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Sharp Boreas blows, and Nature feels decay,
And hears the inexpressive nuptial song
Warton. Ver. 89, &c.] These four last lines allude to the several subjects of the four Pastorals, and to the several scenes of them particularized before in each.
IN IMITATION OF
In reading several passages of the Prophet Isaiah, which foretell the coming of Christ and the felicities attending it, I could not but observe a remarkable parity between many of the thoughts, and those in the Pollio of Virgil. This will not seem surprising, when we reflect, that the Eclogue was taken from a Sibylline prophecy on the same subject. One may judge that Virgil did not copy it line by line, but selected such ideas as best agreed with the nature of pastoral poetry, and disposed them in that manner which served most to beautify his piece. I have endeavoured the same in this imitation of him, though without admitting any thing of my own; since it was written with this particular view, that the reader, by comparing the several thoughts, might see how far the images and descriptions of the Prophet are superior to those of the Poet. But as I fear I have prejudiced them by my management, I shall subjoin the passages of Isaiah, and those of Virgil, under the same disadvantage of a literal translation'.
! As Pope made use of the old translation of Isaiah in the passages which he subjoined, it was thought proper to use the same, and not have recourse to the more accurate and more animated version of Bishop Lowth.
The spuriousness of those Sibylline verses which have been applied to our Saviour, has been so fully demonstrated by many able and judicious critics, that, I imagine, they will not be again adduced as proofs of the truth of the Christian Religion, by any sound and conclusive reasoner. The learned Heyne has discussed this point in his notes on the second eclogue of Virgil, p. 73, v. i.; and he adds an opinion about prophecy in general, too remarkable to be omitted, but of too delicate a nature to be quoted in any words but his own. “Scilicet inter omnes populos, magna imprimis calamitate oppressos, Vaticinia circumferri solent, quæ sive graviora minari, sive lætiora solent polliceri, eaque, necessariâ rerum vicissitudine, meliori. bus aliquando succedentibus temporibus, ferè semper eventum habent. Nullo tamen tempore vaticiniorum insanius fuit studium, quàm sub extrema Reipublicæ Romanæ tempora, primosque imperatores ; cum bellorum civilium calamitates hominum animos terroribus omnis generis agitatos, ad varia portentorum prodigiorum, et vaticiniorum ludibria convertissent. Quascunque autem hoc in genere descriptiones, novæ felicitatis habemus, sive in Orientis sive in Græcis et Romanis poetis, omnes inter se similes sunt : bestiæ ac feræ cicures, serpentes innocui, fruges nullo cultû enatæ, mare placidum, dii presentes in terris, aliaque ejusmodi in omnibus memorantur.” In contradiction to this opinion, the reader is desired to turn to as remarkable a passage at the end of the twenty-first of Bishop Lowth's excellent Lectures on the Hebrew Poetry.--Warton.
Whatever may be thought of the preceding note, the idea of uniting the sacred prophecies and grand imagery of Isaiah, with the mysterious visions and pomp of numbers displayed in the Pollio, thereby combining both sacred and heathen mythology in predicting the coming of the Messiah, is one of the happiest subjects for producing emotions of sublimity, that ever occurred to the mind of a poet; and has been executed with a splendour of language, and a harmony and flow of diction, which give to the grandeur of the subject its full effect. If any proof were wanting, this poem alone would be sufficient to demonstrate, that religious and devotional subjects are not only suitable for poetry, but are most appropriate of all others to exemplify whatever is dignified, impressive, and sublime ;—but it must not on that account be supposed that such subjects are, strictly speaking, more poetical than others, or that there is any peculiar merit (except in a moral view) in the selection of them ; such merit, poetically considered, consisting entirely in the manner in which they are treated, or, in other words, in the genius of the poet ; insomuch that we may safely presume, that had the same idea occurred to, and the same choice been made by any individual of all Pope's contemporaries, he would not have been able to have produced the elevated sensations and striking effect, which we experience from the perusal of this eclogue ; so true is it, that poetry consists in the execution only ; and that if the poet had not, in this instance, infused into his production a full portion of his spirit, the felicity of his choice would have been of no avail ; and the Rape of the Lock, or The Dunciad, although calculated only to inspire emotions of a very inferior kind, might, in point of poetical excellence, have been intitled to a preference. VOL. II.
A SACRED ECLOGUE.
YE Nymphs of Solyma! begin the song:
Rapt into future times, the Bard begun :
Ver. 5. Alluding to Isaiah vi. 6, 7. “ Then flew one of the Seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar ; and he laid it upon my mouth and said, Lo! this hath touched thy lips."-Wakefield.
Ver. 8. A Virgin shall conceive-All crimes shall cease, &c.] Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 6.
“ Jam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna * ;
Jam nova progenies cælo demittitur alto.
Pacatumque reget patriis virtutibus orbem.” “ Now the Virgin returns, now the kingdom of Saturn returns, now a new progeny is sent down from high heaven. By means of thee, whatever reliques of our crimes remain, shall be wiped away, and free the world from perpetual fears. He shall govern the earth in peace, with the virtues of his father.”Isaiah.
Isaiah, ch. vii. ver. 14.—“Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son.
-Ch. ix. ver. 6, 7. “ Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given : the Prince of Peace : of the increase of his government, and of his peace, there shall be no end; Upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order and to establish it, with judgment, and with justice, for ever and ever.”—P..
1 Isaiah, ch. xi. ver. 1.
* Dante says, that Statius was made a Christian by reading this passage in Virgil. See L. Gyı aldu3, p. 534.-Warton.
Ye heav'ns? ! from high the dewy nectar pour,
Ver. 13. Ye heavens !] His original says, “ Drop down ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together.” This is a very noble description of divine grace, shed abroad in the hearts of the faithful, under the gospel dispensation ; and the poet understood all its force, as appears from the two lines preceding these.—Warburton.
Ver. 17. ancient fraud) i. e. the fraud of the serpent.-Warburton.
Ver. 23. See Nature] Pope has been happy in introducing the following circumstance : the prophet says, “ The parched ground shall become a pool ;” our author expresses this idea by saying that the shepherd
shall start amid the thirsty wild to hear
New falls of water murmuring in his ear*. On the other hand, the prophet has been sometimes particular, when Pope has been only general. Lift up thine eyes round about and see ; all they gather themselves together, they come to thee :- -The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the drumedaries of Midian and Ephah : all they from Sheba shall come : they shall bring gold and incense, and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee; the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee f.” In imitating this passage, Pope has omitted the different beasts that in so picturesque a
Ver. 14. And in soft silence shed the kindly show'r !] From Dryden's Don Sebastian.
“ But shed from nature like a kindly show'r."—Stevens. Ver. 23. See Nature hastes, &c.] Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 18.
“At tibi prima, puer, nullo munuscula cultu,
Errantes hederas passim cum baccare tellus,
Ipsa tibi blandos fundent cunabula flores.” “ For thee, Child, shall the earth, without being tilled, produce her early
3 Ch. xv. ver. 4.
2 Isaiah, ch. xlv. ver. 8.
+ Isaiah, ch. Ix, ver. 4. 6, 7.