This Dark Estate: A Reading of Pope

This Dark Estate: A Reading of Pope

This Dark Estate: A Reading of Pope

This Dark Estate: A Reading of Pope

Excerpt

Yeats once defined art by saying that "imagination and intellect are that which is eternal in man crying out against that which is temporal and perishing." This study of Pope might be described as an attempt to suggest that he would have understood and assented to such a remark. To be sure, he would have preferred other, more measured terms; as we well know, he was a "neoclassical" writer, and by the standards of decorum he recognized, Yeats's "crying out" could only have seemed embarrassing. But we resist our worlds even as we live in them; to recognize standards is not necessarily to observe them. Pope's neoclassicism is important not only because it explains why he did things in certain ways but also because it defines the artistic limits which he came increasingly to find intolerable.

Pope's poems show a strong sense of the "temporal and perishing" nature of experience; in various ways they explore the relations between the "dark estate" of the actual world and the ideal visions of "imagination and intellect." As I read them, the earlier poems express a sense of balance, not conflict, between the two realms; and this sense is conveyed by what I call an "Augustan" style, in which technical and emotional poise disciplines a subject matter that might otherwise make art, or any other human creativity, seem pointless. But as his career proceeds, I find an increasing strain between a . . .

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