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Slouching toward Augusta: Alexander Pope's 1736 "Windsor Forest".


A prevailing critical belief holds that Alexander Pope's "Windsor Forest" is an unequivocal celebration of English nationalism and the poet himself is a sympathetic imperialist. Yet such criticism fails to account for the 1736 version of the poem, which, while not significantly textually different from the 1713 version, is published with a number of footnotes detailing both original and alternative verses. The result is a version of "Windsor Forest" that manipulates the generic expectations of the georgic, which, as drawn from Joseph Addison's An Essay on the Georgics, transforms basic georgic tropes of husbandry and transition into structures of political reassessment.


Is the initial 1713 version of Alexander Pope's "Windsor Forest" significantly different from the last version published in the 1736 Works of Alexander Pope? (1) This would seem to be easily answered but is a deceptively simple question with pedagogic and scholarly merit. The only difference between the two versions are the footnotes Pope appended to the later "Windsor Forest" (and nearly every other poem in the Works), a textual strategy enacting Pope's desire to have his poetry "be like the works of Nature, much more to be liked and understood when consider'd in the relation they bear with each other, than when ignorantly look'd upon one by one." (2) Pope's immediate concern was the intertextual relationship between individual poems. However, through the presentation of alternative and original verses, his variorum footnotes to the 1736 version of "Windsor Forest" make clear that Pope is also concerned with the "relation" between the distinct versions of the poem, which are linked not by historical circumstance and context but largely by genre. Pat Rogers has variously described the poem as a "court masque," a "panegyric," and an "eclectic text," (3) but Pope asserts in his 1736 footnotes that "Windsor Forest" is best understood in the context of the georgic and in particular georgic theory as it emerged at the end of the seventeenth century. Indeed, Pope's footnotes indicate that his revisions to "Windsor Forest" mark so distinct a break with the georgic formula developed late in the seventeenth century that the poem can be considered to espouse one ideal through the georgic tropes yet present another ideal through the paratextual manipulation of those tropes.

Recent criticism has sought to locate the emergence and popularity of the georgic as a specifically English genre within the shifting political and agricultural landscape of the Renaissance and has generally agreed that the best post-Renaissance examples are John Denham's "Cooper's Hill" (1642) and James Thomson's "The Seasons" (1730). (4) While Denham's civil-war-inspired topographic poem marks the end of the Renaissance's fascination with the georgic and Thomson's poem marks the short-lived revival of interest, one event in this period particularly contributed to, if not the popularity, then at least the continual presence of the georgic in English poetic circles: the publication of John Dryden's translations of Virgil's works, including his Georgics, in 1697. (5) Perhaps because it was a translation and not an attempt to claim the georgic as a specifically English genre, Dryden's version of Virgil's Georgics offered a poetic model whose themes and structures could become genre-coded responses to social and political change in the first half of the eighteenth century. (6)

Almost as influential was An Essay on the Georgics, a tract appended to Dryden's translation of Virgil's works. (7) While the translation of the Georgics may have offered a poet the subject matter of the georgic as an English deposit of Virgilian wisdom and attitudes, Dryden himself did not provide a coherent or structured theory of the georgic. The onus of formulating a theory of the georgic for English audiences fell to the then-anonymous writer of the Essay, Joseph Addison. Initially comparing Virgil to Hesiod and finding in Virgil's Georgics "all the perfection that can be expected in a short poem written by the greatest flower of his age, when his invention ready, his imagination warm, his judgement settled and all his faculties in their full vigor and maturity," (8) Addison then translates his praise of the poet into praise for his poem. Addison parallels Virgil's personal qualities with his poem's characteristics, for the georgic "addresses itself wholly to the imagination: it is altogether conversant among the fields and woods, and has the most delightful part of nature for its province. It raises in our minds a pleasing variety of scenes and landskips." (9) For Addison, the setting and subject of the georgic engages the full imaginative apparatus of every reader, but his praise of the georgic as a genre that "raises" the landscapes calls to mind Raymond Williams's comment that "a working country is hardly ever a landscape. The very idea of landscape implies separation and observation." (10) The "separation" that Williams suggests is the inherent condition (and myopia) experienced when observing the landscapes is initiated through elision: the removal and omission of the necessary work of the laborers who compose the landscapes. While we may question Addison's sensitivity to his contemporary class structures, Williams's remark penetrates more than the ethical quandary that arises in every viewing of a landscape, be it visual or poetic. The elision that Williams offers as the working principle behind landscapes is also, as Addison's comparison of the two arts tacitly suggests, the working principle behind the georgic poetry that writes landscapes. It is the georgic poet's manipulation of this elision that serves as the essential component of georgic praxis.

