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Alexander Pope's "Ode on Solitude"
"Ode on Solitude"
Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcernedly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mixed; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please,
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.
It is claimed that Alexander Pope wrote his lilting beauty, “Ode on Solitude,” before his twelfth birthday. The poem demonstrates the craftsmanship of one much older, with its perfect rime scheme of ABAB in each of its carefully sculpted five quatrains.
Stanza 1: “How happy he, who free from care”
The speaker, all twelve years of him, has concluded that the man is happiest who can raise his own food, provide his own clothing, and who has his own trees to give him shade in summer and firewood in winter.
The bucolic scene offers the reader a quiet, contemplative setting in which to muse on the nature of farm life. The reader can mentally compare the hustle and bustle of the city, living in cramped quarters, have to purchase each and every item for existence. Unlike the farm family that grows and utilizes their own commodities.
Stanza 2: “Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread”
The farmer procures his daily milk from his own "herds" that supply his need. Also from his own fields of grain, he can supply his larder with his daily bread.
Summertime on the farm offers refuge from the sun under many trees that dot the land. In winter, the farm family can gather around their own cozy fire, fueled by the wood that grows abundantly on their own property.
The self-perpetuating farm with a self-reliant farm family became a romantic throwback that blossomed with the emergence of large cities. Pastoral, simple country folk became a symbol of nature that became a fixture in the next century by the Romantic Movement.
Stanza 3: “Blest! who can unconcern’dly find”
To this starry-eyed speaker, the farmer represents the epitome of satisfaction; for this farmer, his supreme health of body and utter peace of mind render him nearly incapable of stress. His days pass quickly, soothingly because his nerves are untaxed by labor that would cause the heartache of uncertainty.
The farmer’s rustic life is one gigantic representation of paradise in his pastoral setting of fields blooming with his food and drink and trees offering him shade in summer and fuel in winter.
Stanza 4: “Sound sleep by night; study and ease”
The farmer rests peacefully, sleeping “sound[ly] by night.” He has freedom to study in leisure and take pleasure in “sweet recreation.” He completes his day labor without molestation and is allowed hours for quiet meditation. The twelve-year-old Pope portrays a life that most would consider paradisaical.
Stanza 5: “Thus let me live, unheard, unknown”
In the final stanza, the speaker asks of the Granter of wishes that he be permitted to pass his life, “unheard, unknown.” He desires to emulate the farmer, at least in his station as a commoner who would live and pass silently and not interfere with others.
The speaker who straddled the 16th and 17th centuries then offers his own take on what he personally would like to experience after his death—a prospect that might seem utterly alien to a twelve-year-old in the 21st century: aren’t they scheduled to live forever and not give a rat’s patooty about what happens after they die, somewhere in the 22nd or 23rd century! Totally!
This early 17th century speaker, however, hopes to leave this world without anyone taking notice. He craves no stone that jus sits there announcing his birth and death dates.
A Naïve View
The romantic scenario that Pope creates of the farm family’s life cannot be described other than beautiful, admirable, and one to be desired.
However, he leaves out some very important details of the farm life: backbreaking labor allowing little time or energy for that study and meditation the speaker affords the farmer, bad weather that destroyed the crops that would have provided those necessary items for providing enough food for the table and making clothing for the bodies of each family member.
The reader safe in his arm-chair can forget those negative possibilities and dream along with the twelve-year old budding poet about a life fully contained, self-reliant, and soothing—oh, so soothing.
Reading of "Ode on Solitude"
© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes