Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Satires and Epistles of Horace Imitated

I was struck by the three lines from Pope's "Essay on Criticism" that have become proverbial, and one thing I noted in "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot," the first of his "Satires and Epistles of Horace Imitated," was the appearance of the phrase "Damn with faint praise"; later, a line appears that reminded me of a web site I have occasionally followed links to: "Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?" (The web site is called "Butterflies and Wheels.")

Describing his childhood, Pope produces this couplet, in which "numbers" means "metrical verses":

As yet a child, nor yet a fool to fame,
I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came.

So verses began coming to him even as a child, and never stopped doing so. But at least they stop while he sleeps, as he points out that he "can sleep without a poem in my head." I like that puzzling image, not because I agree with it, but because sometimes I wish I could "sleep without a song in my head," when a song heard during the day haunts my dreams all night, and even the dreamless periods seem to follow the same chords.

Still, in the "First Satire of the Second Book of Horace," a dialogue between P and F (Pope and Fortescue, to whom the poem is dedicated, Pope responds to F's suggestion that he ought to stop writing:

... Not write? But then I think,
And for my soul I cannot sleep a wink.

All poets know that feeling: if you don't get up and write something down, you're not going back to sleep. And sometimes, to paraphrase David Mamet, only writing can stop the thinking, all that terrible noise in there.


I won't write a separate post on The Dunciad, which I found rather slow going, but I did find a few things worth noting, first and foremost "The Cave of Poverty and Poetry," to which all poets always fear being banished. I was also amused to find the line "something betwixt a Heidegger and an owl," which I would anachronistically read as a reference to a German philosopher and to Athena, but it turns out that this Heidegger was a famously ugly man who was "master of revels" for George II.

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