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

May 21, 2017

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



The rhapsodical fragment  known as “Disconsolate Ejaculations” was (understandably) unpublished in Alexander Pope’s lifetime, and subsequent critics found difficulty even attributing it to the bard of Twickenham.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…

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