The essay examines Pope's entire poetic career under the aspect of rapture, in all its many connotations and contexts. Though Pope's early amatory poems and his later satire are usually considered in isolation from each other, this essay explores their common preoccupation with the formal erotic, affective, and spiritual experience of rapture and thus demonstrates their dynamic interconnectedness. The result is a new account of Pope's poetic career, and a new assessment of the relationships between writing and life. Pope came to concentrate on writing satire in the last third of his life, but he was also a translator, a textual scholar, a prodigious letter writer, and in the first major phase of his career, a love poet depicting young women in love, such as Sapho, Eloise, the Unfortunate Lady, and Belinda, often focusing on erotic rapture and death. From about 1728 until his death in 1744, he no longer wrote this kind of poetry, but instead turned his creative energies toward passionate social and political satire, fashioning a poetic persona of the satirist as powerful, wide-ranging, virtually sacred raptor. Hence, Pope's poetic career moves in a direction from portraying passive subjects, usually young women under the influence of erotic rapture, to exercising his own poetic power of depicting the active force of rapture as satiric predation. The transition from poet of rapturous, death-haunted female love to poet of avenging satirical rapture coincided significantly with his involvement with, and rejection by, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu sometime in the 1720s. Though Pope is largely remembered for his satire, this essay takes a more holistic view of Pope's life and work, drawing attention to the ways that his translation, scholarship, and especially love poetry contributed directly to his satiric practice later in life. This essay not only brings Pope's biography to bear on his poetic artistry, but also unites what has often been seen as disparate parts of Pope's career by seeing him first and foremost as a poet of rapture.
Robert A. Erickson; Pope and Rapture. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 January 2016; 40 (1): 1–31. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-3337887
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