Monday, March 18, 2013

Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope (1688—1744) was a Catholic at a time when immense restrictions were placed upon Catholics in England. They were not permitted, for example, to attend university, or to live within ten miles of either London or Westminster. Despite these barriers, Pope was able to pursue his literary ambitions. He was largely self-educated, and made friends with many of the writers of his day, including Jonathan Swift. He became known for his translations of Homer, which proved quite lucrative.

His philosophical poem, An Essay on Man (1733), expresses Pope’s ideas about the nature of the universe and man’s place in it. Its expressed purpose is to “vindicate the ways of God to man”, which of course echoes Milton’s purpose in Paradise Lost.

The Dying Christian to his Soul

Vital spark of heavenly flame!
Quit, O quit this mortal frame:
Trembling, hoping, lingering, flying,
O 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?

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca