Verse > Alexander Pope > Complete Poetical Works
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Alexander Pope (1688–1744).  Complete Poetical Works.  1903.
 
Paraphrases from Chaucer
The Temple of Fame
 
          Pope asserted that this poem was composed in 1711. Its date of publication is indicated by a letter from Pope to Martha Blount, written in 1714, in which he speaks of it as ‘just out.’ Eventually it was classed by the poet as a ‘juvenile poem’ among the earlier translations and imitations. This Advertisement was prefixed:—

          The hint of the following piece was taken from Chaucer’s House of Fame. The design is in a manner entirely altered; the descriptions and most of the particular thoughts my own: yet I could not suffer it to be printed without this acknowledgment. The reader who would compare this with Chaucer, may begin with his third Book of Fame, there being nothing in the two first books that answers to their title.

IN that soft season, when descending showers
Call forth the greens, and wake the rising flowers,
When opening buds salute the welcome day,
And earth relenting feels the genial ray;
As balmy sleep had charm’d my cares to rest,        5
And love itself was banish’d from my breast,
(What time the morn mysterious visions brings,
While purer slumbers spread their golden wings)
A train of phantoms in wild order rose,
And join’d, this intellectual scene compose.        10
  I stood, methought, betwixt earth, seas, and skies,
The whole Creation open to my eyes;
In air self-balanced hung the globe below,
Where mountains rise and circling oceans flow;
Here naked rocks and empty wastes were seen,        15
There towery cities, and the forests green;
Here sailing ships delight the wand’ring eyes,
There trees and intermingled temples rise:
Now a clear sun the shining scene displays,
The transient landscape now in clouds decays.        20
  O’er the wide prospect as I gazed around,
Sudden I heard a wild promiscuous sound,
Like broken thunders that at distance roar,
Or billows murm’ring on the hollow shore:
Then gazing up, a glorious Pile beheld,        25
Whose tow’ring summit ambient clouds conceal’d;
High on a rock of ice the structure lay,
Steep its ascent, and slipp’ry was the way;
The wondrous rock like Parian marble shone,
And seem’d, to distant sight, of solid stone.        30
Inscriptions here of various names I view’d,
The greater part by hostile time subdued;
Yet wide was spread their fame in ages past,
And poets once had promis’d they should last.
Some fresh engraved appear’d of wits renown’d;        35
I look’d again, nor could their trace be found.
Critics I saw, that other names deface,
And fix their own with labour, in their place:
Their own, like others, soon their place resign’d,
Or disappear’d and left the first behind.        40
Nor was the work impair’d by storms alone,
But felt th’ approaches of too warm a sun;
For Fame, impatient of extremes, decays
Not more by envy than excess of praise.
Yet part no injuries of Heav’n could feel,        45
Like crystal faithful to the graving steel:
The rock’s high summit, in the temple’s shade,
Nor heat could melt, nor beating storm invade.
Their names inscribed unnumber’d ages past
From Time’s first birth, with Time itself shall last:        50
These ever new, nor subject to decays,
Spread, and grow brighter with the length of days.
  So Zembla’s rocks (the beauteous work of frost)
Rise white in air, and glitter o’er the coast;
Pale suns, unfelt, at distance roll away,        55
And on th’ impassive ice the lightnings play;
Eternal snows the growing mass supply,
Till the bright mountains prop th’ incumbent sky:
As Atlas fix’d, each hoary pile appears,
The gather’d winter of a thousand years.        60
  On this foundation Fame’s high temple stands;
Stupendous pile! not rear’d by mortal hands.
Whate’er proud Rome or artful Greece beheld,
Or elder Babylon, its frame excell’d.
Four faces had the dome, and ev’ry face        65
Of various structure, but of equal grace:
Four brazen gates, on columns lifted high,
Salute the diff’rent quarters of the sky.
Here fabled Chiefs in darker ages born,
Or Worthies old whom Arms or Arts adorn,        70
Who cities raised or tamed a monstrous race,
The walls in venerable order grace:
Heroes in animated marble frown,
And Legislators seem to think in stone.