Just as landscape descriptions silently elide both the laborers and their labor, so too should the georgic poet, describing and creating the written evocation of that landscape, veil his own labor: "And if there be so much Art in the choice of fit precepts, there is much more requir'd in the Treating of 'em; that they may fall in after each other by a Natural unforc'd Method ... They shou'd all be so finely wrought together into the same Piece, that no coarse Seam may discover where they joyn ... one Colour falls away by such degrees, and another rises so insensibly, that we see the variety, without being able to distinguish the total vanishing of the one from the first appearance of the other." (11) Georgic praxis is also didactic strategy; the poet must choose his "precepts" and teach his audience through image, diction, and stylistics, not a discursive moral treatise. These images, in turn, must appear as the "same Piece." The images are discrete entities, didactically imparting different "precepts" but made to seem whole through subtle and more effectively beautiful transitions worked by the poet. The reader is taught through these transitions, dwelling not on the discordance of differing images but led along as each appears indistinctly until they are seen as part of a greater whole. A georgic poem must be conceived of with an equally effortless grace by both poet and reader, as a seamless, undivided whole. The poet's labor, though displayed in binding together disparate images into a real or apparent continuity, is shrouded in the continuity of images. The poet must work to elide the art and artifice that sustains those transitions, and the success of the poem lies in the failure of the reader to consciously recognize the moments of transition. A lapse in either aspect undermines the poetic experience of georgic poetry; both demand an economy of style that merges poetic skill with moral imperative.

It is this understanding of the georgic that contextualizes my interpretation of both versions of "Windsor Forest." (12) Pope's poems are never static entities, involving as they always did revision, addition, and the manifold activities of textual correction, and "Windsor Forest" proves to be no exception. The editors of the Twickenham edition of Pope's poems have suggested that the poem, first published in 1713, "existed in some form in 1707."(13) Yet in a footnote to the opening of the 1736 edition of "Windsor Forest," Pope narrates a short history of its origins: "This poem was written at two different times: the first part of it, which relates to the country, in the year 1704, at the same time as the Pastorals, the latter part was not added until the year 1713, in which it was published." (14) While Pope's footnote seems merely to add yet another textual possibility to the confused compositional history of the poem, it also shows his understanding of Addison's defense of the trope of continuity as the aesthetic basis of integrity in georgic poetry. If a traditional georgic poem has a mosaic structure--in which each individual image is unique but can be understood only within the larger picture of its unity to other images--then "Windsor Forest" is offered as a work that is essentially fragmented. By drawing on the somewhat muddled publishing history of the poem, Pope inaugurates his 1736 "Windsor Forest" by subverting the georgic trope of continuity. (15)

It is not happenstance that Pope's admission of a divided poem comes in a footnote. James McLaverty has written that Pope "cared for his notes and for paratext in general," (16) and any reader familiar with the phantasmagoric scale of Pope's footnotes to "The Dunciad" understands that his use of paratextual material is always calculated but rarely intended to clarify the main text; his notes continually reshape and reformulate the poem by presenting a parallel narrative to the incipient textual one. (17) Gerard Genette has written of the footnote, "With [it], we reach one--indeed several--of the borders, or absences of borders that surround the eminently transitional field of the paratext." (18) The fundamentally liminal nature of the footnote presents Pope with a literary instrument through which to adapt Addison's vision of the georgic. Pope still engages a type of didactic practice in "Windsor Forest" but not, as his initial introductory footnote attests, through the transitions between discrete images or by "joining" disparate images together. Rather, he will do so through the "transitional field of the paratext." using footnotes as signifiers of marginality inherently irreconcilable with the poem's appearances of congruity and continuity. Pope's poetic subversion will rest on the very edge of limitation and containment, offering the paratext as the site for multiplying, instead of concealing, the poetic fractures that first emerged at the incipient moment of the composition of "Windsor Forest."

