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Poetry Xtras » "Elegy To The Memory Of An Unfortunate Lady" by Alexander Pope

Poetry Xtras provide brief commentaries, cultural & literary sign posts, or anecdotes about poems featured on Poetry X, written by the poet or a critic expert in the poem.

Also in spite of limited diction—the sign of thought closing in, as it did fast close in during those years—are Pope's tenderness and passion communicated in this beautiful elegy. It would not be too much to say that all his passion, all his tenderness, and certainly all his mystery, are in the few lines at the opening and close. The Epistle of Eloisa is (artistically speaking) but a counterfeit. Yet Pope's Elegy begins by stealing and translating into the false elegance of altered taste that lovely and poetic opening of Ben Jonson's—

"What beckoning ghost, besprent with April dew,
Hails me so solemnly to yonder yew?"

All the gravity, all the sweetness, one might fear, must be lost in such a change as Pope makes—

"What beckoning ghost along the moonlight shade
Invites my steps, and points to yonder glade?"

Yet they are not lost. Pope's awe and ardour are authentic, and they prevail; the succeeding couplet—inimitably modulated, and of tragic dignity—proves, without delay, the quality of the poem. The poverty and coldness of the passage (towards the end), in which the roses and the angels are somewhat trivially sung, cannot mar so veritable an utterance. The four final couplets are the very glory of the English couplet.


FROM: Flower of the Mind, 1893

—Alice Meynell

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