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How are we to read “Disconsolate Ejaculations” by Alexander Pope?

April 1, 2016

Pope

The rhapsodical fragment  known as “Disconsolate Ejaculations” was (understandably) unpublished in Alexander Pope’s lifetime, and subsequent critics found difficulty even attributing it to the bard of Twickenham.  An uncharacteristic work, it was ascribed by Joseph Warton to the joint hands of Edward Young and Christopher Smart.

More recently, this fragment has been acknowledged as the product of a disturbed period in Pope’s life, most likely the mid 1720s, when the reality of the Whig hegemony began to establish itself in Pope’s gloomy imagination.  Pope saw his most talented colleagues oppressed and marginalised by the Walpole regime, with the national imagination crippled by an all-consuming “Jacobites under the Beds” scare.

Others have suggested that an uncharacteristic and otherwise undocumented period of opium addiction may inform these verses.  Joseph Spence’s Anecdotes (not an infallible source) records that Pope surprised his fellow Scriblerians by reciting lines from a poem referred to just as “Ejaculation”, while pounding out the iambic measure on a tabor.

More astute scholars detect a dystopian sense of cultural calamity that suggests that this is, in fact, a very early and clearly unfinished draft of the poem that would become The Dunciad.

 

Disconsolate Ejaculations (a fragment)

 

The noblest minds of this my generation

I’ve seen – destroyed by frantic indignation.

Unclad they saunter streets of sable tribe

(Aurora proffers somewhat to imbibe

’Tis hoped, a fierce oblivion sought).

Yet these angelic faces set at nought

All but the sacred mysteries of motion –

The astral machinations’ dark emotion.

See abject poets gaunt and ragged smell

The dusky vapours of the faerie well.

Aeolian strains they ponder as they fly

Across the rooftops of a city sky.

Their minds unveiled to Heaven’s noisome tracks

To melodies obscure, as Mahomet attracts

The rooftop denizens, with angels antic,

Such scholars with keen eyes both calm and frantic.

They dream of Mississippi shores and poets unborn,

And chroniclers of battles will they mourn.

Those clerks, expelled from Cam and Isis, cower,

(Whose wild epodes can scarce improve the hour).

The windows of the skull they injure thus

In small clothes, see them impecunious.

As thin partitions amplify their error –

Such penury gives scant relief from Terror!

Their hirsute manhood shamefully conceals

The noxious weed an officer reveals.

A diet of fire and turpentine well fits

The sordid streets where Dissipation sits

And dreams and opiates, waking revelation

Afflict the organs of their generation.

These very streets – umbrageous lightning strikes

And Time itself stands still and bright,  yet likes

An opiate world of churchyards, Aurora beams

Across the rooftops, wine-drunk stupored scenes!

The bustling marts with flambeaus proudly stand,

Turn night to day and sun and moon command.

A New World winter roars arboreal shivers –

A canister of refuse truth delivers.

Such, manacled to subterranean carts

From portside park to murky hovels start.

With drugs disordered, wheels and children flee

Parched and brain- battered this menagerie.

Illumined ’neath the waves they sank by night,

And sat in stalest beer by noonday light.

A gaseous box to Saint Cecilia bound

Emits the most apocalyptic sound.

These seers loquacious bark from park to bridge,

Such errant Platonists cannot abridge

Their speech while leaping tower and moon.

Their ranting fervour, screamed and whispered tells

Of ’spital tortures, battlefields and cells.

Their frenzied brains disgorge a week of thought

Along with sacred meats for Temple bought.

They vanish into vacancy and leave

Strange daubs of guildhalls none can e’er believe.

From Araby, the sweating sickness spreads,

And Moorish drugs sooth Cathay’s aching heads.

Let those devoted to the bloodied needle heal,

Their drab apartments echo midnight’s peal.

They stray among the lovelorn, lost and crazed,

They take tobacco, frozen and amazed.

T’ward lonely farms in nights by Grandsires sensed

Plotinus with hermetic wisdom fenced.

In western wildernesses worlds have shaken,

And further west angelic tribes mistaken

To think it craz’d to praise an eastern town,

Will ride in lengthened carriages around

Through fields of corn, with merchants from Cathay –

With midnight winter lamps in proud array.

The same sad bards in the far Occident

Have sauntered solitary, hungry, bent

On notes Aeolian, Eros, or on pottage.

They seek some arch Iberian’s learned cottage,

Debating western climes and future states,

Despairing, they embark for Afric’s wastes.

In Vulcan’s Aztec peaks they disappear –

Their breeches’ shadow whimsically clear.

And ashen debris lands within the grate

That recalls a windy city on a lake.

They reappear upon a western shore

And ask of hirsute trunk-hosed spies much more.

Their eyes pacific and their skin so dusky.

Their broadsheets are obscure, their voices husky…

 

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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    On Alexander Pope’s birthday, it is good to revist the controversy surrounding his least characteristic work…

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