While Pope opens "Windsor Forest" with a paratextual marker of division, the text itself begins by easing into georgic imagery:
Thy Forests, Windsor! and thy green Retreats,
At once the Monarch's and the Muse's Seats,
Invite my Lays. Be present, Sylvan Maids!
Unlock your Springs, and open all your Shades.
Granville commands: Your aid, O Muses bring!
What Muse for Granville can refuse to sing?
(lines 1-6)

The appeal to the patron is a constant feature of Virgil's Georgics. Both Virgil and Pope dedicate their poems to their patrons, yet while Virgil suggests that the greater part of his fame is due to his patron, Pope exceeds this benediction by claiming that the very impetus for writing "Windsor Forest" comes less from his own desire than from the dictates of Granville. (19) Those dictates are figured as a succession of imperative verbs: "be present," "unlock," "open," and "bring." The verbs radiate out from the central fact that Granville "commands" the poem's production. Pope's choice of epigraph to the poem, "Non injussa cano" ("My song is no self-appointed task" (20)) is thus neither a show of Pope's Virgilian versatility nor a humble distancing of poet from poem (p. 145). It is instead a refusal to take full responsibility for the poem and thus the "precepts" that may ensue.

The "precepts" most often associated with the poem involve the political background to the story: the reign of Queen Anne and the recently, in 1713, signed Treaty of Utrecht. (21) Pope's admission of having written the poem at two different times most often serves as a starting point for critics, who take it not as a subtle subversion of prevailing georgic theories but as proof that Pope is a pedantic supporter of the peace that ensued after the signing of the treaty. These same critics subsequently see "Windsor Forest" as a "commodified version of the English State, where imperial products are translated into the English countryside in a fantasy of power that makes all the world Britain"; or as poem that is "recreating the myth of Rome first sought by Dryden"; or an "oblique application of the ideology of Virgilian epic to British monarchical ends." (22) Pope thus becomes both classical reanimator and imperialist sycophant, celebrating militarism and imperialism as the twin harbingers of England's prosperous present and glorious future. The poet of nascent British imperialism, Pope supports an English political order that does and ought not remain within the bounds of Windsor Forest; it must instead envelop the world in a governing Pax Britannica whose internal differences and frictions are resolved, or rather dissipated, in a world where
Earth and Water seem to strive again,
Not Chaos-like together crush'd and bruis'd,
But as the World, harmoniously confus'd:
Where Order in Variety we see,
And where, tho' all things differ, all agree.
(lines 12-6)

This "harmonious confusion" is concordia discors, the paradoxical calm produced by the conflict between opposite states in nature. The restive coexistence of these creative forces sustains Britain's global domain. The vibrancy emanating from "Order in Variety" emerges in the least likely places, for
Ev'n the wild heath displays her Purple Dies,
And 'midst the Desart fruitful Fields arise,
That crown'd with tufted Trees and springing Corn,
Like verdant Isles the sable Waste adorn.
(lines 25-8)

It is no coincidence that the political and natural implications of concordia discors find their poetic parallel in Addison's call for georgic poetry "wrought together into the same piece." Neither is it a coincidence that immediately following this passage Pope's imagery goes beyond the harmonizing potential of concordia discors:
Let India boast her Plants, nor envy we
The weeping Amber or the balmy Tree,
While by our Oaks the precious Loads are born
And Realms commanded which those Trees adorn.
(lines 29-32)

Here is an ideal moment for georgic poetics and the presentation of variety without distinguishing the moment of variegation. Pope first expresses the positive, affective activity of concordia discors in the natural world. The other expresses the ostensible glory of both the British navy and its support of English trade. These are two separate "precepts," united by an arboreal thread that ends the first passage (lines 27-8) and becomes the subject of the second. Yet Pope confuses this almost quintessential georgic moment, working on one level to enact "the total vanishing of the one [passage) from the first appearance of the other" but failing to have the precept of the second passage "shew [itself] in the best and most advantageous light" because his diction obfuscates rather than clarifies the exact nature of the trees. (23)

Trees are the subjects of Virgil's second georgic. Virgil's trees are generative, seeking life under human skill and by themselves. (24) Pope's "oaks" are sacrificial, propagating only to immolate themselves, by way of synecdoche, for the English Navy and the future existence of the English fleet. Given that the proleptic synecdoche (which transforms the trees into the English fleet) comes immediately before the line in which the "weeping Amber" and the "balmy Tree" are ostensibly described as "those Trees" that "adorn" commanded "Realms," Pope has left open the possibility of applying the demonstrative not to the Indian trees but to the trees in closest proximity to it: "our Oaks." If indeed it is "our Oaks" which are spoken of as "those Trees," then the realm commanded by the English fleet is not only India but also the country that sets them out to protect and bear "precious Loads," England. The fact that the realm, be it India or now possibly England itself, is "commanded" hearkens back to the same verb encountered some twenty lines before in the opening passage and linked to Pope's own reluctant undertaking of the poem. Just as Granville's command is an unsolicited burden to write poetry, so too might the activity of the English navy on her Indian and English subjects be an excessively onerous obligation to give up their respective "precious Loads": for India, "weeping Amber," and for England, the trees of Windsor Forest. What for Laura Brown is "the fantastic and transforming power of mercantilism" (25) seems in reality to be Pope's unease with and rejection of the imperialist project, manifested in his refusal to take advantage of an ideal, arboreal georgic moment and instead knit a suggestion of dissatisfaction with the national and international scope of England's command.

