Pope ranks third behind Shakespeare and the King James Version of the Bible when it comes to familiar lines in our language. This addition of Pope, while not having all of his poems (it lacks the Essay on Man), does have several masterpieces, notably Essay on Criticism and the Rape of the Lock.
Rape of the Lock
This is very near to the perfect piece of poetry. Indeed, what glory could have come by writing a true piece of heroic poetry in this style?! C. S. Lewis once said that reading Spenser is to grow in mental health. I suggest something similar with Pope: to read him is to be healed in one’s moral imagination. The following scene is poetry at its finest:
While thro’ the press enraged Thalestris flies,
And scatters death around from both her eyes,
A Beau and Witling perish’d in the throng,
One died in metaphor, and one in song:
60 ‘O cruel Nymph! a living death I bear,’
Cried Dapperwit, and sunk beside his chair.
A mournful glance Sir Fopling upwards cast,
‘Those eyes are made so killing’—was his last.
Thus on Mæander’s flowery margin lies
65 Th’ expiring swan, and as he sings he dies.
Epistle to a Lady (on how not to be a thot)
In satirizing the English upper class, Alexander Pope predicted our Kardashian, Katy Perry style America:
“The wit of cheats, the courage of a whore
Are what ten thousand envy and adore.”
Why pique all mortals, yet affect a name
A fool to pleasure, yet a slave to fame.
This was hard reading. Pope doesn’t quite rise to the glorious couplets of Lock. I think too much is lost in introduction and exposition. Further, even then, it isn’t always clear who his target is. Nonetheless, Book IV comes very close to the prior glory.
Reading Pope is like feasting on beams of golden light. When you read Pope you hear the golden trumpet and see the bright light.