001. Solitude. Alexander Pope Poem. Appreciation by P S Remesh Chandran
Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum
Alexander Pope was born a Catholic in the Protestant England, was forbidden to live in theLondonCityand had to pay a double taxation. Moreover, he was suffering from a series of diseases. To combat these handicaps, he possessed more than the courage of a lion. His poems were acrimonious attacks on society, and in a few cases they were against authority. He mentioned names in his poems, leaving dashes which his contemporaries happily filled in, to the embarrassment of his adversaries.
Satisfaction, self-sufficiency and piety are the characteristics of a happy life.
‘Ode On Solitude’ which was alternately titled ‘The Quiet Life’ was written by Alexander Pope to celebrate the virtues of a happy and satisfied life. In this poem, he discusses the characteristics of a happy life which are satisfaction, self-sufficiency and piety. Man was the fittest subject for his poetry. In an imaginative treatment, he illuminates the knowledge about man, in relation to individuals, society and the Universe. He once said: The proper study of mankind is man. To him belongs the greatest number of quotations in the English Language. Essay On Man, Essay On Criticism, The Rape Of The Lock, and The Temple Of Fame are the most famous of his works. They are very long poems, but the Ode On Solitude is very short one. Even though it is very short, it conveys to mankind a full philosophy. We cannot search for a happy man in this world because he is a very rare specimen to find, but can certainly identify one by tracing the characteristics of a happy life back to him.
Be happy to breathe one’s native air in his own ground.
Everyone knows that he who goes after increasing the area of land in his possession by encroaching into his neighbour’s property will land in trouble and lose the quietness and happiness in his life. The happy man is satisfied with what he is having at present. He is not interested in increasing his landed properties. His wish and care are bound within the few acres of land given to him by his ancestors. The few paternal acres are enough for him. In the old England, whoever wanted more prosperity than what his natives had, went to France and made money. At one time it was even joked that whoever vanished from Dover in search of a job would certainly make his appearance soon in Kalais. But the happy man wishes not to go abroad to France or anywhere else to make money or to enjoy life as others of his times did. He is content to breathe his native air in his own ground. Thus satisfaction is characteristic of a quiet, happy life.
He who watches the passing of time without anxiety is happy.
Dependence leads to bondage and bondage deprives man of his freedom. With the loss of freedom, the quietness and happiness in man’s life is lost. Therefore the happy man would be self-sufficient also. He would not depend on others for his food, clothes and drinks. His herds would be supplying him with milk and his flocks of black sheep would be supplying him with wool for making his attire. He would be winning his bread by cultivating his own fields. And he would have planted enough number of trees in his homestead which would yield him a cool shade in the summer and enough firewood to burn in the winter. Thus self-sufficiency also is another character of a happy life.
Time passes as if a sledge is sliding over the snow.
If somebody can watch without anxiety the passing of time, then he is a blessed person indeed. Hours, days and years slide soft away as if a sledge is sliding over the snow. Time progresses in a straight line and no point in it will ever be repeated. The feelings and passions attached to a particular moment can never be enjoyed any more. Right actions of the tiny moments constitute what is happiness in life. Piety or unchanging belief is the faculty desirable, which he is in possession of in plenty. He regrets not a moment in his life. Therefore he can unconcernedly observe the passing of time, in health of body and peace of mind. His is the perfect attitude towards Time.
Withdraw stealthily from the world: Let not even a stone tell where one lies.
The nights of the happy man would be spent on sleeping sound. His daytime activities do not leave a room for horror-filled dreams during the nights. His day time would be devoted to a recreation-like studying, which is everyone’s dream. It must be remembered here that not all are blessed with a successful books-publishing career and heavy royalties from published books like the poet. But a thirty percent book reading, ten percent life experience and the rest sixty percent travel would make any man perfect. Study and ease, together mixed, is a sweet recreation indeed, which is the poet’s formula of life. The happy man’s innocence, his perfection and his meditative traits makes him pleasing to the world.
Books are real monuments for a poet, taking him to eternity.Books are real monuments for a poet 1760 Artist F. Hayman, Engraver C. Grignion.
Like a truly happy man, the poet wishes to live unseen and unknown like a nonentity, and die unlamented. He wishes to withdraw stealthily from this world and pleads that not a stone be placed over his grave to tell the world where he lies. He wishes perfect, undisturbed Solitude. Conversely, this poem is the real epitaph for this poet. It teaches the world lessons.
Brilliant success and sweet revenge of a poet.
For people who idealize perfect life, especially for poets, it would be impossible to achieve success in normal circumstances. So it would be interesting to note how this poet hunted by his society took his sweet revenge on those who excluded him and his people from London’s social and literary circles. Pope considered thousands of lines in Shakespeare’s works not original and contaminated by stage actors’ speeches to please and thrill the audience. So he completely edited and recast them in the clean poetic form and published a regularized new edition of Shakespeare in 1725. He translated Odyssey as well. These and his major works of later years gained him universal fame, were translated into many languages including German and caused him to be considered as a philosopher. But the epic feat of this unmarried poet was done in the very early years of his literary career. Like Keats, Pope was an admirer of Greek Poetry from his boyhood. His dream was translating the Iliad into English which he did in six books during the six years from 1715. Even the severe Samuel Johnson called it a performance beyond age and nation. Coming from Johnson, it was indeed praise. Publication of this monumental work brought him instant fame in Englandand abroad and also a fortune for his wallet. With this immense amount of money, the poet bought him a home in Twickenham which he decorated with precious stones and intricate mirror arrangements. He made the subterranean rooms resound with the pleasant noise of an underground stream. Because mermaids could not be purchased, he did not equip one.
Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
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Alexander Pope, Appreciations, English Songs, Literature And Language, P S Remesh Chandran, Poetry, Poets, Quiet Life, Reviews, Sahyadri Books And Bloom Books Trivandrum, Solitude
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Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of Swan : The Intelligent Picture Book. Born and brought up in the beautiful village of Nanniyode in the Sahya Mountain Valley in Kerala. Unmarried and single. Edits Bloom Books Channel, world’s foremost producers of musical English Recitation Videos.