November 9, 2012

"Ode on Solitude."

Alexander Pope, 1735:
Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day.
Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mix'd; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please
With meditation.
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown,
Thus unlamented let me die,
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.


Amy said...

sounds like going Galt to me.

chickelit said...

Pretty pastoral for a Pope.

wyo sis said...

Wyoming is close to this ideal.
You'd have to set up some kind of barter system if you want to eat fruits and vegetables, as soon as that happens there goes the neighborhood.

The Farmer said...

Pfft. Real easy to say when you live a life of luxury, Althouse. We're starving to death down here in the trenches. No herds of milk or fields of bread where I'm standing, lady. And in case you haven't heard, Kohl's and JC Penney don't have flocks standing around to make winter coats for my sick children.

But hey, as long as you have your spare iPad.

"Let them read Alexander Pope."

rhhardin said...

You'd have to set up some kind of barter system

How much for the woman?

- Armstrong and Getty speculating on apocalypse barter in today's show

Carl said...

A very swanky lifestyle, that. It would indeed be nice to be so wealthy and healhty that you can own and live off your "few" (probably a dozen or so) acres of productive land -- no mortage! no taxes! no HOA or special assessment! no eminent domain! -- and while away your days in contented reflection, with the perfect health of youth and absence of responsibility for others -- no need for a doctor, plumber, fixer of roofs, car or car mechanic, tax accountant, lawyer, teacher for your children, et cetera, and thus no need to accumulate negotiable money to pay them.

Crunchy Frog said...

Solitude sucks.

Ann Althouse said...

"sounds like going Galt to me"


Ann Althouse said...

"Pfft. Real easy to say when you live a life of luxury, Althouse. We're starving to death down here in the trenches. No herds of milk or fields of bread where I'm standing, lady. And in case you haven't heard, Kohl's and JC Penney don't have flocks standing around to make winter coats for my sick children."

Well, he was writing in his time and place. I challenge you to devise the equivalent way of life in our time and place.

This is something I think about a lot. It is my version — which I call "evolved hippie" — of going Galt.

How could you reduce your place here and now as he was talking about?

Now, I think one reading of the poem is that it's a very sad story of a lonely man, but the first word is: Happy.

Pope portrays the good, happy life as the smallest, least noticeable life. Why is he wrong? The answer can't be: because Althouse has tenure and lives with her husband in a big house in Madison, Wisconsin!

Ann Althouse said...

@Crunchy Frog I know you miss your wife, and my heart goes out to you.

ricpic said...

Hey, You Don't Own That Wetland!

Unhappy the man, who, propertied, believed he was free;
One drop of rain, along came the EPA *poof* unseated he.

The Farmer said...

Sarcasm, Althouse! In reference to the other thread where people were giving you shit for..., never mind. If you have to explain the joke, etc.

pm317 said...

Solitude?! Are you kidding me?

Fun has just begun. Comments everywhere are hilarious. Do you think Romney WH would have all this thrill? Nah. But we may have had more money in our pocket to go to a movie of our choice and get the thrill and tingle up our leg.

Hey, but this is free!

NO, it is not.

edutcher said...

I've been alone and I've been with somebody.

Some of the somebodies weren't very nice and I liked being alone.

Then I found somebody nice.

PS Farmer needs to stop bellyaching about Ann. Go over to Wyblog and read about "Camp Liberty". Wherever you are, chump, you've got it better than they do.

The Farmer said...

Anyway, it seems religious to me. That poem, I mean.

edutcher, again: sarcasm. I was tearing new assholes left and right when people were doing that in the other thread yesterday. You should've been there. You'd've been all, "Look at The Farmer! Look at him go!"

n said...

At the risk of having to consume more humble pie...
I am reminded of Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta's comment that "we are not called to do great things. We are called to do small things with great love."

YoungHegelian said...

Et in Arcadia ego.

But, that being said, I think Mr. Pope, translator of the Iliad & the Odyssey, knew & appreciated his Classics much better than I ever will. Was this poem perhaps an exercise after the manner of Virgil's Georgics?

chickelit said...

