Poetry Wednesday: Alexander Pope (finally)

Alexander Pope was born Catholic at a time when that wasn’t a very good idea for all sorts of reasons,* though the one that mattered most was that it kept him from furthering his studies past the basics, which weren’t nearly enough for someone of his curiosity and intelligence.

So he attended school in secret and, more importantly, turned autodidact and educated himself in languages and literature, thoroughly enough to write a translation of Homer’s major works—from the original Greek, mind—that is still in use today.

Riddle of the World
(Alexander Pope)

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A Being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his mind and body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
Whether he thinks to little, or too much;
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus’d;
Still by himself, abus’d or disabus’d;
Created half to rise and half to fall;
Great Lord of all things, yet a prey to all,
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d;
The glory, jest and riddle of the world.

Alexander Pope was delicate of health, stunted of height, and twisted of spine from a childhood disease, making it unlikely that he could hold down a regular 17th Century job—or raise a family.

So he made his living writing, and writing about writing—which is a remarkable achievement in any century—and died at the respectable age of 56, surrounded by his dearest friends, including  Martha Blount who may well have been his lifelong lover.

On a Certain Lady at Court**
(Alexander Pope)

I know the thing that’s most uncommon;
(Envy be silent and attend!)
I know a Reasonable Woman,
Handsome and witty, yet a Friend.

Not warp’d by Passion, aw’d by Rumour,
Not grave thro’ Pride, or gay thro’ Folly,
An equal Mixture of good Humour,
And sensible soft Melancholy.

`Has she no Faults then (Envy says) Sir?’
Yes she has one, I must aver:
When all the World conspires to praise her,
The Woman’s deaf, and does not hear.

Alexander Pope wrote many things that insulted—or seemed to insult—a lot of influential people at a time when that really wasn’t a good idea.  He used his verse to strip away pomposity, expose willful stupidity, and deflate egos and he rarely, if ever, backed down.

And he was one of the best-known writers of his time.  Even his enemies—or especially his enemies— didn’t dare miss a word.

All of this would be enough to make me respect him.  His poetry, though, makes me love him.

As with most of the poets of his time, he could be serious, playful, pensive, and condemning in turn, and—of course—supremely suggestive:

(Alexander Pope)

See what delights in sylvan scenes appear!
Descending Gods have found Elysium here.
In woods bright Venus with Adonis stray’d,
And chaste Diana haunts the forest shade.
Come lovely nymph, and bless the silent hours,
When swains from shearing seek their nightly bow’rs;
When weary reapers quit the sultry field,
And crown’d with corn, their thanks to Ceres yield.
This harmless grove no lurking viper hides,
But in my breast the serpent Love abides.
Here bees from blossoms sip the rosy dew,
But your Alexis knows no sweets but you.
Oh deign to visit our forsaken seats,
The mossy fountains, and the green retreats!
Where-e’er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade,
Trees, where you sit, shall crowd into a shade,
Where-e’er you tread, the blushing flow’rs shall rise,
And all things flourish where you turn your eyes.
Oh! How I long with you to pass my days,
Invoke the muses, and resound your praise;
Your praise the birds shall chant in ev’ry grove,
And winds shall waft it to the pow’rs above.
But wou’d you sing, and rival Orpheus’ strain,
The wond’ring forests soon shou’d dance again,
The moving mountains hear the pow’rful call,
And headlong streams hang list’ning in their fall!
But see, the shepherds shun the noon-day heat,
The lowing herds to murm’ring brooks retreat,
To closer shades the panting flocks remove,
Ye Gods! And is there no relief for Love?
But soon the sun with milder rays descends
To the cool ocean, where his journey ends;
On me Love’s fiercer flames for every prey,
By night he scorches, as he burns by day.

Panting herds, y’all.

And he also gives good writing advice that seems as sound today as when he first penned it:

Sound And Sense
(Alexander Pope)

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance.
‘Tis not enough no harshness gives offense,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense:
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar;
When Ajax strives some rock’s vast weight to throw,
The line too labors, and the words move slow;
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o’er the unbending corn, and skims along the main.
Hear how Timotheus’ varied lays surprise,
And bid alternate passions fall and rise!

So there you have it: why I adore Alexander Pope and—with one notable exception—his work.