  Westward, a sumptuous frontispiece appear’d,        75
On Doric pillars of white marble rear’d,
Crown’d with an architrave of antique mould,
And sculpture rising on the roughen’d gold.
In shaggy spoils here Theseus was beheld,
And Perseus dreadful with Minerva’s shield:        80
There great Alcides, stooping with his toil,
Rests on his club, and holds th’ Hesperian spoil:
Here Orpheus sings; trees moving to the sound
Start from their roots, and form a shade around:
Amphion there the loud creating lyre        85
Strikes, and beholds a sudden Thebes aspire;
Cithæron’s echoes answer to his call,
And half the mountain rolls into a wall:
There might you see the length’ning spires ascend,
The domes swell up, and widening arches bend,        90
The growing towers, like exhalations, rise,
And the huge columns heave into the skies.
  The eastern front was glorious to behold,
With diamond flaming, and barbaric gold.
There Ninus shone, who spread th’ Assyrian fame,        95
And the great founder of the Persian name;
There in long robes the royal Magi stand,
Grave Zoroaster waves the circling wand;
The sage Chaldeans robed in white appear’d,
And Brahmans, deep in desert woods revered.        100
These stopp’d the moon, and call’ th’ unbodied shades
To midnight banquets in the glimm’ring glades;
Made visionary fabrics round them rise,
And airy spectres skim before their eyes;
Of talismans and sigils knew the power,        105
And careful watch’d the planetary hour.
Superior, and alone, Confucius stood,
Who taught that useful science,—to be good.
  But on the south, a long majestic race
Of Egypt’s priests the gilded niches grace,        110
Who measured earth, described the starry spheres,
And traced the long records of Lunar Years.
High on his car Sesostris struck my view,
Whom sceptred slaves in golden harness drew:
His hands a bow and pointed jav’lin hold;        115
His giant limbs are arm’d in scales of gold.
Between the statues obelisks were placed,
And the learn’d walls with hieroglyphics graced.
  Of Gothic structure was the northern side,
O’erwrought with ornaments of barb’rous pride.        120
There huge Colosses rose, with trophies crown’d,
And Runic characters were graved around;
There sat Zamolxis with erected eyes,
And Odin here in mimic trances dies.
There on rude iron columns, smear’d with blood,        125
The horrid forms of Scythian Heroes stood,
Druids and Bards (their once loud harps unstrung)
And youths that died to be by poets sung.
These and a thousand more of doubtful fame,
To whom old fables gave a lasting name,        130
In ranks adorn’d the temple’s outward face;
The wall in lustre and effect like glass,
Which o’er each object casting various dyes,
Enlarges some, and others multiplies;
Nor void of emblem was the mystic wall,        135
For thus romantic Fame increases all.
  The temple shakes, the sounding gates unfold,
Wide vaults appear, and roofs of fretted gold,
Rais’d on a thousand pillars, wreath’d around
With laurel foliage, and with eagles crown’d.        140
Of bright transparent beryl were the walls,
The friezes gold, and gold the capitals;
As Heav’n with stars, the roof with jewels glows,
And ever-living lamps depend in rows.
Full in the passage of each spacious gate        145
The sage Historians in white garments wait;
Graved o’er their seats the from of Time was found,
His scythe revers’d, and both his pinions bound.
Within stood Heroes, who thro’ loud alarms
In bloody fields pursued renown in arms.        150
High on a throne, with trophies charged, I view’d
The youth that all things but himself subdued;
His feet on sceptres and tiaras trod,
And his horn’d head belied the Libyan God,
There Cæsar, graced with both Minervas, shone;        155
Cæsar, the world’s great master, and his own;
Unmov’d, superior still in ev’ry state,
And scarce detested in his country’s fate.
But chief were those who not for empire fought,
But with their toils their people’s safety bought:        160
High o’er the rest Epaminondas stood;
Timoleon, glorious in his brother’s blood;
Bold Scipio, saviour of the Roman state,
Great in his triumphs, in retirement great;
And wise Aurelius, in whose well-taught mind        165
With boundless power unbounded virtue join’d,
His own strict judge, and patron of mankind.