Not surprisingly, in the 1736 version. Pope also refers his reader to a footnote:
Originally thus
Why should I sing our better suns or air,
Whose vital draughts prevent the leech's care,
While through fresh fields th'enlivening odours breathe,
Or spread with vernal blooms the purple heath?
(lines 25-8)

The poet is self-consciously present in this stanza, and his explicitly marginal presence corroborates what is suggested by the subsequent subtle linguistic shifts. The tension within England's imperial project is the same tension he attaches to writing the poem as a whole. The "leech's care," while an ideal subject for georgic husbandry, is marginally displaced, and appropriate georgic topics become sublimated into a "commanded" imperial impulse. (26) It is not, however, these leeches but the blood they consume that appears repeatedly throughout "Windsor Forest," most prominently within the context of the "Sylvan Chace," the royal hunt that defines Windsor Forest as a forest (line 372). Blood is sustained as a permanent feature of the hunt: "Proud Nimrod first the bloody chase began" (line 61); "Ye vigorous Swains! While Youth ferments your Blood" (line 93); and "Swift Trouts, diversify'd with Crimson Stains" (line 145). The most sublime (and perhaps most Shakespearean) "bloody" moment in the poem occurs at the pinnacle of the "Sylvan Chace":
See! From the Brake the whirring Pheasant springs,
And mounts exulting on triumphant Wings;
Short is his Joy! he feels the fiery Wound
Flutters in Blood and panting beats the Ground.
(lines 111-4)

The "Sylvan Chace" is the enlightened alternative to the human chase begun by "Nimrod," and the "Blood" he pursues is as much human as it is animal. Pope's formulation of England as Windsor Forest holds the hunt as the permanent and enduring activity of the forest, yet the description of the pheasant's death, by combining "jolting inverted metrics" with vivid imagery to prolong what is only momentary, quickly paints the "chace" with a particular hue, since "the language offers more than objective description. Its concurrent elegiac tone exerts a humanizing counter balance which takes us beyond surfaces, which prevents us from viewing the pheasant solely as an object for the sublimation of warlike energies." (27) The sense of wasted beauty sustaining that "elegiac tone" does indeed offer an alternative to the "sublimation of warlike energies." It asks for a sense of disquiet and agitation at the poignant, unnecessary death of so beautiful a creature in so brutal a way and merits a reconsideration of the georgic moments in which the context for so shocking an act is created.

Pope's choice of "see" to open his passage marks this as another moment of georgic propriety. It is another of those moments in which transition connects two separate images. The activity associated with the image before this seems appropriate for a passage dealing with the consequences of hunting, war:
Thus (if small Things we may with great compare)
When Albion sends her eager Sons to War
Some thoughtless Town, with Ease and Plenty blest,
Near, and more near, the closing Lines invest;
Sudden they seize th'amaz'd, defenceless Prize,
And high in Air Britannia's Standard flies.
(lines 105-10)

The implicit comparison between this war and the "Sylvan Chace" negatively contextualizes the georgic propriety of the moment. The English army seems to be the perfect companion to the English navy, implementing on land what the navy does on sea, yet the town they take is "thoughtless" and with "Ease and Plenty blest." Neither particularly ennobles the enemy, and the description of an "amaz'd" and "defenceless" town creates a heightened tension between the excessively unnecessary and cruel British victory and the triumphant flying of Britannia's flag over the conquered town. If this is what the hunt is compared to, it is indeed not the "sublimated energies" of war that we are to see in the pheasant's death. Rather, the supposed civility of the chase that makes prey out of the pheasant is as noble and glorious as an attack on a "defenceless," "thoughtless" town. Indeed, the "eager" sons of war strike a note of jingoistic pride. In a poem in which the poet expresses reluctance as his prevailing attitude and in which the "eager" self-sacrifice of the arboreal sons of Windsor Forest is portrayed as unnecessary theft and unheroic patriotism, an enthusiastic response to militarism does not valorize aggression as a national standard but rather isolates it as the worst trait of national character.

