Pope: Metaphorically Meant
IN AN ESSAY ON MAN, THE PUTATIVELY QUINTESSENTIAL RATIONALIST poem of the English Enlightenment, in an act of baroque legerdemain Alexander Pope seems to have pulled the rug out from under the rationalist theology he was thought to advance and to take refuge in a metaphoricity that is ultimately fideistic.
Pope claims to have omitted any reference to “the fall of man” from An Essay On Man because it lay outside his subject.1 Presumably an appeal to Revelation would be unfair in a strictly rational, philosophical explanation for the problem of evil. Critics from Voltaire to Douglas White and Douglas Atkins have agreed that Pope did omit reference to the Fall—and for the same presumed reason.2 But other critics from the Chevalier Ramsay to Maynard Mack and Anne Barbeau (Gardiner) have maintained, in effect, that the Story of the Fall is present, implicitly and even explicitly. In his seminal introduction to the Twickenham edition of the poem, Mack argues that Pope has not only performed the traditional task of proceeding on the grounds of reason alone but also, in what I would call a baroque maneuver, “telescoped” reason and Revelation and “submerged the second.” Indeed, in treating the Essay as a poem, Mack has argued that it reflects the fundamental pattern of the Christian story—“glory, ruin, and restoration”—and throughout he observes what he interprets as specific allusions to the Fall.3 None of us can mistake the direct reference to the “Garden, tempting with forbidden fruit” (1.8). Moreover, Pope calls special attention to the relationship between his poem and Milton’s great rendition of the Story of the