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Eloisa to Abelard is a verse epistle by Alexander Pope that was published in and based on a well-known Mediaeval story. Itself an imitation of a Latin poetic genre, its immediate fame resulted in a large number of English imitations throughout the rest of the century and other poems more loosely based on its themes thereafter. Translations of varying levels of faithfulness appeared across Europe, starting in the s and reaching a peak towards the end of the 18th century and the start of the 19th.
These were in the vanguard of the shift away from Classicism and towards the primacy given emotion over reason that heralded Romanticism. Artistic depictions of the poem's themes were often reproduced as prints illustrating the poem; there were also paintings in France of the women readers of the amorous correspondence between the lovers.
Such was the poem's popularity that it was reissued in along with the retitled "Verses to the memory of an unfortunate lady'" and several other elegiac poems by different authors. Both then led comparatively successful monastic careers. Years later, Abelard completed the Historia Calamitatum History of misfortunes , cast as a letter of consolation to a friend.
When it fell into Heloise's hands, her passion for him was reawakened and there was an exchange of four letters between them written in an ornate Latin style. In an effort to make sense of their personal tragedy, these explored the nature of human and divine love.
However, their incompatible male and female perspectives made the dialogue painful for both. In Pope's poem, Eloisa confesses to the suppressed love that his letter has reawakened. She recalls their former life together and its violent aftermath, comparing the happy state of "the blameless Vestal" with her own reliving of past passion and sorrow.
The memory of it turns the landscape gloomy "and breathes a browner horror on the woods" line It disturbs the performance of her religious offices, where Abelard's image "steals between my God and me" line But, since relations between them are now impossible, she advises him to distance himself from her memory and looks forward to the release of death when "one kind grave" will reunite them line Pope was born a Roman Catholic and so might be assumed to have an insight into, and a special interest in, the story.
He had, however, a recently published source to inspire him and guide his readers. This was The Letters of Abelard and Heloise: with a particular account of their lives, amours, and misfortune by the poet John Hughes , which was first published in and was to go through many editions in the following century and more. Ah, wretch! Such if there be, who love so long, so well; Let him our sad, our tender story tell; The well-sung woes will soothe my pensive ghost; He best can paint 'em, who can feel 'em most.
Whether this was deliberate or not, some seventeen imitations and parodies of his poem had been written by the end of the century, all but two of them cast as Abelard's reply to Eloisa and written in heroic couplets.
Although Pope's poem provided the main inspiration, and was frequently mentioned by the authors in their prefaces, there was always Hughes' volume with its historical account in the background. In its later editions the dependency between the two was further underlined by the inclusion first of Pope's poem from and then some of the principal responses in following editions.
Over and above such direct imitations, Pope's poem inspired heroic epistles between other couples. Noting its excess of redundant verbiage as compared to Pope's concise style, however, the Monthly Review chided the author for his indiscreet comparison. The genre was to be broadened by two more imitations whose humorous success brought them frequent reprinting. Imitation of lines from Pope's epistle in this context adds a new level of subtlety.
A later work, Eloisa en deshabille, being a new version of that lady's celebrated epistle to Abelard ,  was described at the time as "a profligate parody of Mr Pope's Epistle". It was written in anapaestic measure with frequent disyllabic and trisyllabic rhymes, of which one of the most notorious was. Angelic I thought thee—some spirit ethereal! Nor dream'd that the transports I felt were venereal!
The poem has been ascribed to several authors, of whom Richard Porson was once considered the most likely, although a strong case has also been made for John Matthews.
Where the parodies made fun of the passages they aped, the epistolary imitations echoed Pope's themes and language in order to demonstrate their kinship. Thus Richard Barford ends his poem with a similar sentiment to Pope's, that true lovers will express their kinship with Eloisa and Abelard in similar words:. Each sorrowing lover worn with anguish pale, Trembling shall trace the much-lamented tale.
Grieve to our sorrows, render groan for groan, And by our boundless passion speak their own. Samuel Birch compares the felicity of the blameless youth to the jealous perturbation of one who has experienced passion. Thro' awful glooms, and solemn caves I rove; Where pensive silence, and her meagre train, Breathe their brown horrors o'er the extended Plain, .
Imitation in these cases, as one commentator points out, is far from being plagiarism, but is a valid constituent of the genre. Furthermore, "since an author of an Abelard to Eloisa would presuppose for his readers a thorough knowledge of Pope's poem, the many replies are evidence of the popularity of Eloisa to Abelard and are evidence, also, of its importance as a literary force. One of the reasons for the continued popularity of Eloisa to Abelard was the fact that emotion there was given primacy over reason in a way that heralds later literary trends.
The poem, one critic comments, "makes Pope one of the forerunners of the Romanticists". Amorous melancholy had already been identified as a variety of that emotion by Robert Burton a century before Pope's poem. Melancholy is mentioned in its third line and recurs later, suitably inspired by a Gothic landscape of gloomy forest, overhanging crags, tottering aisles and ancient tombs. Tears at the prospect of parting from the loved one are equally the subject of two English paintings inspired by the poem.