The Shirt Of The Contented Man*

A king has an only child and loves him like the apple of his eye. But the prince is always unhappy. He spends entire days on the balcony, looking off into the distance.
"What do you miss?" asks the king, "What is it?"
"I do not know, father." the prince replies: "I do not know."
"Are you in love? If you want some girl, let me know and I'll let you marry her, even if she be the daughter of the most powerful king on earth or even the poorest peasant!" declares the king.
"No father, I'm not in love" says the prince.
The king tries all different ways to distract and entertain the prince: theatre, dance, music, songs, but nothing works, and even the rosy color in his cheeks slowly begins to fade day by day.
The king puts out an edict, and people from all parts of the world convene--educated people: philosophers, doctors and professors. He shows them the prince and demands their advice. They withdraw to think, and then return to the king. "Your Majesty, we have thought, we have read the stars, and here is what you should do. Look for a man who is happy and content in every way, and exchange his shirt for the prince's."
That very same day, the king sends ambassadors throughout the world to find a happy and contented man. They bring a priest back before him:
"Are you happy?" asks the king.
"I am, your Majesty!" the priest says.
"Good. Would you like to be my bishop?" the King says.
Oh, perhaps, your Majesty! the priest replies.
Go away! get out of here! the King scolds: "I seek a happy man, content with his status, not one who wishes to feel better than he is."
The king goes away to wait for another. The ambassadors return, telling him about a neighboring king, who they say is really is happy and content: he has a good and beautiful wife and a lot of children; he has won against all enemies in war, and his country is at peace. Immediately the first king, full of hope, sends his ambassadors to ask the second king about a shirt.

[cont'd below]

chickelit said...

The neighboring king receives the first king's ambassadors, and says:
"Yes, yes, I am content and lack nothing; it's just too bad, that when one has so many things, that one should die and have to leave behind everything! I suffer so much from this thought that I do not sleep at night!." The ambassadors correctly think to return directly.

To vent his despair, the king goes hunting. He shoots at a rabbit and thinks he has it, but the rabbit, limping, runs away. The king keeps after it, following it for a great distance from his entourage. In the midst of the fields, he hears a man's voice singing. The king stops: "One who sings so can not be but happy," and following the song, he slips into a vineyard, and between rows he sees a young man singing while pruning the vines.*
"Good morning, your Majesty!" says the youth. "So early in the countryside?"
"Bless your heart" says the king: "How would you like that I bring you to the capital? You will be my friend."
"Oh, oh, your majesty, no thank you, but I wouldn't even think of it" says the young man. "I wouldn't change places even with the Pope."
"But why, you're such a beautiful young ..." says the king.
"No, I tell you. I'm content, that's all" says the young man.
"At last a happy man!" thinks the king- "Young man, listen: you can do me a favor."
If I can I will, with all my heart, your Majesty" replies the young man.
"Wait one minute" says the king, beside himself with joy, and he runs to find his entourage.
"Come! Come! My son is safe!" cries the king and he brings them the young man.
Bless you, young man- says the king-"I'll give you anything for it, anything you want! But give it to me, give it to me! he implores.
"What sire?" says the youth.
"My son is dying! Only you can save him. Come here, wait!" cries the king. Grabbing the youth, he begins to unbutton the youth's jacket. Suddenly he stops, and then collapses into his arms: the contented man has no shirt!
* The story is attributed to Alexander The Great. I translated this from Italian: link

edutcher said...

Another in Ann's series on love and beauty and cultivating one's garden.

People are happiest in their own niche. The ones who crave power, adulation, money, etc., are never satisfied and never happy.

Ann Althouse said...

"Sarcasm, Althouse! In reference to the other thread where people were giving you shit for..."

Well, it was hard for me to see whether you were one of them or imitating them. My response, then, is for them.

BarrySanders20 said...

Compare Pope's yearning for solitude to the Facebook generation, for whom immediate worldwide publication of intimate thoughts and images -- captured and stored forever in digital memory -- is the essence of modern life.

Living unseen and unknown is so old white western male.

So says I, the Facebook resister, in my internet pseudonym voice.

BarrySanders20 said...

Compare Pope's yearning for solitude to the Facebook generation, for whom immediate worldwide publication of intimate thoughts and images -- captured and stored forever in digital memory -- is the essence of modern life.

Living unseen and unknown is so old white western male.

So says I, the Facebook resister, in my internet pseudonym voice.

AprilApple said...

Sounds good. Until the government regulates it all away.

Lucien said...

Quite the follow-up to yesterday's Candide post about cultivating one's own garden.

But what about John Dunne?

Ali Karim Bey said...


YES, I am crying and crying. I am going to go away and live in solitude.

BUT, before I do, you know very well what I told:

- Chicago HQ was brilliant. Nate Silver had access to their 2008 database (in 2008). NYT worked with them this year (and in 2011).

See the movie, Conspiracy Wannsee Conference Movie. It is a Germany movie and watch the actor Kenneth Branaugh.

He tells his comrades: The machinery is there. Just feed it. Get it done.

The Chicago HQ used the voters as people who had to vote. They used data to identify them. I know. I told you all, I was in Madison, WI, in 2008 (which I helped to deliver).

The verdict: More base votes this year than before. More minorities voted.

Bottom line: GOP "did not get it done"

That's the message: Get it done. Build the machinery, but feed it. Get it done.

Good-bye for now, till 2016, when the next VP (not POTUS, but VPOTUS) for the Democratic Party will be: a woman by the name of Kirsten Gillibrand. GOP will not be able to cancel this year's (LACK) of women votes. AND, the 2016 will increase the gap.