  Much-suff’ring heroes next their honours claim.
Those of less noisy, and less guilty fame,
Fair Virtue’s silent train: supreme of these        170
Here ever shines the godlike Socrates:
He whom ungrateful Athens could expel,
At all times just, but when he sign’d the shell:
Here his abode the martyr’d Phocion claims,
With Agis, not the last of Spartan names:        175
Unconquer’d Cato shows the wound he tore,
And Brutus his ill genius meets no more.
  But in the centre of the hallow’d choir
Six pompous columns o’er the rest aspire:
Around the shrine itself of Fame they stand,        180
Hold the chief honours and the fane command.
High on the first the mighty Homer shone;
Eternal adamant composed his throne;
Father of verse! in holy fillets drest,
His silver beard waved gently o’er his breast;        185
Tho’ blind, a boldness in his looks appears;
In years he seem’d, but not impair’d by years.
The wars of Troy were round the pillar seen;
Here fierce Tydides wounds the Cyprian Queen;
Here Hector, glorious from Patroclus’ fall,        190
Here, dragg’d in triumph round the Trojan wall.
Motion and life did ev’ry part inspire,
Bold was the work, and prov’d the master’s fire:
A strong expression most he seem’d t’ affect,
And here and there disclosed a brave neglect.        195
  A golden column next in rank appear’d,
On which a shrine of purest gold was rear’d;
Finish’d the whole, and labour’d ev’ry part,
With patient touches of unwearied art.
The Mantuan there in sober triumph sate,        200
Composed his posture, and his look sedate;
On Homer still he fix’d a rev’rend eye,
Great without pride, in modest majesty.
In living sculpture on the sides were spread
The Latian wars, and haughty Turnus dead;        205
Eliza stretch’d upon the funeral pyre;
Æneas bending with his aged sire:
Troy flamed in burning gold, and o’er the throne
‘Arms and the man’ in golden ciphers shone.
  Four swans sustain a car of silver bright,        210
With heads advanced, and pinions stretch’d for flight:
Here, like some furious prophet, Pindar rode,
And seem’d to labour with th’ inspiring God.
Across the harp a careless hand he flings,
And boldly sinks into the sounding strings.        215
The figured games of Greece the column grace:
Neptune and Jove survey the rapid race;
The youths hang o’er the chariots as they run;
The fiery steeds seem starting from the stone;
The champions in distorted postures threat;        220
And all appear’d irregularly great.
  Here happy Horace tuned th’ Ausonian lyre
To sweeter sounds, and temper’d Pindar’s fire:
Pleas’d with Alcæus’ manly rage t’ infuse
The softer spirit of the Sapphic Muse.        225
The polish’d pillar diff’rent sculptures grace;
A work outlasting monumental brass.
Here smiling loves and bacchanals appear,
The Julian star, and great Augustus here;
The doves, that round the infant poet spread        230
Myrtles and bays, hung hov’ring o’er his head.
  Here, in a shrine that cast a dazzling light,
Sate fix’d in thought the mighty Stagyrite;
His sacred head a radiant Zodiac crown’d,
And various animals his sides surround:        235
His piercing eyes, erect, appear to view
Superior worlds, and look all Nature thro’.
  With equal rays immortal Tully shone;
The Roman rostra deck’d the consul’s throne;
Gath’ring his flowing robe, he seem’d to stand        240
In act to speak, and graceful stretch’d his hand;
Behind, Rome’s Genius waits with civic crowns,
And the great father of his country owns.
  These massy columns in a circle rise,
O’er which a pompous dome invades the skies;        245
Scarce to the top I stretch’d my aching sight,
So large it spread, and swell’d to such a height.
Full in the midst proud Fame’s imperial seat
With jewels blazed, magnificently great;
The vivid em’ralds there revive the eye,        250
The flaming rubies show their sanguine dye,
Bright azure rays from lively sapphires stream,
And lucid amber casts a golden gleam.
With various-colour’d light the pavement shone,
And all on fire appear’d the glowing throne;        255
The dome’s high arch reflects the mingled blaze,
And forms a rainbow of alternate rays.
