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A SACRED ECLOGUE.
IN IMITATION OF VIRGIL'S POLLIO.
[This poem was first published in the Spectator, May 14, 1712. Steele wrote to Pope—“I have turned to every verse and chapter, and think you have preserved the sublime heavenly spirit throughout the whole, especially at 'Hark, a glad voice;' and 'The lamb with wolves shall graze.' There is but one line which I think is below the original,
He wipes the tear for ever from our eyes.' You have expressed it with a good and pious but not so exalted and poetical a spirit as the prophet: The Lord God shall wipe away tears from off all faces. If you agree with me in this, alter it by way of paraphrase or otherwise, that when it comes into a volume it may be amended. Your poem is already better than the Pollio.” Steele was hypercritical, but Pope was then young; he was complaisant enough to alter the line (see versé 46), but unquestionably without improving the expression. The finest part of the poem is that at the conclusion, from the 85th verse, where the long race of sons and daughters unborn crowd forward in prophetic vision,
Demanding life, impatient for the skies." Pope has nowhere else a more striking figurative or sublime passage. His lips were truly touched with hallowed fire from the altar.
To the poem was prefixed the following advertisement:
"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 anything 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.”] YE nymphs of Solyma! begin the song:
To heavenly themes sublimer strains belong.
The mossy fountains, and the sylvan shades,
Rapt into future times, the bard begun:
1 “A Virgin shall conceive.-All crimes shall cease,” &c.
“Jam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna;
Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 6. "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."
Isa.. 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.” 2 Isa. ch. xi. ver. 1.
3 Ch. xlv. ver. 8. 4 [“ But shed from Nature like a kindly shower.”—Dryden's Don Sebast.] 5 Ch. xxv. ver. 4.
6 Ch. ix. ver. 7.
See lofty Lebanon 8 his head advance,
7 "At tibi prima, puer, nullo munuscula cultu,
Errantes hederas passim cum baccare tellus,
Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 18. “For thee, O Child, shall the earth, without being tilled, produce her early offerings; winding ivy, mixed with Baccar, and Colocasia, with smiling Acanthus. Thy cradle shall pour forth pleasing flowers about thee.”
Isa. ch. xxxv. ver. 1.—“The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.” Ch. Ix. ver. 13.—“The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir-tree, the pine-tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of thy sanctuary."
8 Isa. ch. xxxv. ver. 2. . 9 Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 46.
“ Aggredere ô magnos, aderit jam tempus, honores,
Cara deûm soboles, magnum Jovis incrementum—" “Ipsi lætitiâ voces ad sidera jactant
Intonsi montes, ipsæ jam carmina rupes,
Ipsa sonant arbusta, Deus, deus ille Menalca!"-Ecl. iv. ver. 62. "Oh come and receive the mighty honours; the time draws nigh, O be loved offspring of the Gods, O great increase of Jove! The uncultivated mountains send shouts of joy to the stars, the very rocks sing in verse, the very shrubs cry out, 'A God, a God!'”.
Isa. ch. xl. ver. 3, 4.—"The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord ! make straight in the desert a high way for our God! Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” Ch.iv. ver. 23.--" Break forth into singing, ye mountains ! O forest, and every tree therein! for the Lord hath redeemed Israel."
10 Isa. ch. xl. ver. 3, 4.
He from thick films shall purge the visual ray,
11 Isa. ch. xliii. ver. 18; ch. xxxv. ver. 5, 6. 12 Ch. xxv. ver. 8.
18 Ch. xl. ver. 11. 14 Ch. ix. ver. 6.
15 Ch. ii. ver. 4. 16 Ch. lxv. ver. 21, 22.
17 Ch. xxxy, ver. 1, 7. 18 Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 28.
“Molli paulatim flavescet campus aristâ,
Incultisque rubens pendebit sentibus uva,
Et duræ quercus sudabunt roscida mella” “The fields shall grow yellow with ripen’d ears, and the red grape shall hang upon the wild brambles, and the hard oaks shall distil honey like dew.”
Isa. ch. XXXV. ver. 7.—“The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water. In the habitation where dragons lay shall
And start, amidst the thirsty wilds to hear
Exalt thy towery head, and lift thy eyes ! be grass, and reeds, and rushes." Ch. lv. ver. 13.—“Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtletree.”
19 Isa. ch. xli. ver. 19, and ch. lv. ver. 13. 90 Ch. xi. ver. 68.
“Ipsæ lacte domum referent distenta capellæ
Occidet."“The goats shall bear to the fold their udders distended with milk: nor shall the herds be afraid of the greatest lions. The serpent shall die, and the herb that conceals poison shall die.”
Isa. ch. xi. ver. 16, &c.—“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.-And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the den of the cockatrice." 23 Isa. ch. lxv. ver. 25.
24 Ch. lx. ver. 1. 25 The thoughts of Isaiah, which compose the latter part of the poem, are wonderfully elevated, and much above those general exclamations of Virgil, which make the loftiest parts of his Pollio :
“Magnus ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo!
-toto surget gens aurea mundo!
Aspice, venturo lætentur ut omnia seclo!” &c.