Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Sense Of Order

I've been reading Pope's Essay on Man as the latest in my on-going scheme of tackling a few classic long or longish poems. Progress has been slow, and I'm only up to the second Epistle, but that's the whole point. It's so relaxing to mull over segments of twenty to thirty lines or thereabouts, grasping the flow of thought and attempting to enter into the world that engendered it. I can't think of any good reason to try and speed up.

I suppose Pope gets a bit of a bad press these days for being so entirely magisterial, so utterly sure of himself. But I find a stirring kind of nobility, almost heroism, in the sheer energy with which he imposes a sense of order and proportion on a world so demonstrably lacking those qualities. He can sound rigid and complacent in the Essay, but we're never too far away from a recognition of Man's essential foolishness. This is poetry that can bite you if you're not careful, especially in those moments when you recognise yourself dangling at the end of a satirical barb.

There's also much delight to be found in the inevitable sureness of the rhythms. It's like listening to Handel when he's in the mood for a bit of a dance. There's a lot to be said for elegance for its own sake, though nobody seems to want to say it in these fallen days.

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