Lonsdale, Roger, ed. The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins, Oliver Goldsmith. New York: Longman, 1969. Sells, A. L. Lytton. Thomas Gray: His Life and Works. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1980.
ELISION In poetry, elision occurs when the poet omits parts of words, usually for the sake of rhythm/ meter, allowing the altered word to slide into the word that follows. Elision allows for ease of pronunciation as well as for emphasis. A common elision is the dropping of end vowels, such as the e from the word the, as in Mary Wortley Montagu's "Epistle from Mrs. Yonge to Her Husband" in the line: "Th' oppressed and injured always may complain." Elision also occurs within a word, as seen in this line from John Denham's "Cooper's Hill": "Crown'd with that sacred pile, so vast, so high / That whether 'tis a part of Earth, or sky, / Uncertain seems." For simpler pronunciation, the e is omitted from the traditional past tense ed ending in Crown'd, while i is omitted from the two-word phrase, it is to form 'tis, retaining the rhythm of iambic pentameter.
"ELOISA TO ABELARD" Alexander Pope (1717) Alexander Pope prefaces his "Eloisa to Abelard" with an "Argument" that begins with this statement about the French couple: "Abelard and Eloisa flourish'd in the twelfth Century; they were two of the most distinguish'd persons of their age in learning and beauty, but for nothing more famous than for their unfortunate passion." Their story was well known. The 38-year-old Peter Abelard (1079-1142) served as tutor to Helolse, with whom he fell in love when she was 17. A philosopher and theologian, Abelard nevertheless followed his passion and the couple had a son, after which they married. However, the canon Fulbert, uncle to Helolse, hired ruffians to punish Abelard through a physical beating and castration. The act drove Helolse into an Argenteuil convent, while Abelard lived in a hermitage. It later became a school for monks called the Paraclete, which in biblical terms meant "Comforter." Abelard later presented Paraclete to Helolse in order for her to house a sisterhood there. The two former lovers began corresponding, their letters later collected and published in 1616 in their original Latin version. They appeared in French in 1607, and in 1713 John Hughes translated that version to English, which Pope read. His poetic version appeared in his Works (1717).
Pope presents a sympathetic casting of Eloisa, although many believed she did not rate that characterization, because of her sin. Later critics have proposed that Pope may have done so with a feeling of identification with a fellow marginalized individual; Pope's physical condition caused his exclusion from normal romantic activities and his enemies to create jokes at his expense. In addition, both he and Eloisa were writers, and she remained cloistered, as he often did in his garden. others suggest he could not engage in sex or marry, because of his twisted body, which effectively castrated him, helping him to identify with Abelard as well.
As for format Pope uses imperfect rhyme, a style contrary to his traditional presentation, perhaps to balance the soft effect of the rhyming couplets, which also drew criticism. some felt the couplets an improper format, much too tame to express Eloisa's magnificent passion. Pope's speaking for Eloisa also prompted commentary by later feminist critics, who viewed it as another co-opting of the female voice by a male for political and artistic purpose. Critics identify inspiration by shakespeare and the Petrarchan tradition, which generally objectified women as heavenly objects, as Pope does with Eloisa.
When in the poem's opening lines Eloisa considers a letter received from Abelard, she demonstrates her passion remains very much alive, even after the many years that have passed since they were together. she kisses the name on the letter, after wondering, "Why rove my thoughts beyond this last retreat? / Why feels my heart its long-forgotten heat?" Some found her comparison of her love for God to her love for Abelard repulsive, but she clearly bids, "Hide it, my heart, within that close disguise, / Where, mix'd with God's, his lov'd Idea lies." Pope's choice of the term idea results from his use of classical models, particular ovid's heroic epistles. The term will reappear multiple times, establishing a pattern that also suggests Eloisa's strong use of the imagination.
Eloisa admits her struggle, wailing at "Relentless walls! Whose darksome round contains / Repentant sighs, and voluntary pains." The knees of penitents have scraped against the stones, and Eloisa feels as enshrined as if she were already buried, her grave decorated with "pitying saints, whose statues learn to weep!" Pope will return to this image in the poem's conclusion, adding a satisfying balance.
