Vanity, Vanity -- All Is Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Instead, it uses mock heroic allusions and meter in the style of Pope's translation of Homeric epic to make the mores and morals of the aristocracy seem absurd. In detailing the efforts of Belinda preparing herself for a party, Pope makes her sound like she is preparing to do battle, with her attendants, little, godlike beings that are pale shadows of great Zeus and Athena:

"Do thou, Crispissa, tend her fav'rite Lock;

Ariel himself shall be the Guard of Shock.

When Belinda plays a card game with the Baron who will eventually deprive her of her hair, the trivial game is portrayed like a conquest of Troy:

The Knave of Diamonds now tries his wily Arts,

And wins (oh shameful Chance!) the Queen of Hearts.

At this, the Blood the Virgin's Cheek forsook,

A livid Paleness spreads o'er all her Look;

Unlike Johnson's satire, instead of directly telling the reader to laugh at Belinda and the absurd things people give importance to in society, Pope acts as though they are so important -- every tiny event has a kind of pitched intensity -- that the reader cannot help but laugh. The concerns of contemporary life, like hair, cards, and tea, seem even smaller compared with the truly grand passions of the ancient classical world. Pope's satire through the use of mock-epic and heroic couplets is more subtle than Johnson's. Johnson takes on political leaders and themes, and suggests that a heroic spirit is needed to elevate England to its former glory; Pope takes the importance given to vain trivialities and face value, and makes them seem even more absurd because of his style. This literary device also has an added benefit for the poet -- since Pope was well-known as a translator of Homer, and used a similar type of meter in translating the Greek, readers would be forced to remember this even greater achievement of Pope's, and would have to know Pope's previous works to fully appreciate the jokes.

All of this suggests that 18th century satire, more so than satire today, depended upon social in-jokes. To appreciate Johnson's satire, one had to know the history of England and the history of the figures who he was satirizing in his work. Pope's work to a greater degree stands on its own, given that the heightened language he uses to discuss a minor social catastrophe (Belinda's loss of her favorite lock of hair) is funny, but the work is likely even funnier if one knew the exact type of epic conventions that he was satirizing, such as allusions to attendant gods and the type of rhyme used by the poet. Either way, these outsider poets, rather than celebrating their relatively poorer status, try to use their knowledge of classical languages and history to make themselves seem like insiders, even though they are critiquing rather than embracing high society and politics. Their mastery of classical forms and knowledge, as well as contemporary mores and society elevates their own status as poets and also illustrates the vanity of a time which invariably falls short in comparison to the celebrated Greek and Roman age, whose values were held so dearly by these authors and their literary and social contemporaries.

Works Cited

"Alexander Pope." Books and Writers. April 29, 2009. http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/apope.htm

Johnson, Samuel. The Vanity of Human Wishes. Full e-text available April 29, 2009 at http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rbear/johnson.html

"Juvenalian satire." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 29 Apr.

2009 .

"Samuel Johnson." Books and Writers. April 29, 2009. http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/samuelj.htm

Pope. Alexander. The Rape of the Lock. Full e-text available April 29, 2009 at http://poetry.eserver.org/rape-of-the-lock.html

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

"Alexander Pope." Books and Writers. April 29, 2009. http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/apope.htm

Johnson, Samuel. The Vanity of Human Wishes. Full e-text available April 29, 2009 at http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rbear/johnson.html

"Juvenalian satire." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 29 Apr.

2009 .

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