1732 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Pope

Anonymous, "Verses to Mr. Pope, occasion'd by his late Epistle of Taste to the Earl of Burlington" Weekly Register (26 February 1732).



Hard tho' it seem, in such a tasteless Age,
That Muse with Muse a civil War should wage;
That Wit should e'er become a Party Claim,
And Faction struggle in the Lists of Fame:
While Science weeps in Anguish o'er the Fray,
And Dulness feeds upon the common Prey.
Hard tho' it seem yet it is nobler far
To fight for Justice, than decline the War.
Truth is the Soul of Verse, the heav'nly Fire
That should the Poet, and his Muse inspire:
Unless Prometheus like, we upward rise,
And snatch the living Author from the Skies,
In native Clay the breathless Form shall stand,
And seize a Statue in the Workman's Hand;
In vain shall Beauty waken all its Art,
And toil at mimick Life thro' ev'ry Part;
It seems to live, it cheats the careless Eye,
A gay Diversion! and a beauteous Lye!

If Verse should be profan'd to bad Designs,
And magic Mischief curse th' enchanted Lines,
Should Pope's own Musick tune the potent Song,
And Airs divine dissolve upon his Tongue;
Not Pope's own Musick tun'd to Airs divine,
Tho' ev'ry Muse, and ev'ry Grace should join
Their needless Aid, could e'er atone the Ill;
The Charm is mortal, and was made to kill.

Shall then the Muses Sons in Silence sit,
While Spleen and Pride usurp the Name of Wit?
Shall the Art bear th' unworthy Artist's Shame,
Or impious Satire blast each noble Name?
Could no one Champion rise t' avenge the Wrong,
And scourge the Poet in his guilty Song?
—Tho' Satan from the Height of Honour fell,
Abdiel supply'd his Place almost as well;
His Virtue made him glorious, tho' not great,
And honest Zeal excel'd the Pride of State.
Like him, ye injur'd Names, I take the Field,
But claim the Shade of your protecting Shield;
Like Teucer, shaded from the watchful Foe,
I'll chuse my Mark, and meditate my Blow;
Tho' once a random Dart an Archer try'd,
Fate wing'd its Way, and haughty Ahab dy'd.

Long Time, O Pope, has thy superior Name
Been read the foremost in the Rolls of Fame;
Charm'd with the Sweetness of thy tuneful Strain
The World admir'd, and Envy pin'd in vain;
Like thy own Querno thou had'st fix'd thy Throne;
'Twas Treason ev'n to question thy Renown:
The maiden Poet, with submissive Tongue,
And hostile Bards, who dar'd dispute thy Sway,
Like Fiends, were made to tremble and obey.
Fame says thy Dreams like Joseph's are divine,
And that his Brethren were but Types of thine;
One Half at least of the Presage is true,
They mourn the Sin, and feel the Penance too:
But ah! they know not Joseph's kind Reprieve,
Thy Wrongs redress'd, thou never canst forgive.
Th' Egyptian Famine starves the Poet's Year
From Age to Age — to Land of Goshen's near;
Or, if there is, 'tis only thou art there.

Lodg'd in the Bow'r of Bliss thy Lyre had rear'd;
For Stones and Trees thy potent Musick heard;
Heard, and obedient to the magic Call,
A Poet's Villa is so strange a Tale,
The Theban Wall may claim Belief as well:
Old Thames surveys it tow'ring o'er his Tide,
And holds a Mirror to the Poet's Pride.
Lodg'd in his Bow'r of Bliss, in Wealth, and Ease,
Not forc'd to flatter, and yet sure to please;
A Guest familiar at the Great Man's Board,
And free as a led Captain with my Lord;
The Ladies Fav'rite! whose melodious Tongues
Repeated frequent thy delightful Songs:
Fortune's blest Laureat whose illustrious Bays
Bore golden Fruit, despising barren Praise.
Happy to thy own Wish in ev'ry Strain,
From Windsor-Forest, down to Tibbald's Reign;
The Dunciad seem'd the Ruin of thy Foes,
And thy own Wit the Shield of thy Repose.
—Thus blest, thus fortunate, victorious Bard!
From Want defended, and for Age prepar'd,
Say how imprudent couldst thou quit thy Ease,
To launch again on Fame's tempestuous Seas,
Beyond thy Depth to stretch thy narrow Sail,
And court the Fury of too strong a Gale?
Safely along some Rivers winding Shore
Thou might'st have steer'd thy Bark, and ply'd thy Oar,
Spread all thy Pennons, lavish'd all thy Pride,
And warbled like a Syren down the Tide:
But when old Ocean wide his Waters spread,
And the rude Tempest bellow'd o'er thy Head,
Thou should'st have trembled at the hideous Scene,
And plough'd thy Summer-Skiff to Land again.

In thee, O Pope, we judg'd a Master-Mind
That measur'd Science, and that Art defin'd;
That the whole Maze of Truth had safely try'd
And long Experience form'd a certain Guide.
As round the Sybil's Cave the Trojan stood,
Impatient waiting for th impulsive God,
So have we bow'd before Apollo's Shrine,
And thought his Voice was to be heard in thine;
But ah! thy Voice th' inquiring Crowd deceives,
And where we look'd for Sense, we find but Leaves.