When on the Goddess first I cast my sight,
Scarce seem’d her stature of a cubit’s height;
But swell’d to larger size, the more I gazed,        260
Till to the roof her tow’ring front she rais’d.
With her, the temple ev’ry moment grew,
And ampler vistas open’d to my view:
Upward the columns shoot, the roofs ascend,
And arches widen, and long aisles extend.        265
Such was her form, as ancient bards have told;
Wings raise her arms, and wings her feet infold;
A thousand busy tongues the Goddess bears,
A thousand open eyes, and thousand list’ning ears.
Beneath, in order ranged, the tuneful Nine        270
(Her virgin handmaids) still attend the shrine;
With eyes on Fame for ever fix’d, they sing;
For Fame they raise the voice, and tune the string;
With Time’s first birth began the heav’nly lays,
And last, eternal, thro’ the length of days.        275
  Around these wonders as I cast a look,
The trumpet sounded, and the temple shook,
And all the nations summon’d at the call,
From diff’rent quarters fill the crowded hall.
Of various tongues the mingled sounds were heard;        280
In various garbs promiscuous throngs appear’d:
Thick as the bees, that with the spring renew
Their flowery toils, and sip the fragrant dew,
When the wing’d colonies first tempt the sky,
O’er dusky fields and shaded waters fly,        285
Or, settling, seize the sweets the blossoms yield,
And a low murmur runs along the field.
Millions of suppliant crowds the shrine attend,
And all degrees before the Goddess bend;
The poor, the rich, the valiant, and the sage,        290
And boasting youth, and narrative old age.
Their pleas were diff’rent, their request the same;
For good and bad alike are fond of Fame.
Some she disgraced and some with honours crown’d;
Unlike successes equal merits found.        295
Thus her blind sister, fickle Fortune, reigns,
And, undiscerning, scatters crowns and chains.
  First at the shrine the learned world appear,
And to the Goddess thus prefer their prayer:
‘Long have we sought t’ instruct and please mankind,        300
With studies pale, with midnight-vigils blind;
But thank’d by few, rewarded yet by none,
We here appeal to thy superior throne:
On Wit and Learning the just prize bestow,
For Fame is all we must expect below.’        305
  The Goddess heard, and bade the Muses raise
The golden trumpet of eternal praise:
From pole to pole the winds diffuse the sound,
That fills the circuit of the world around;
Not all at once, as thunder breaks the cloud,        310
The notes at first were rather sweet than loud;
By just degrees they every moment rise,
Fill the wide earth, and gain upon the skies.
At every breath were balmy odours shed,
Which still grew sweeter as they wider spread;        315
Less fragrant scents th’ unfolding rose exhales,
Or spices breathing in Arabian gales.
  Next these the good and just, an awful train,
Thus on their knees address the sacred fane:
‘Since living virtue is with envy curs’d,        320
And the best men are treated like the worst,
Do thou, just Goddess, call our merits forth,
And give each deed th’ exact intrinsic worth.’
‘Not with bare justice shall your act be crown’d
(Said Fame), but high above desert renown’d:        325
Let fuller notes th’ applauding world amaze,
And the loud clarion labour in your praise.’
  This band dismiss’d, behold another crowd
Preferr’d the same request, and lowly bow’d;
The constant tenor of whose well-spent days        330
No less deserv’d a just return of praise.
But straight the direful trump of Slander sounds;
Thro’ the big dome the doubling thunder bounds;
Loud as the burst of cannon rends the skies,
The dire report thro’ every region flies,        335
In every ear incessant rumours rung,
And gath’ring scandals grew on every tongue.
From the black trumpet’s rusty concave broke
Sulphureous flames, and clouds of rolling smoke:
The pois’nous vapour blots the purple skies,        340
And withers all before it as it flies.
  A troop came next, who crowns and armour wore,
And proud defiance in their looks they bore:
‘For thee (they cried) amidst alarms and strife,
We sail’d in tempests down the stream of life;        345
For thee whole nations fill’d with flames and blood,
And swam to Empire thro’ the purple flood:
Those ills we dared, thy inspiration own;
What virtue seem’d, was done for thee alone.’