Canst thou forget what tears that moment fell, When, warm in youth, I bade the world farewell? It features a nun rapt in contemplation, her face lit by the grated window above, who is sitting at a table on which are a bible, rosary, skull and hourglass.
By contrast, some French paintings deriving from the poem feature erotic rather than spiritual rapture as their theme. One of the most notorious, Bernard d'Agesci 's Lady Reading the Letters of Heloise and Abelard see above , is contemporary with Kaufmann's tearful scene.
The book slipping from her grasp may well be a translation of Pope's poem, or even one of those compilations which gathered together imitations so as to form an extended correspondence between the lovers. Furthermore, a print of the painting was later used to illustrate the line "What means this tumult in a Vestal's veins" in an edition of the poem, carrying the same message of erotic rapture.
Though the Eloisa of Pope's poem is a more nuanced character, her interpretation will depend on other factors operating at the time of her portrayal. One will be the impression left by secondary literature and particularly by studies based on more authentic documents than those which Pope himself had consulted.
Another, and a strong one, will be the mediation of the very free translations of his poem in the countries to which it travelled. Versions in the last of these, it is true, were hardly consequential. The future Rev. George Wakefield made one as an undergraduate exercise near the start of the s. Wright's Epistola Eloisae Aberlardo followed in but was dismissed as a waste of effort in the Monthly Review.
Turning it back into Latin except as an academic exercise, according to the Monthly Review was a self-defeating exercise. In Europe there was a translation by Johann Joachim Gottlob am Ende —77 , several editions of which were published in Germany from onwards. But when it was sent to Pope himself by the author, he found it inelegant though faithful. This, however, was based on Conti's text rather than translated directly from the English.
Since they were of French origin, interest in the story of Eloise and Abelard there predated that in Britain. These subsequent compilations, taking Ovid's Double Heroides as their model, consist of strings of paired letters furnished by diverse authors that serve as context for translations of Pope's poem not only by Colardeau but subsequent versions as well.
The first volume of this contained a biographical essay and Latin-based versions of the letters, followed in the second by a dialogue between translations of Pope and of French imitations. Contained there among other inclusions, Colardeau's version of Pope is paired with one of the earlier verse epistles in Abelard's name by De Beauchamps. Translations into other Romance languages came much later than in France and demonstrate at times a dependence on the French example.
Once books began to appear from the press, the Inquisition stepped in and banned them. Among these was included the prose rendering by Anne-Marie du Boccage already mentioned.
Between no less than ten appeared in both verse and prose. The first translation was Epistola Eloizy ko Abelardu , tentatively ascribed to Mikhail Kheraskov , which was published five times between The choice of French models, and the fact that the book appeared while the Polish state was in the final throes of the partition crisis, is referable to the politics of national renewal instituted as part of the Polish Enlightenment.
The more popular English treatments of the Eloisa and Abelard story, particularly the poems by Pope and Cawthorn, continued to be reprinted in the opening decades of the 19th century, bringing fresh imitations in their wake. Of two later reworkings, J. Treuwhard's Abelard to Eloisa, a moral and sentimental epistle , was privately printed in The Hughes letters, along with Pope's poem and a selection of imitations, were now beginning to be reprinted in the United States too and also brought poetic responses in their train.
That by Joseph Rodman Drake , written before , is a short lyric in octosyllabics with the message that shared suffering will lead to shared redemption beyond the grave. Though it carries the title "Abelard to Eloise" in a holographic copy,  it was also published without it after his death.
They follow the story of the lovers from courtship to death, and sections 2, 3 and 6 are spoken by Eloisa. Two women also took up the subject later. Christina Rossetti 's "The Convent Threshold" written in is, according to one source, "a thinly disguised retelling of Alexander Pope's Eloisa to Abelard",  although others are more cautious in seeing an influence. The poem is a surging monologue of enlaced rhymes in octosyllables , driving along its theme of leaving earthly passion behind and transmuting it to heavenly love.
It is also a rare example of a woman being allowed her own voice without male intervention. Writing under the assumed name of Walter Lehmann in , she placed two modernistic sonnets, "Eloisa to Abelard" and "Abelard to Eloisa", in a magazine without its male editors realising that the letters of their first lines spelt an offensive message.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Poem by Alexander Pope. Archived from the original on Retrieved Crowe ed. Eloisa en dishabille. London: Printed by J. Young, Seducing the 18th century reader , Ashgate , p. Popii excerpta quaedam: viz.
Tentamen de homine. Tentamen de criticismo. Eloisa Abelardo Eloisa to Abelard. Alexander Pope.
Eloisa to Abelard
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Eliot, T. Frost, R. Hopkins, G. Keats, J. Lawrence, D.