. . . and then, what's brave, what's noble, Let's do it after the high Roman fashion And make death proud to take us.
( Antony and Clropatra)
POPE Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady begins in a way that has puzzled many readers:
What beck'ning ghost, along the moonlight shade
Invites my step, and points to yonder glade?
'Tis she! -- but why that bleeding bosom gor'd,
Why dimly gleams the visionary sword?
Oh ever beauteous, ever friendly! tell,
Is it, in heav'n, a crime to love too well?
To bear too tender, or too firm a heart,
To act a Lover's or a Roman's part?
Is there no bright reversion in the sky,
For those who greatly think, or bravely die?
The 'facts' in this opening passage and in the rest of the poem are not clear and will probably always remain unclear. The central fact of the lady's suicide is hinted at only in an oblique allusion, and as Johnson says with pardonable irritation, '. . . the tale is not skilfully told; it is not easy to discover the character of either the Lady or her Guardian'. A more important puzzle arises from our uncertainty as to Pope's tone and how we are to take it at various points in the poem. The first clear clue lies in 'a Roman's part'. We are expected to be familiar with the kind of poetic address suggested by this and similar phrases ('the noblest Roman of them all' the high Roman fashion'). We probably should feel too some vague reference to the theatre in the questions and exclamations and the setting, and in the unlikely event that we have read the tragedies of Rowe, we can be sure that our instinct was right. But the fine surprise of 'no bright reversion in the sky' does not seem properly solemn for such