‘Ambitious fools!’ (the Queen replied, and frown’d)        350
‘Be all your acts in dark oblivion drown’d;
There sleep forgot, with mighty tyrants gone,
Your statues moulder’d, and your names unknown!’
A sudden cloud straight snatch’d them from my sight,
And each majestic phantom sunk in night.        355
  Then came the smallest tribe I yet had seen;
Plain was their dress, and modest was their mien:
‘Great Idol of mankind! we neither claim
The praise of Merit, nor aspire to Fame!
But safe in deserts from th’ applause of men,        360
Would die unheard of, as we liv’d unseen;
’T is all we beg thee, to conceal from sight
Those acts of goodness which themselves requite.
O let us still the secret joy partake,
To follow Virtue ev’n for Virtue’s sake.’        365
  ‘And live there men who slight immortal fame?
Who then with incense shall adore our name?
But, mortals! know, ’t is still our greatest pride
To blaze those virtues which the good would hide.
Rise! Muses, rise! add all your tuneful breath;        370
These must not sleep in darkness and in death.’
She said: in air the trembling music floats,
And on the winds triumphant swell the notes;
So soft, tho’ high, so loud, and yet so clear,
Ev’n list’ning angels lean’d from Heav’n to hear:        375
To farthest shores th’ ambrosial spirit flies,
Sweet to the world, and grateful to the skies.
  Next these a youthful train their vows express’d,
With feathers crown’d, with gay embroid’ry dress’d:
‘Hither’ they cried ‘direct your eyes, and see        380
The men of pleasure, dress, and gallantry.
Ours is the place at banquets, balls, and plays,
Sprightly our nights, polite are all our days;
Courts we frequent, where ’t is our pleasing care
To pay due visits, and address the Fair;        385
In fact, ’t is true, no nymph we could persuade,
But still in fancy vanquish’d ev’ry maid;
Of unknown Duchesses lewd tales we tell,
Yet, would the world believe us, all were well;
The joy let others have, and we the name,        390
And what we want in pleasure, grant in fame.’
  The Queen assents: the trumpet rends the skies,
And at each blast a lady’s honour dies.
  Pleas’d with the strange success, vast numbers prest
Around the shrine, and made the same request:        395
‘What you’ she cried, ‘unlearn’d in arts to please,
Slaves to yourselves, and ev’n fatigued with ease,
Who lose a length of undeserving days,
Would you usurp the lover’s dear-bought praise?
To just contempt, ye vain pretenders, fall,        400
The people’s fable, and the scorn of all.’
Straight the black clarion sends a horrid sound,
Loud laughs burst out, and bitter scoffs fly round;
Whispers are heard, with taunts reviling loud,
And scornful hisses run thro’ all the crowd.        405
  Last, those who boast of mighty mischiefs done,
Enslave their country, or usurp a throne;
Or who their glory’s dire foundation laid
On sov’reigns ruin’d, or on friends betray’d;
Calm, thinking villains, whom no faith could fix,        410
Of crooked counsels and dark politics;
Of these a gloomy tribe surround the throne,
And beg to make th’ immortal treasons known.
The trumpet roars, long flaky flames expire,
With sparks that seem’d to set the world on fire.        415
At the dread sound pale mortals stood aghast,
And startled Nature trembled with the blast.
  This having heard and seen, some Power unknown
Straight changed the scene, and snatch’d me from the throne.
Before my view appear’d a structure fair,        420
Its site uncertain, if in earth or air;
With rapid motion turn’d the mansion round;
With ceaseless noise the ringing walls resound:
Not less in number were the spacious doors
Than leaves on trees, or sands upon the shores;        425
Which still unfolded stand, by night, by day,
Pervious to winds, and open every way.