Check out his couplets, too—they’re snarky.


*The Anglican and Catholic Churches played a deadly game of leapfrog throughout this time period, depending on which way the reigning monarch knelt.  The 1788 Test Act had been passed a decade or so before the birth of Alexander Pope (pun unintentional, but telling), as an an expansion of the existing statutes that forbade Catholics from teaching school or attending university, voting or holding public office—even the aristocracy.  Catholics couldn’t live within ten miles of London, either, which appears to have been no great loss, since they couldn’t actually do anything.

**I don’t honestly know if he wrote this about Miss Blount, but I like to think that this was the kind of person she was.

The Bedtime Adventures of Super Sunny: Knotty Necks

Last night at bedtime:

 “Tell me a story, Mommy.”

 “Why don’t you tell me one?”

 “I don’t remember.  Tell me one, pleeeeease?  About Super Sunny.  But make her have pigtails.”

 “Okay.  Super Sunny is a superhero who is . . . “

 “Five years old!”

 “And has . . . “

“Curly, curly hair!  In pigtails!  Like me!”

 “Just like you.  Once day, Super Sunny was, uh . . . let me see . . . um . . . sorry, kid, I got nothing.”

 “She was playing with a toy giraffe.”

 “Okay.  Got it.  Super Sunny was playing with her toy giraffe when her super ears heard someone say . . . “

“Help, Help!”

 “So Super Sunny flew away to see—“

 “No, no!  First she put her toys away.”

 “. . .  Really?”

 “Yes.  She’s a superhero, you know.”

“I do know, but did you know real kids can put their toys away, too?”

(much giggling)   “Stop tickling, Mommy!  Stop it! That’s not in the story!”

 “Too bad.  All right, so Super Sunny put her toys away like every kid should—“


“—and then went flying around to see who needed her help.  She followed the help helps! to a circus, and the ringmaster told her that the giraffes accidentally walked into the high wire and knotted their necks together!”*

 “And one is a baby.”

 “And one was—wait.  Baby giraffes aren’t tall enough to get tangled in high wires.”

“The Daddy gave her a piggy back.  For the circus parade.”

“Oh . . . okay.  So Super Sunny starts tugging at the knots and undoing the tangled wire, but things are so messed up that she ends up tied to the Mommy giraffe!  Upside-down!”

“And her cape was over her head!”  (much giggling)  “Oh, but the littlest one gets scared”

“The baby giraffe was scared and  started to cry.”


“So Super Sunny sang her a song . . . “

“Twinkle, twinkle! “

“She sang Twinkle, twinkle, little star . . . will you help the baby giraffe, too?”

“No.  You can do it.”

“By myself?”


“Never mind then.  The baby giraffe wasn’t scared anymore, and she reached her looong neck to give Super Sunny a nosie kiss.**  And when she did that, she pulled all the knots out!  And everyone was happy.”

“But Super Sunny didn’t fix it—the baby giraffe did.”

“Except they were still all crooked and hunched over  So Super Sunny was the one who straightened out their necks and legs and rubbed their sore muscles until they could move again.***  And then she flew up and stretched the high wire across the circus tent, too, for the acrobats.  Everyone was so happy, the ringmaster gave Super Sunny four free tickets to the circus.

“And the next night, Super Sunny and her family sat in the front row.  All the giraffes stopped by to give her nosie kisses and the acrobats waved to her as they danced along the wire—“

“And blew kisses!”

“They blew nosie kisses?  Yuck.”

“Noo-ooo.  Not nosie ones!  Like this.”  (smack-whoosh)

“Ohhhh.  That’s much better.  And Sunny ate popcorn and hot dogs and cotton candy until she was sick and then she fell asleep on the way home.  It was awesome.

“Mommy . . . cotton candy is too sweet for me.”

“I know.  That’s why you got sick.”

“You’re really silly, Mommy.”

“Yep.  Good night.”

“Good night, Mommy.”

“You can pick your toys up tomorrow, just like a superhero.”

“Mo-OMM.  Shhh!  I’m sleeping.”


*Which is probably one of the reasons real circuses don’t have giraffes, but Super Sunny already rescued the elephants that escaped from the zoo.

** Think Eskimo, not curiosity.

*** My husband:  “Nice save.”

Things that Made Me Smile Today

Not to be confused with Random Thursday.  Because it’s Monday.


