Quid de te alii loquantur, ipsi videant, sed loquentur tamen. Let what others say about you be their concern; whatever it is, they will say it anyway. The dog-star rages! What walls can guard me, or what shades can hide?
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Pope won fame in his own time and long afterward as a master of balanced rhyming couplets: most poets used them, but none as fluently as he did. One couplet can sound almost carefree, the next one grave; one can sound righteously indignant, the next wryly bemused. And every transition sounds just right. In pulling this off over the course of the poem, Pope offers a self-portrait that shows us just what sort of man he is. Born in , the year England kicked out its king for being not-so-secretly Catholic, Pope grew up as a Catholic at a time when Catholics were barred from many professions, subject to punitive taxes, and banned from owning land near London.
Afflicted in childhood with tuberculosis of the bone, Pope never grew taller than four feet six; he also had frequent headaches, joint pain, fatigue, and a spiraling hunchback. Kind parents encouraged his talent for writing, as did the literary luminaries he met in his teens. Pope lived in a great age of literary feuds, and soon found himself at their center. Pope likely became the first poet in English who could comfortably live off his earnings from his books. By Pope was still famous, but his friends or posse , nicknamed the Scriblerians, were mostly dead, or ill, or stuck in Ireland Jonathan Swift.
Their vision of a peaceable, stable England, with honest government and support for the arts, seemed a relic. Sound familiar? Pope himself remained entangled in rivalries, pursued in privately circulated manuscripts like street tapes with answer songs and in published verse.
Pope attracted such attacks—a lot of them, in fact—because he specialized in satire, attacking corrupt politicians, lousy poets, and even by subtle implication the king.
It would need to explain why Pope wrote satire and sometimes named names. They pierce my thickets, through my grot [grotto] they glide. What can Pope do he asks his friend about these people, who figuratively if not literally make him sick? Friend to my life! A dire dilemma! Pope cannot even listen in respectful silence: he would crack up—the poetry is that bad.
If the first section of the poem considered the inconveniences of fame, Part Two lines 69— will consider its supposed dangers. Pope answers the doctor by telling jokes and shrugging off the risks of making enemies. If he faced real danger, his named targets would care enough about what Pope said to retaliate against him, or take it to heart and reform their ways. Let peals of laughter, Codrus!
Whom have I hurt? Pope continues his clever belittling by sometimes giving real names and sometimes classical pseudonyms for living individuals whom he has previously satirized—all he jokes indifferent to what he has said.
In claiming that he is in no danger, Pope is mostly kidding. In fact, Pope felt sufficiently afraid that after he published Dunciad [—29], he walked around London protected by two loaded pistols and a Great Dane.
Horace was short and fat. Vexed by these fawning portraits, Pope offers as an alternative a summary of his writing life, which constitutes Part Three lines — I left no Calling for this idle trade, No Duty broke, no Father disobeyed. Nor, sometimes, could Pope help defending his poems when attacked. The first set of critics puzzle Pope because they attacked his inoffensive early poems about the beauty of the seasons: here Pope suggests to Arbuthnot that whatever he does, he will be attacked by someone so why not write satire?
They clashed with Pope over his edition of Shakespeare: some of them, though Pope will not admit it, were right. Pope here connects financial to intellectual independence, and intellectual independence to aesthetic success. That connection becomes explicit in Part Five lines — , in which Pope describes his current attitude toward his career and his life. Call it the Spider-Man principle: with great power comes great responsibility, and with great verbal powers come, Pope argues, the responsibility to rebuke impudence and uncover sleaze.
Hervey looks unimportant, effeminate, and flighty, so much so that Arbuthnot imagined, again, as in the room asks Pope not to bother to mock him. In fact, though, Lord Hervey represents the very worst of his age: Satire or sense, alas!
Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel? By placing it here, Pope tells Arbuthnot that he will go on denouncing whatever vice he sees.
Pope also implies that he carries off such attacks not for fun though he clearly relishes them , much less for revenge, but as a necessary consequence of his independent character. In the last of his attacks, Pope is more than ever compelled to speak his mind. He has had to endure more serious problems, among them the death of his father. No wonder he does not much care what his society thinks. And yet he cares enough to ask what people are going to say at his death. Lest we think him too stern, Pope then describes his softer, kinder virtues.
He writes satire in the service of virtue — not simply self-defense. Such balanced lines, with their paired adjectives unspotted, memorable and nouns virtue, song , imply that the first part of each pair informs the second: things that are unspotted, virtuous, deserve to be remembered; virtue merits song. O grant me thus to live, and thus to die! Who sprung from Kings shall know less joy than I. The chronically ill poet knew plenty of groans; his impossible prayer shows him grateful to live at all, and indifferent again to social status.
And there it ends. Pope has justified himself to his friend by explaining his whole career—and sliced up a few rivals at the same time. Originally Published: July 9th, Stephanie also Steph; formerly Stephen Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor.
The Rape of the Lock
The Dog-star rages! What walls can guard me, or what shade can hide? Friend to my Life! A dire dilemma! I sit with sad civility, I read With honest anguish, and an aching head; And drop at last, but in unwilling ears, This saving counsel, "Keep your piece nine years. Dare you refuse him?
Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot
An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot
Alexander Pope: “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot”