Alexander Pope's "Ode on Solitude" - Owlcation - Education
Updated date:

Alexander Pope's "Ode on Solitude"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Alexander Pope Circa 1736

Alexander Pope Circa 1736

Introduction and Text of “Ode on Solitude”

Literary legend has it that Alexander Pope penned his lilting beauty, "Ode on Solitude," before his twelfth birthday. The poem demonstrates the craftsmanship of a mature poet, with its perfect rime scheme of ABAB in each of its carefully sculpted five quatrains but the sensibility of a young, immature thinker—well within the likelihood of a twelve-year-old’s experience.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

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,
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

Reading of "Ode on Solitude"

Commentary

Pope’s speaker is describing a romanticized version of farm life—one that is beautiful but unrealistic.

Stanza 1: The Romance of Self-Reliance

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

Alexander Pope’s bucolic scene offers the reader a quiet, contemplative setting in which to muse on the nature of farm life. The young speaker has assumed that the folks are happiest who can raise their own food, provide their own clothing, and who possess their own trees to afford them shade in summer and firewood in winter. The speaker demonstrates a stark contrast between his pastoral scene and the hustle and bustle of the living in the city in cramped quarters and having to purchase each and every item needed for existence. The farm family is blessed with breathing room and enough land on which to grow their own food and maintain other commodities needed for existence.

Stanza 2: The Simple Folk

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

The peaceful farmer procures his daily milk from his own "herds" that supply his need. Also from his own fields of grain, he can keep his larder filled with his daily bread. Summertime on the farm offers refuge from the sun under the many trees that dot the land. In winter, the farm family can gather around a cozy fire, fueled by the wood that grows abundantly on their own land.

The idea of the self-perpetuating farm with a self-reliant farm family became a romantic throwback that blossomed in the minds and hearts of the sensitive Romantics along with the emergence of large cities. Simple country folk came to symbolize nature itself, and the pastoral image became a fixture, hoisted to near worship status in the next century by the Romantic Movement.

Stanza 3: The Rustic Paradise

Blest, who can unconcernedly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,

To Pope’s young starry-eyed speaker, the farmer represents the epitome of a satisfied life. Such an imagined farmer with his supreme health of body and utter peace of mind remains nearly incapable of stress. His days pass quickly, quietly, and soothingly because his nerves are untaxed by labor that would cause the heartache and anxiety of uncertainty. In the mind of Pope’s speaker, the farming life represents an earthly paradise, with its pastoral setting of fields blooming with the farm family’s food and drink and trees offering them shade in summer and fuel in winter.

Stanza 4: A Life at Ease

Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mixed; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please,
With meditation.

At night, the farmer can rest peacefully. In leisure hours, he remains free to study as he chooses and take pleasure in wholesome activities. He can complete his day labor without molestation and is allowed hours for quiet meditation. To the speaker created by twelve-year-old Pope, farm life offers the best situation for living a complete life that remains harmonious and balanced.

Stanza 5: Living Silently

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

In the final stanza, the speaker asks of the Granter of wishes that he be permitted to pass his life in anonymity. 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.

Alexander Pope’s life (1688-1744) straddled the 16th and 17th centuries. Thus, the poet’s speaker likely seems quite alien to contemporary tweens. This speaker demonstrates that he has become enthralled with the notion of the pastoral, the bucolic, and the rustic. The life of the farmer then represents to him the epitome of the nearly perfect life. Thus, he fashions his hopes for leaving this world without anyone even noticing. He craves no stone that just sits there announcing his birth and death dates.

A Youthful Fantasy

The romantic scenario that Pope’s young speaker creates of the farm family’s life cannot be described as other than beautiful, admirable, and one to be desired. However, he leaves out some very important details of farm life: backbreaking labor allowing little time or energy for that study and meditation the speaker imagines for the farmer, bad weather that destroys the very crops that would have provided necessary food items as well as materials for making the clothing for the family.

And readers, safe in their arm-chairs, can forget those negative possibilities and dream along with the speaker, created by a twelve-year old budding poet, about a life fully contained, self-reliant, and soothing—a paradise on earth.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on October 04, 2015:

Thanks, whonu . . . Pope is one of my faves! Blessings!

whonunuwho from United States on October 04, 2015:

Pope is an inspiration in his style and messages he shares in his poems. Nice tribute to a great poet. whonu

Related Articles