Alexander Pope is one of the most renowned British poets who glorified his native land and his people. He is specifically famous for the use of heroic themes and imagery that made his works successful during his lifetime and still popular in modern times (Fairer and Gerrard 114). One of his most famous poems is Windsor Forest that is a combination of pastoral themes, heroic topics, and historical events that are quite veiled with the help of metaphors and allusions. The poem can be seen as the poet’s response to the Peace Treaty of Utrecht of 1712 that put the war between major European powers to an end (Fairer and Gerrard 115).
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This work is mainly seen as a manifestation of Pope’s remarkable patriotic zeal and inclinations of peace in the world. However, although it is covert and veiled by outstanding literary devices, the poem can be regarded as the justification for the imperial rule of Great Britain.
The Poet, the Poem, and the Place
First, it is necessary to consider the background of the poem, as well as Pope’s life events. The poet started writing this literary piece in 1707, but it was mainly concerned with the place rather than the entire society (Fairer and Gerrard 115). In the 1712 version, Pope used his work as a draft for a larger historical context. Windsor Forest was a hunting ground of the royal family that saw various conflicts and some years of prosperity and peace.
Pope chose Windsor Forest to express his ideas regarding the events that took place in 1712 when major powers tried to agree on the future of the continent. The metaphor was rather obvious since big hunters (royal families) were chasing their prey in the forest in previous centuries. Pope’s contemporaries hunted each other as well as new territories, which could ensure economic growth and a leading position in the international arena.
The poet lived near this landmark at a certain period of his life, so he knows the place very well. The place inspired him to glorify the land and its rulers, but the poet also depicted some wrongs of the past of his country (Fairer and Gerrard 115). The author stated that wars and bloodsheds could hardly be explained, especially when people were given such beautiful sites. The poet described Great Britain of the past:
Not thus the land appear’d in ages past,
A dreary desert, and a gloomy waste,
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done in as little as
To savage beasts and savage laws a prey,
And Kings more furious and severe than they. (Pope 44-46)
These images are contrasted to the display of the peaceful forest, as seen by the poet. Pope intermingled the descriptions of natural beauty with the gods of the past who ruled people (Gordon 160). The gods of antiquity are utilized to allude to such rulers as Queen Anne, who was childless and could be depicted as Diane, a virgin goddess. The deeds of the rulers of the country were revealed as almost always beneficial for the nation and other peoples.
Struggle for Fairness or Imperial Interests?
Alexander Pope reflected on the outcomes of the War of the Spanish Succession, but he also shed light on the underlying reasons for the conflict. Some readers and critics emphasize that the author celebrated the peace treaty that meant the end of deaths and destruction (Gordon 160). It is generally believed that the poet was optimistic about the future of the country, the region, as well as the entire world due to his belief in the wise rule of British kings: “Rich Industry sits smiling on the plains, / And peace and plenty tell, a Stuart reigns” (Pope 41-42). The poem is, hence, viewed as a hymn to peace and wisdom, as well as the prosperous future of British people.
Despite the fact that these sentiments are present in the poem, Alexander Pope is unable to hide the imperial dreams he seems to cherish. The poet claimed that all other rulers were tyrants who cared about their own interests while British kings and queens focused on development and progress. It is impossible to ignore such ideas present in the work as the fair reign of British rulers who can bring peace to the New World and Europe:
The time shall come, when, free as seas or wind,
The unbounded Thames shall flow for all mankind,
Whole nations enter with each swelling tide,
And seas but join the regions they divide. (Pope 397-400)
At the same time, Pope did not mention that the war was initiated by European royal families, including or rather led by the British Queen. The war was an attempt to prevent the empowerment of Spain and France, which was the primary national interest of the British empire that tried to seize control over colonies (Gordon 160). Imperial wars were concealed behind the need to eliminate tyranny and help nations to advance.
On balance, it is possible to state that Alexander Pope created a picturesque view of the world map and the historical path of his native land. The poet used magnificent imagery and bright allusions to describe the events of the past and present. He also tried to emphasize the role British rulers played in the development of other nations and peoples was positive. The author glorified the wisdom of British kings and queens, although he admitted that wars and conflicts were an indispensable part of the human being. The war was largely justified by Pope, a view that is often supported these days, but these imperial sentiments should never be accepted in the modern world. Therefore, it is essential to concentrate on the imagery of war rather than the fair rule when discussing this outstanding literary masterpiece.
Fairer, David, and Christine Gerrard. Eighteenth-Century Poetry: An Annotated Anthology. 3rd ed., John Wiley & Sons, 2014.
Gordon, Ian Robert Fraser. A Preface to Pope. 2nd ed., Taylor And Francis, 2017.
Pope, Alexander. “Windsor Forest.” Bartleby, 2015. Web.