Tuesday, May 21, 2024

'Those Move Easiest Who Have Learn’d to Dance'

Alexander Pope’s 1716 imitation of Martial’s epigram X.23: 

“At length, my Friend (while Time, with still career,

Wafts on his gentle wing his eightieth year),

Sees his past days safe out of Fortune’s power,

Nor dreads approaching Fate’s uncertain hour;

Reviews his life, and in the strict survey,

Finds not one moment he could wish away,

Pleased with the series of each happy day.

Such, such a man extends his life’s short space,

And from the goal again renews the race;

For he lives twice, who can at once employ

The present well, and e’en the past enjoy.”


Martial and Pope were fierce satirists, gifted at mockery, but this is not a satirical poem. We might even call it gracious. Pope was born on this date, May 21, in 1688. In an effort to “employ / The present well,” I have returned to Pope in recent years, reading his work seriously alongside Swift, whose prose and verse I have never stopped reading. Both exemplify what Pope writes in The Dunciad, Book II:


“True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,

As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.”

1 comment:

Jack said...

Thanks, inspiring - or as you say, gracious.