Say hello to the GOP: The Permanent Minority Party.

And, watch for the next VP:

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Sorry, but "bread" no longer rhymes with "shade", so that part of the verse just clangs like hell to modern ears, ruining the effect of the poem.

That part needs to be re-written.

Oh, the sacrilege, but thems the breaks!

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Ali Karim Bey ...

I kind of like that Obama and the Libs now won the mess they have birthed. We'll survive, and even the low information voters will be shown again why we don't give Progressives the keys to the car.

Every couple of decades there needs to be a purging fire, unfortunately.

Kerani said...

On the one hand, I'm with those that point out the romantic impossibility of such a perfect life - getting enough food out of a "few acres of land" is full-time work, and rarely yields iPads, dental care, or printed books. On the other...

There once was a King, laden with the care of his position and power, who looked down from his tower at a peasant laboring in a garden, who sang as he worked. And the King thought to himself, "If only I were that peasant, who has no cares weighing upon him!" And lo! He was! And the peasant sang and was happy. But the day grew warm, and the sun blinding hot, and the peasant stopped singing, and wiped his brow, and wished to be as independent as the sun above, shining so strong and powerful. And lo! He was! The sun shown on, and on, until a patch of cloud drifted past, and covered over the face of the sun. Then the sun thought, "If only I were a cloud, that could come and go across the sky!" And lo! He was! The cloud sailed on and on across the sky, but could only go where the wind took it. Then the cloud thought "If only I were the wind, that drove all things before it!" And lo! He was! And the wind drove the leaves and twigs and dust and clouds and rain across the sky, but was never at rest, and never moved of its own violation, but only at the behest of a greater power. Then the wind thought "If only I were that greater power, which controls the winds and the storms and the lightning and the great stream of stars in the sky!" And lo! He was! And so the wind was the Great Power, which controlled the stars as they shown and the drift of gravity as it moved, and the weight of planets, and the life and death of every virus, and bacteria, and fish, and bird, and seed, and bull, and falcon, and wolf, and child, and woman, and old man, and sun, and solar system across all of creation, as it slid towards the inevitable heat death of the universe. And everything pulled at the Great Power, every fraction of every instant, and the Great Power thought, "If only I were a being that did not struggle and had only joyful things about it," and LO! He was a king in a tower, looking down at a beautiful garden, listening to a happy peasant as he sang. (with apologies to Barry Hughart.)

ricpic said...

Pope's definition of happiness: acceptance of, and even celebration of ones anonymity, ones invisibility, ones insignificance, is applicable where old men are concerned, and only some old men at that. But as a standard of happiness for a young man or a man in the prime of life it borders on the grotesque. In any case it runs counter to the assertiveness without which a younger person stands no chance of participating in the pursuit of happiness at all.

Simon Kenton said...

The story is in Livy, in choice but simple classical Latin - the ambassador sent by the governor to Tarquinius Superbus to enquire how to govern a fractious colony. Tarquin the Proud does not speak, but walks about in the garden, striking off the heads of the tallest poppies with his staff. The ambassador dolt reports the king said naught. "What did Tarquin?" asks the governor. The ambassador describes, the governor groks. Pope's poem is in a long tradition of lot-contentment; this had theological merit as not subjecting you to Pride, and civic merit, as it kept the staff of the governor/state away from your poppy.

William said...

When Napoleon was first exiled to Elba, he tried to colonize an even smaller nearby island. Later, on St Helene, he was given a garden to cultivate. He expanded that garden's perimeter and planted verboten trees and hedges to shield himself from the view of his English captors. Conversely, it he had conquered Russia, I'm sure that he would have discovered compelling reasons to go on and conquer India. Some people's fulfillment lies not in cultivating their garden but in harvesting yours. It's very hard to cultivate your garden when Napoleon is your neighbor.

Quaestor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quaestor said...

Simon Kenton wrote:
The story is in Livy, in choice but simple classical Latin...

The same story was told by Herodotus, but not about an insignificant Etruscan despot. In his Histories Herodotus has an envoy from Periander, tyrant of Corinth, seeking the advice of Thrasybulus, tyrant of Miletus. By way of reply Thrasybulus leads the herald into a filed of grain where the he mows down the tall stalks with his staff.

wildswan said...

Here's three verses from another poem from a another time.
September 1, 1939 by Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.


Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.


Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Robert Cook said...

I'm not a reader or appreciator of poetry, but that poem by Auden is great! (I read the whole thing somewhere else relatively recently; I don't know where or how I came across it.)

Strelnikov said...


Strelnikov said...

Contrast with Roth's drivel referenced in the earlier post. I seriously doubt that excerpt's from "Portnoy's Complaint" will be found widely available in 300 years.