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Tweet as Alexander Pope Day (#tweetaspopeday

October 9, 2014


Once a year, just once a year I like to relax and stop pretending that I can actually express myself with any degree of verve and finesse using only 140 characters and instead give the whole day over to Alexander Pope.

Now there was someone calling themselves Alexander Pope who was tweeting away – but they were making up their own couplets and trying to be topical.  I can’t be doing with that.  Far preferable was Samuel Pepys, who used to send daily nuggets from the 1660s of the “… and then to Vauxhall where did ogle Lady Castlemaine mightily” variety,  Haven’t heard from Pepys for a while though he did say his eyesight was getting bad.  No, for “tweet as Pope day” (#tweetaspopeday) all I want to do is send actual couplets from actual Pope poems, pretty much at random, at intervals through the day and see if the hashtag starts to catch fire.

Which it hasn’t, so far.

Not every poet is made for Twitter.  Put Milton or Wordsworth on Twitter and I dare say they’d explode.  The discipline of confining oneself to 140 characters would appear an insufferably slavish inhibition.  But Pope’s genius is mnemonic and a delight in transferability.  In the world of twitter, “what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed” is that which invites many retweets and Pope would have been retweeted a great many times.

The difference between wit and humour is evidenced by the difference between twitter and facebook.  Wit is for twitter and humour is for facebook.   Facebook is all about illustrating a particular character.  The comments, the colours and the cats are all supposed to be expressive of YOU.  It’s about self-fashioning, playing to type, and when a type is thoroughly reinforced among an acceptable circle of “Friends”, then to play against type for occasional strategic effect.

Twitter on the other hand is about the idea of a kind of oceanic consciousness, a kind of self-dissolution effected when a tweet is retweeted to the point where its point of origin become impossibly obscure.  To go “viral” is to conquer the world and lose one’s soul.  A tweet does not stick to you, the owner, but become part of a sort of common stock of collective wisdom.  For at least a Warholian fifteen minutes or so.

Readers confronting Alexander Pope for the first time are shocked to discover that they’re not confronting him for the first time, that many observations and illustrations that they had vaguely thought were timeless and anonymous derive after all from a particular point in time.  Their rhythm, balance and “rightness” sound as though they have been retweeted since the dawn of time.  Instead of issuing from the poison dwarf of Twickenham, variously, on very good days for very good reasons.

So, today, I will cease to be myself on Twitter and resign the day to its most obvious practitioner.  After all,

Nature to all things fix’d the Limits fit,
And wisely curb’d proud Man’s pretending Wit:

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  1. Reblogged this on Manicule and commented:
    Conrad Brunstrom’s adroit commentary on the formal qualities of Pope’s poetry and Twitter!

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