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< Theme 2. Advice on how to Live (iv) >

Alexander Pope

  Ode on Solitude >

Poems on Several Occasions (1717, 35)
composed 1700 (12)

How happy he, who free from care 
The rage of courts, and noise of towns;
Contented breathes his native air,
In his own grounds. 

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire. 

Blest! who can unconcern'dly find 
Hours, days, and years slide swift away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day, 

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mix'd; sweet recreation, 
And innocence, which most does please,
With meditation. 

Thus let me live, unheard, unknown; 
Thus unlamented let me dye; 
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lye.


There cannot have been many poets who more craved celebrity and renown than Pope (1688-1734), but here he is, at twelve years of age, exhorting us to live and die in obscurity. The poem is, of course, something of a schoolboy exercise, and he is generally taking his cue from any number of preceding poets. Absurd? Perhaps. But the verses are very well polished by a true genius of the well-turned phrase, and a precocious genius at that. But is that sufficient to make a great poet? Probably not, if we are to accept the judgement of history which consigns Pope to a fairly minor place, despite his undoubted and impressive ability with the English language. What we find lacking here is heart, or magnanimity. In fact, Pope was more at home with dealing out waspish criticism of others, often unjust criticism at that, but always with a deft elegance which it was more amusing for readers to repeat than dispute. Truth is sacrificed to wit, virtue to elegant phraseology. But was it a good bargain?

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