1.  A friend sent me this vid because someone had sent it to her because it’s Shirley Temple’s birthday and she was amazed at how much Shirley resembles Sunny—or, chronologically-speaking, the other way ’round—at least in hair and attitude.

It’s true.  I’m not sure the child can sing—she doesn’t like to when she knows someone’s listening*—but she can boss with the best of ‘em:**

You know . . . this is a surprisingly bloodthirsty song.  Then again, most five-year olds appear to be okay with that.***


2.   Lyra’s husband’s quotes

Lyra thought I’d like the twenty-first one in the list—and I do—but this is the one that got me:

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”
— Andre Gide

It works for writing and parenting, doesn’t it?


3.  I have three days off this week!  I’m planning writing marathons for at least two of ’em.



4.  I snagged book six of Kerry Greenwood’s  Phryne Fisher mystery series (click the photo for info) and there are more than ten to go before I run out!  They’re quick, compulsive reads that won’t rot your brain.

Phryne is a rich, brilliant, eccentric private investigator in 1920s Australia, with the brains of a Holmes and the libido of a Bond.

“It sounds easy when you explain it,” said Dot.  “But it’s magic if you don’t.”

“Sherlock Holmes had the same problem,” Phryne returned.  “I’ve definitely  got to stop explaining.”

I like her.



5.  A friend from library school e-mailed me out of the blue today.  That would be enough to make me smile, but this was in her signature:

What happens when you cross a librarian and a lawyer?

You get all the information you want, but you can’t understand it.


*Genetics at work.


***My kids think animal crackers in soup is a really weird idea, by the way, though they’re more than willing to eat them for breakfast.  And, yeah, they pretty much inherited that one, too . . .

Six Sentence Sunday: Full Metal Librarian XXII (Reynard Times-Courier)

Six Sentence Sunday is open to all writers. Just pick a six sentence passage from anything you’ve written—published, unpublished, whatever—and post it on your blog on Sunday.

Registration for the upcoming Sunday list opens the previous Tuesday evening at 5pm CST. More information is here.

Check out all the talent!


When last we left our heroine:

“Door,” I said, getting to my feet and retying my robe, looking at the black smears my hands left on the sash, “call the—”

“Do not,” said a voice, “call the Police.”

I jerked my head around and stared at the little Pressman, the one Diane had pulled away, the same one I’d noticed in the mob on my lawn, standing by the still open Doorway.  “Get the hell out of my house,” I said.

“Don’t be stupid,” he said.  “There isn’t time.”


Previous Installments:
First ♦ Second ♦ Third ♦ Fourth ♦ Fifth ♦ Sixth
Seventh ♦ Eighth ♦ Ninth ♦ Tenth ♦ Eleventh ♦ Twelfth  ♦ Thirteenth
Fourteenth ♦ Fifteenth ♦ Sixteenth ♦ Seventeenth
Eighteenth ♦ Nineteenth ♦ Twentieth ♦ Twenty-first

Childhood Booklust Revisited . . . Score!

More than a year ago, I did a post about my ongoing search for two of my favorite childhood books.

They were for sale here and there for  $100-$400US each—quality unverifiable—but I was hoping for a more financially responsible option.*

Now, thanks to a dear friend, my search is half over!

About a week ago, I received an e-mail from thefirstmausi,** who told me she’d just seen How to Become King— Jan Terlouw’s novel about a teenager’s quest to become king despite the obstacles placed by a 1984-esque Ministry—on Amazon for about forty dollars, though she didn’t know if it was still available or if I wanted to risk buying something without a cover or various pages.

I checked.  It was.  And I did.

My book—mine!— arrived Wednesday.  It’s not new and I still paid a bit more than the original price of the book, even considering thirty-odd years of inflation . . . but what price happy childhood memories?*

I loved this book so much that my name was on every other line on the check-out card of my elementary school’s copy.  I started reading it to Janie last night.  I still love it.

Thank you, firstmausi !

Now . . . Anyone have any leads on The Night They Stole the Alphabet ?


*Picture my parents and my husband staring at the screen in utter shock right here, because they will, are, or did.


*Okay, yeah, under $100US, unless we’re talking mint condition happy childhood memories.