No matter how devoted Eloisa remains to God, she has not yet turned to stone, and "All is not Heav'n's while Abelard has part, / Still rebel nature holds out half my heart." That nature made her an attractive and even admirable figure to readers, despite her past sin. Pope makes clear her conflict, as the letters do not evoke happiness along with the passion. Instead, they awaken something hidden that she believed her solitary lifestyle had destroyed: "There stern religion quench'd th' unwilling flame, / There dy'd the best of passions, Love and Fame." Eloisa reviews their past and reminds herself through a direct address of Abe-
lard, "how guiltless first I met thy flame, / When Love approach'd me under Friendship's name." She admits to not loving the saint, "nor wish'd an Angel whom I lov'd a Man." She questions the civic rule of marriage, declaring her reaction: "Curse on all laws but those which love has made?" She prefers nature's law, that of love, to man's arbitrary codes. She bemoans the fact that when her lover "bound and bleeding" lay, she could not help him. Adopting for a moment what critics identify as a male voice, she declares, "The crime was common, common be the pain."
Although Eloisa realizes a reunion is impossible, she still fantasizes that Abelard might relieve her woe simply with "thy looks, thy words," so that "Still on that breast enamour'd" she might lie, and "Still drink that delicious poison from thy eye." As critics have noted, Eloisa moves in confusion from God to Abelard, and from referring to herself in the third person to adopting first person. Thus, Pope emphasizes her internal conflict and sense of self-division. Pope's vivid imagery makes clear the effect of the structures in which Eloisa remains imprisoned:
In these lone walls (their day's eternal bound) These moss-grown domes with spiry turrets crown'd,
Where awful arches make a noon-day night, And the dim windows shed a solemn light; Thy eyes diffus'd a reconciling ray, And gleams of glory brighten'd all the day. (140-145)
The shadowy walls allow strong contrast to the light represented by Abelard's imagined presence. Pope also offers a metaphor for Eloisa's heart, into which the light of passion has found entrance after decades of absence. She at last acknowledges that death will be her only escape from "the lasting chain," her pledge of her life in service to God, after which her dust will remain in her cell. Still her being will "wait, till 'tis no sin to mix with thine." Pope suggests a conceit of metaphysical poets and poetry in the vision of two souls mingling as one.
Eloisa then admits her wretched feelings, as she has mistakenly believed she was Christ's bride, the traditional title adopted by nuns. Pope uses a familiar trope of fire and ice as representative of passion, for although Eloisa thought she was safe from sin and passion in the nunnery, she muses, "Ev'n here, where frozen chastity retires, / Love finds an altar for forbidden fires." She deals with paradox as she wonders, "How shall I lose the sin, yet keep the sense / And love th' offender, yet detest th' offence?" She notes the fortune of the truly chaste nun who can focus on prayer and God. Instead, for her, "Fancy restores what vengeance snatch'd away."
As a poet, Pope naturally admired the power of imagination that restores Eloisa's passion. Her imagination, her sense of place, and her memory all make her heroic in 18th-century terms. She struggles to forget but cannot and muses how nice it might be if "The world forgetting, by the world forgot," as this would equate to "Eternal sun-shine of the spotless mind!" The 21st-century scriptwriters Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry would adopt that line as the title for a movie about a process through which individuals could choose to erase bitter memories.
Pope returns to previous imagery when Eloisa says, "What scenes appear where-e'er I turn my view! / The dear Ideas, where I fly, pursue." She cannot escape the Ideas, which cause the imagined to seem real, another reference to classical philosophy.
Eloisa's final fantasy begins with Abelard's presence at her funeral, "The hallow'd taper trembling in thy hand." Then he dies, and the two at last reunite, sharing a single grave. She looks into the future, musing that ages later, "When this rebellious heart shall beat no more," wandering lovers will read their story on "the pale marble" that marks their grave. She imagines heavenly redemption, reward for the lovers' sacrifice, as from a heavenly choir "loud Hosanna's rise, / And swell the pomp of dreadful sacrifice." More importantly, a sympathetic "future Bard" who shares her grief will "our sad, our tender story tell." Pope concludes with a comment on his own action, "He best can paint'em, who shall feel 'em most." He makes an interesting admission of sharing the lovers' passion, painting for readers a portrait of a woman who transcends, rather than resolves, her conflict.
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