and forever!
    Then flashed the living lightning from her eyes,
    And screams of horror rend th' affrighted skies.
    • Canto III, line 153.
  • Sir Plume, of amber snuff-box justly vain,
    And the nice conduct of a clouded cane.
    • Canto IV, line 123.
  • Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.
    • Canto V, line 34.

Eloisa to Abelard (1717)

  • Oh name forever sad! forever dear!
    Still breathed in sighs, still ushered with a tear.
    • Line 31.
  • Now warm in love, now with'ring in my bloom,
    Lost in a convent's solitary gloom!
    • Line 37.
  • Heaven first taught letters for some wretch's aid,
    Some banish'd lover, or some captive maid.
    • Line 51.
  • Speed the soft intercourse from soul to soul,
    And waft a sigh from Indus to the Pole.
    • Line 57.
  • And truths divine came mended from that tongue.
    • Line 66.
  • How oft, when press'd to marriage, have I said,
    Curse on all laws but those which love has made!
    Love, free as air at sight of human ties,
    Spreads his light wings, and in a moment flies.
    • Line 73.
  • Let wealth, let honour, wait the wedded dame,
    August her deed, and sacred be her fame;
    Before true passion all those views remove,
    Fame, wealth, and honour! what are you to Love?
    • Line 77.
  • Curse on all laws but those which love has made!
    Love, free as air at sight of human ties,
    Spreads his light wings, and in a moment flies.
    • Line 74.
  • No, make me mistress to the man I love;
    If there be yet another name more free,
    More fond than mistress, make me that to thee!
    • Line 88.
  • And if I lose thy love, I lose my all.
    • Line 118.
  • And love the offender, yet detest the offence.
    • Line 192. "She hugg'd the offender, and forgave the offence", John Dryden, Cymon and Iphigenia, line 367.
  • How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
    The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
    Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
    Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd...
    • Line 207.
  • One thought of thee puts all the pomp to flight,
    Priests, tapers, temples, swim before my sight.
    • Line 273. Compare: "Priests, altars, victims, swam before my sight", Edmund Smith, Phædra and Hippolytus, act i. sc. 1.
  • See my lips tremble and my eyeballs roll,
    Suck my last breath, and catch my flying soul.
    • Line 323.
  • Condemn'd whole years in absence to deplore,
    And image charms he must behold no more,
    Such if there be, who loves so long, so well;
    Let him our sad, our tender story tell;
    The well-sung woes will sooth my pensive ghost;
    He best can paint them, who shall feel them most.
    • Lines 361-366.
  • He best can paint them who shall feel them most.
    • Eloisa to Abelard. Last line. Compare: "And those that paint them truest praise them most", Joseph Addison, The Campaign, last line.

Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady (1717)

  • What beck'ning ghost, along the moonlight shade
    Invites my steps, and points to yonder glade?
    • Line 1. Compare: "What gentle ghost, besprent with April dew, Hails me so solemnly to yonder yew?", Ben Jonson, Elegy on the Lady Jane Pawlet.
  • Is it, in Heav'n, a crime to love too well?
    To bear too tender, or too firm a heart,
    To act a lover's or a Roman's part?
    Is there no bright reversion in the sky,
    For those who greatly think, or bravely die?
    • Line 6.
  • Ambition first sprung from your blest abodes;
    The glorious fault of Angels and of Gods.
    • Line 13.
  • So perish all, whose breast ne'er learn'd to glow
    For others' good, or melt at others' woe.
    • Line 45. Compare Pope's The Odyssey of Homer, Book XVIII, line 269.
  • By foreign hands thy dying eyes were closed,
    By foreign hands thy decent limbs composed,
    By foreign hands thy humble grave adorned,
    By strangers honored, and by strangers mourned!
    • Line 51.
  • And bear about the mockery of woe
    To midnight dances and the public show.
    • Line 57.
  • How loved, how honored once, avails thee not,
    To whom related, or by whom begot;
    A heap of dust alone remains of thee;
    'Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be!
    • Line 71.

The Preface of 1717, Twickenham edition, The Poems of Alexander Pope

  • What we call a Genius, is hard to be distinguish'd by a man himself, from a strong inclination: and if his genius be ever so great, he can not at first discover it any other way, than by giving way to that prevalent propensity which renders him the more liable to be mistaken.
  • Therefore they who say our thoughts are not our own because they resemble the Ancients, may as well say our faces are not our own, because they are like our Fathers: And indeed it is very unreasonable, that people should expect us to be Scholars, and yet be angry to find us so.
  • I would not be like those Authors, who forgive themselves some particular lines for the sake of a whole Poem, and vice versa a whole Poem for the sake of some particular lines. I believe no one qualification is so likely to make a good writer, as the power of rejecting his own thoughts.

