Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

Alexander Pope defined the Augustan period of English poetry. A master of the heroic couplets, verse epistles, and poetic essays, Pope exemplified poetic wit, masterfully fitting together form and content. Here are a few of his shorter works:

To James Craggs, Esquire.

A soul as full of worth as void of pride,
Which nothing seeks to show, or needs to hide,
Which nor to guilt nor fear its caution owes,
And boasts a warmth that from no passion flows.
A face untaught to feign; a judging eye,
That darts severe upon a rising lie,
And strikes a blush through frontless flattery.
All this thou wert; and being this before,
Know, kings and fortune cannot make thee more.
Then scorn to find a friend by servile ways,
Nor wish to lose a foe these virtues raise;
But candid, free, sincere, as you began,
Proceed—a minister, but still a man.
Be not (exalted to whate’er degree)
Ashamed of any friend, not e’en of me:
The patriot’s plain, but untrod, path pursue;
If not, ‘tis I must be ashamed of you.


On a Certain Lady at Court

I know the thing that’s most uncommon;
(Envy be silent and attend!)
I know a Reasonable Woman,
Handsome and witty, yet a Friend.

Not warp’d by Passion, aw’d by Rumour,
Not grave thro’ Pride, or gay thro’ Folly,
An equal Mixture of good Humour,
And sensible soft Melancholy.

“Has she no Faults then (Envy says) Sir?”
Yes she has one, I must aver:
When all the World conspires to praise her,
The Woman’s deaf, and does not hear.

Upon a Girl of Seven Years Old

Wit’s queen (if what the poets sing be true)
And Beauty’s goddess, childhood never knew—
Pallas, they say, sprung from the head of Jove
Full grown, and from the sea the queen of Love;
But had they, Miss, your wit and beauty seen,
Venus and Pallas both had children been.
They, from the sweetness of that radiant look,
A copy of young Venus might have took,
And from those pretty things you speak have told
How Pallas talked when she was seven years old.


When other ladies to the shades go down,
Still Flavia, Chloris, Celia stay in town;
Those ghosts of beauty lingering there abide,
And haunt the places where their honor died.

On a Lady Who P-ssed at the Tragedy of Cato

While maudlin Whigs deplored their Cato’s fate,
Still with dry eyes the Tory Celia sate;
But while her pride forbids her tears to flow,
The gushing waters find a vent below:
Though secret, yet with copious grief she mourns,
Like twenty river-gods with all their urns.
Let others screw their hypocritic face,
She shows her grief in a sincerer place:
There Nature reigns, and Passion void of art,
For that road leads directly to the heart.


Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire;
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter, fire.

Blest, who can unconcernedly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away
In health of body, peace of mind;
Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mixed, sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die,
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

For more of Alexander Pope, I recommend his verse essays, Essay on Criticism and Essay on Man. For a mock epic, check out his Rape of the Lock.


One response

  1. My own response to the above Ode:

    Happy the man, whose wish and care
    Is open to another soul,
    A friend or neighbor, who will share
    A common goal.

    Whose plenty can another aid,
    Whose lack another can supply,
    Whose speech has purpose being made,
    And hears reply.

    Blest, who trusts without concern
    His friend, who also trusts in kind.
    Who has the will to pause and learn
    Another’s mind.

    Steady service, rarely ease,
    And taking turns to bear a load,
    And joined with other men who seize
    The pilgrim’s road.

    Thus let me live in loving bonds,
    My independent self to die,
    And when I pass, let men sing songs
    Of where I fly.

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