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As William Hazlitt wrote of this poem and of `Description of the Morning in London”: `here is not only a dry humour, an exquisite tone of irony, in these productions of his pen; but there is a touching, unpretending pathos, mixed up with the most whimsical and eccentric strokes of pleasantry and satire. ‘ (Williams, 1995: p. 327). Pope, however, did not receive such favourable criticism for his work on the countryside. John Dennis launched further criticism of `Windsor-Forest’ in his comment that `Half the Poem of Windsor Forest has nothing in it, that is peculiar to Windsor Forest.
The Objects that are presented to the Reader in this latter Poem, are for the most part trivial and trifling, as Hunting, Fishing, Setting, Shooting, and a thousand common Landskips. ‘ (Barnard, 1995: 89). However, these activities are necessary in order to create a picture of typical country life. In Swift’s poem too it is the everyday boundaries and habits of society which are of interest, as they are suddenly forgotten – `triumphant Tories, and desponding Whigs/ Forget their feuds, and join to save their wigs’- when, in fear of getting wet and cold, people who would not usually do so, huddle together in shelter.
Interestingly, this theme of mixing otherwise different groups is a theme of Pope’s, where he suggests that in Nature, `tho’ all things differ, all agree’: Here waving groves a checquer’d scene display, And part admit, and part exclude the day; As some coy nymph her lover’s warm address Nor quite indulges, nor can quite repress.
[Lines 17-20. p21] In Pope’s poem there exists important oscillation between not being quite one state, and not yet another. This is perhaps representative of the transitional political and social climate.
Moreover, industrialisation caused mankind’s affinity with the landscape to be tested by the new impulse to develop mechanisation, which had polluting and scarring consequences for the countryside. Thus, the countryside cannot fully `indulge’ the presence of man, and neither `quite repress’ it. In `Windsor Forest’ Pope presents a greater versatility in the countryside than Swift does in his representation of the city- one that does not depend upon commerce or social exchanges:
Ev’n the wild heath displays her purple dyes, And ‘midst the desart fruitful fields arise, That crown’d with tufted trees and springing corn, Like verdant isles the sable waste adorn. Let India boast her plants, nor envy we The weeping amber or the balmy tree, (Lines 25-30, p21) In Swift’s city, a typical day can suddenly be brought to a halt by a change in the weather, whereas in Pope’s countryside there exists a form of continuity between the character of the countryside and the activities of human life within it.
However, Pope makes it clear that this phenomenon is only something that has occurred since mankind became civilised: Not thus the land appeared in ages past, A dreary desert and a gloomy waste, To savage beasts and savage laws a prey, And kings more furious and severe than they; Who claimed the skies, dispeopled air and floods, The lonely lords of empty wilds and woods: Cities laid waste, they stormed the dens and caves (Lines 43-49. p21)
Before the dawn of the Enlightenment in the mid seventeenth century, the landscape was harsh and `severe’, where without ordered society `cities laid waste’ and lords ruled over `empty wilds and woods. ‘ Pope’s use of language points to ancient existence being chaotic and disjointed; the antithesis to the line at the beginning of the poem – `Not chaos-like together crushed and bruised. ‘ In this respect, Pope is suggesting that it is only through man’s pursuit of knowledge and spiritual realisation that a contemporary balance between man and nature can be achieved.
A further example of Pope’s interest in this form of balance can be seen in his verse `Ode on Solitude’, where he writes: `Happy the man whose wish and care a few paternal acres bound, content to breathe his native air in his own ground. ‘ (Online Poetry Archive). In `Windsor Forest’ pope repeats this incantation in the following lines: `Happy the man whom this bright Court approves/ His Sov’reign favours, and his Country loves. [.. ] Whom humbler joys of home-felt quiet please/ Successive study, exercise, and ease. ‘ (Lines 233-8).
Harvey (2006, p.357) identifies this idea of localising human experience to the immediate vicinity of a `few acres’ and `retiring’ from society as `a favourite theme of English writers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’, and states that it came as a reaction to the need to `escape from the bustle and back-stabbing of court or city life’ where a `more solid satisfaction of life in the countryside, on a small, self-sufficient country estate with only books and a few select friends for company’ (Ibid) became increasingly more appealing to poets such as Pope.
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