Monday, November 11, 2013

A 300 Year Old Poem for Bloggers

In our 1600-1800 studies, I came across the poet Alexander Pope. A Catholic at a time in England when it was very unpopular to be Catholic (early 1700s), this short (4'6") writer is the 3rd most quoted poet in Oxford's Dictionary of Quotes, just after Shakespeare and Tennyson.

His poems were satirical and his style has been both lauded and criticized. Personally, my like or dislike of a poet's style shakes down to whether I can mostly understand what the poet is saying or whether I am left scratching my head.

This one is a head scratcher. I think I get it. But I'm not sure. I googled the names to figure out who these people were. I read it and re-read it. Pondered and discussed. (the poems words are in the regular type, my thoughts are the italics) 

Sound and Sense
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance.
       *so, good writing that just flows comes from practice?

'Tis not enough no harshness gives offense,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense:
        *anyone can be harsh enough in presenting their views to give offense, or obsequious enough in presenting their views to not offend because no stand is ever taken. The sweet spot is the echo-taking stands for something without causing offense. Shooting off your beliefs in a firm but non offensive way that people catch on the echo.
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows, 
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows; 
         *Zephyr is a west wind, but also a minor Greek mythical god. Words should be like a gentle       
          breeze, a smoothly flowing brook?

But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar;
         *though occasionally circumstances warrant a torrent. Rough, unedited vulnerability?

When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
The line too labors, and the words move slow;
          *Ajax is known for his strength at Troy. Sometimes writing is hard work-laboring to get the right    
          words and thoughts.

Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er the unbending corn, and skims along the main.
          *this one has me completely baffled. Is it that sometimes the words just flow. Light. Doesn't 
           change much in the hearers?

Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprise,
And bid alternate passions fall and rise!
          *Timotheus, well, there were several important Timotheus in history. One of whom was a writer 
           and one was a musician. We'll go with the writer. Anyway, the Timotheus Pope mentioned was 
           the ideal writer. His readers were affected when they read/heard his words. They produced    
           passions-love, hate, anger, etc. 

Whether I have reached the proper conclusions or whether my interpretations have Alexander Pope spinning fast in his grave, I'll probably never know. But it has been fantastic to ponder this poem and strive to understand it. It was challenging to apply it in terms of writing and words, blogging and all its nuances.

Here it is all together, without my thoughts to break up the beauty.

Are you at all familiar with the poetry of Alexander Pope? Which of his poems is your favorite? Between my three oldest kids, they are learning Sound & Sense, Ode to Solitude and Windsor Forest.

Happy Monday, friends!

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