As flames by nature to the skies ascend,
As weighty bodies to the centre tend,
As to the sea returning rivers roll,        430
And the touch’d needle trembles to the pole,
Hither, as to their proper place, arise
All various sounds from earth, and seas, and skies,
Or spoke aloud, or whisper’d in the ear;
Nor ever silence, rest, or peace is here.        435
As on the smooth expanse of crystal lakes
The sinking stone at first a circle makes;
The trembling surface by the motion stirr’d,
Spreads in a second circle, then a third;
Wide, and more wide, the floating rings advance,        440
Fill all the wat’ry plain, and to the margin dance:
Thus every voice and sound, when first they break,
On neighb’ring air a soft impression make;
Another ambient circle then they move;
That in its turn, impels the next above;        445
Thro’ undulating air the sounds are sent,
And spread o’er all the fluid element.
  There various news I heard of love and strife,
Of peace and war, health, sickness, death, and life,
Of loss and gain, of famine, and of store,        450
Of storms at sea, and travels on the shore,
Of prodigies, and portents seen in air,
Of fires and plagues, and stars with blazing hair,
Of turns of fortune, changes in the state,
The fall of fav’rites, projects of the great,        455
Of old mismanagements, taxations new;
All neither wholly false, nor wholly true.
  Above, below, without, within, around,
Confused, unnumber’d multitudes are found,
Who pass, repass, advance, and glide away,        460
Hosts rais’d by fear, and phantoms of a day:
Astrologers, that future fates foreshew,
Projectors, quacks, and lawyers not a few;
And priests, and party zealots, numerous bands,
With home-born lies or tales from foreign lands;        465
Each talk’d aloud, or in some secret place,
And wild impatience stared in ev’ry face.
The flying rumours gather’d as they roll’d,
Scarce any tale was sooner heard than told;
And all who told it added something new,        470
And all who heard it made enlargements too;
In ev’ry ear it spread, on ev’ry tongue it grew.
Thus flying east and west, and north and south,
News travel’d with increase from mouth to mouth.
So from a spark that, kindled first by chance,        475
With gath’ring force the quick’ning flames advance;
Till to the clouds their curling heads aspire,
And towers and temples sink in floods of fire.
  When thus ripe lies are to perfection sprung,
Full grown, and fit to grace a mortal tongue,        480
Thro’ thousand vents, impatient, forth they flow,
And rush in millions on the world below.
Fame sits aloft, and points them out their course,
Their date determines, and prescribes their force;
Some to remain, and some to perish soon,        485
Or wane and wax alternate like the moon.
Around, a thousand winged wonders fly,
Borne by the trumpet’s blast, and scatter’d thro’ the sky.
  There, at one passage, oft you might survey
A lie and truth contending for the way;        490
And long ’t was doubtful, both so closely pent,
Which first should issue thro’ the narrow vent:
At last agreed, together out they fly,
Inseparable now the truth and lie;
The strict companions are for ever join’d,        495
And this or that unmix’d, no mortal e’er shall find,
  While thus I stood, intent to see and hear,
One came, methought, and whisper’d in my ear:
‘What could thus high thy rash ambition raise?
Art thou, fond youth, a candidate for praise?’        500
  ‘’T is true,’ said I, ‘not void of hopes I came,
For who so fond as youthful bards of Fame?
But few, alas! the casual blessing boast,
So hard to gain, so easy to be lost.
How vain that second life in others’ breath,        505
Th’ estate which wits inherit after death!
Ease, health, and life for this they must resign,
(Unsure the tenure, but how vast the fine!)
The great man’s curse, without the gains, endure,
Be envied, wretched; and be flatter’d, poor;        510
All luckless wits their enemies profest,
And all successful, jealous friends at best.
Nor Fame I slight, nor for her favours call;
She comes unlook’d for, if she comes at all.
But if the purchase costs so dear a price        515
As soothing Folly, or exalting Vice;
Oh! if the Muse must flatter lawless sway,
And follow still where Fortune leads the way;
Or if no basis bear my rising name,
But the fall’n ruins of another’s fame;        520
Then teach me, Heav’n! to scorn the guilty bays;
Drive from my breast that wretched lust of praise;
Unblemish’d let me live or die unknown;
Oh, grant an honest fame, or grant me none!’
 
 
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