Thoughts on Various Subjects; published in Swift's Miscellanies (1727)

  • I never knew any man in my life who could not bear another's misfortunes perfectly like a Christian.
  • A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.
  • It is with narrow-souled people as with narrow necked bottles: the less they have in them, the more noise they make in pouring it out.
  • When men grow virtuous in their old age, they only make a sacrifice to God of the devil's leavings.
  • Party is the madness of many, for the gain of a few.
  • For, as blushing will sometimes make a whore pass for a virtuous woman, so modesty may make a fool seem a man of sense.
  • A person who is too nice an observer of the business of the crowd, like one who is too curious in observing the labour of the bees, will often be stung for his curiosity.
  • He who tells a lie, is not sensible how great a task he undertakes; for he must be forced to invent twenty more to maintain that one.
  • Our passions are like convulsion-fits, which, though they make us stronger for the time, leave us the weaker ever after.
  • Some old men, by continually praising the time of their youth, would almost persuade us that there were no fools in those days; but unluckily they are left themselves for examples.
  • Some people will never learn anything, for this reason, because they understand everything too soon.
  • The most positive men are the most credulous…
  • To be angry, is to revenge the fault of others upon ourselves.
  • Party is the madness of many for the gain of a few.
    • From Roscoe's edition of Pope, vol. v. p. 376; originally printed in Motte's Miscellanies, 1727. In the edition of 1736 Pope says, "I must own that the prose part (the Thought on Various Subjects), at the end of the second volume, was wholly mine. January, 1734".

The Universal Prayer (1738)

  • Father of all! in every age,
    In every clime adored,
    By saint, by savage, and by sage,
    Jehovah, Jove, or Lord!
    • Stanza 1.
  • Thou Great First Cause, least understood
    Who all my sense confined
    To know but this, that Thou art good
    And that myself am blind.
    • Stanza 2.
  • And binding Nature fast in fate,
    Left free the human will.
    • Stanza 3.
  • Let not this weak, unknowing hand
    Presume Thy bolts to throw,
    And deal damnation round the land
    On each I judge Thy foe.
    • Stanza 7.
  • If I am right, Thy grace import
    Still in the right to stay;
    If I am wrong, oh teach my heart
    To find that better way!
  • Teach me to feel another's woe,
    To right the fault I see;
    That mercy I to others show,
    That mercy show to me.
    • Stanza 10. Compare: "Who will not mercie unto others show, How can he mercy ever hope to have?", Edmund Spencer, Faerie Queene, Book v, Canto ii, Stanza 42.

Attributed

  • True politeness consists in being easy one's self, and in making every one about one as easy as one can.
    • Dated 1739, quoted by Joseph Spence in Observations, Anecdotes, and Characters, of Books and Men (1820)
  • This is the Jew
    That Shakespeare drew.
    • Various reports, including Charles Wells Moulton, The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors (1901), p. 342; William Dunlap, The Life of George Frederick Cooke (1815), p. 26 (quoting an apparently contemporaneous journal account by the subject). Bartlett's Quotations, 10th edition (1919), reports that on the 14th of February, 1741, Macklin established his fame as an actor in the character of Shylock, in the "Merchant of Venice". Macklin's performance of this character so forcibly struck a gentleman in the pit that he, as it were involuntarily, exclaimed,—
      “This is the Jew
      That Shakespeare drew!”
      It has been said that this gentleman was Mr. Pope, and that he meant his panegyric on Macklin as a satire against Lord Lansdowne", Biographia Dramatica, vol. i. part II. p. 469.

Misattributed

  • A god without dominion, providence, and final causes, is nothing else but Fate and Nature.
    • Isaac Newton: Principia Mathematica (1687); Rules of Reasoning in Philosophy, Rule IV [1]
  • A work of art that contains theories is like an object on which the price tag has been left.
    • Une oeuvre où il y a des théories est comme un objet sur lequel on laisse la marque du prix.
    • Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, part VII: Time Regained, chapter III, "An Afternoon Party at the House of the Princesse de Guermantes" French versionand English translation
  • Genius creates, and taste preserves. Taste is the good sense of genius; without taste, genius is only sublime folly.
    • Le génie enfante, le goût conserve. Le goût est le bon sens du génie; sans le goût, le génie n'est qu'une sublime folie.
    • François-René de Chateaubriand, Essai sur la littérature anglaise (1836): Modèles classiques [2]
  • You beat your pate, and fancy wit will come;
    Knock as you please, there's nobody at home.
    • Credited as Epigram: An Empty House (1727), or On a Dull Writer; alternately attributed to Jonathan Swift in John Hawkesworth, The Works of Jonathan Swift, D.D., Dean of St. Patrick's, Dublin (1754), p. 265. Compare: "His wit invites you by his looks to come, But when you knock, it never is at home", William Cowper, Conversation, line 303.
  • Lull'd in the countless chambers of the brain,
    Our thoughts are link'd by many a hidden chain.
    Awake but one, and lo, what myriads rise!
    Each stamps its image as the other flies!
  • Never find fault with the absent.
    • Absenti nemo non nocuisse velit.
    • Standard translation: Let no one be willing to speak ill of the absent.
    • Sextus Propertius, Elegies, II, xix, 32
  • The hidden harmony is better than the obvious.
    • Variants: 1) The unapparent connection is more powerful than the apparent one; 2) The hidden harmony is better than the open one.
    • Heraclitus, Fragments, 54 [4] and [5]
  • The sick in body call for aid: the sick
    In mind are covetous of more disease;
    And when at worst, they dream themselves quite well.
    To know ourselves diseased, is half our cure.
  • What some call health, if purchased by perpetual anxiety about diet, isn't much better than tedious disease.

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