Culminating as it does in a victorious piece of triumphalism in which Britannia's standard is raised, the cumulative effects of this passage continually juxtapose the easy association of England's historical progress with its moral and political one. England's martial progress is frozen in an image of Britannia's standard raised triumphantly over a hapless enemy, yet it is not the only object that raises its head in a sign of triumph. The flying of Britannia's standard echoes another celebratory moment: "Fair Liberty, Britannia's Goddess, rears/Her chearful Head, and leads the golden Years" (note to lines 91-2). Given what Pope makes of the hunt that defines it, this golden age is suggestively tarnished, and he takes the opportunity to provide an alternative footnote to this moment of a golden future, when all that follows will flourish under the reign of Liberty: "Still spread, fair Liberty! thy heavenly wings/Breathe plenty on the fields and fragrance on the springs" (note to lines 91-2). The shift from the relatively benign spreading of wings and bestowing of fragrances to the somewhat sinister cheer whose action anticipates that of the English army against a weaker foe connects the barbarity of the army to the action of liberty; Britannia's goddess Liberty, like Britain's army, is potentially disruptive of a quiet life of "Ease" and "Plenty." Pope's alternative couplet also has an imaginative correlative in lines 112-3: "But when the tainted Gales the Game betray,/Couch'd close he lyes, and meditates the Prey." Not only has Liberty become a far more grotesque and sinister figure, but her ability to bestow freedom in the form of fragrance has decayed to the taint of hunting.

Betrayal lingers here. At the moment of England's transition from "dispeopled Air and Floods/ ... empty Wilds and Woods" (lines 47-8) to the "golden years," no concomitant georgic transition exists. Pope relies on a footnote to express in poetry what he describes politically, emphasizing the inherently fissured and broken nature of both his poem and Britannia's "golden years," refusing to parallel a political image of continuity with his own georgic one. For the first time in "Windsor Forest," Pope's reliance on paratext to offer a different reading of both his own poem and English imperialism suggests something beyond the collision of colonialism and imperialism and a manipulation of Addison's schema for georgic: dissatisfaction with the vision of England as it unfolds under "Liberty."

Pope's understanding of that vision and its consequences comes within a moment when "georgic readjustments are posed in Ovidian terms," (28) the allegory of Lodona and Pan:
A painted Quiver on her Shoulder sounds,
And with her Dart the flying Deer she wounds.
It chanc'd, as eager of the Chace the Maid
Beyond the Forest's verdant Limits stray'd,
Pan saw and lov'd, and burning with Desire
Pursu'd her Flight; her Flight increas'd his Fire
Now fainting, sinking, pale, the Nymph appears;
Now close behind his sounding Steps she hears;
And now his Shadow reach'd her as she run
And melting as in Tears she lay,
In a soft, silver Stream dissolv'd away.
(lines 179-204)

Through Lodona's transformation, Pope presents the crux of his dissatisfaction with the progress of England. Lodona's transformation is caused by two consecutive acts: her excessive love of the chase, imagined by Pope as an ominously repetitive "eagerness," and her subsequent transgression of the boundaries of her forest home. Within the "verdant Limits" of the forest, the hunt is necessary yet civil; she only "wounds" the deer and does not kill it. An excessive love of the hunt, however, causes Lodona to forsake those "verdant Limits" and to stray into an area where the hunter becomes the hunted and the result is a lasting, yet avoidable, transformation. England too, at this moment in the poem, is poised with an excessive love of the hunt that continually prompts its movement beyond the boundaries of Windsor Forest and into new realms, where it has already found and borne "precious Loads." The problem, as Pope writes it, is that to go beyond the "verdant Limits," as Lodona has and England is about to do, is to alter radically the very nature of the object straying. As with Lodona, should England stray beyond the "verdant Limits" of Windsor Forest, it too will dissolve away, not into a stream but into something utterly unrecognizable and, more importantly, something unredeemable. To prevent this metamorphosis, England must remain within the bounds of Windsor Forest. Indeed, it must remain as Windsor Forest.

The alternative to England as Windsor Forest is the England represented by the very object into which the river Loddon, formerly the huntress Lodona, flows, the river Thames. Father Thames is the dominant figure in the second half of "Windsor Forest," the symbol and spokesman for the glory and prosperity of the "golden years" and the figure whose dual role as both sustainer of urban London life and conduit of trade embodies the new golden age. Accordingly, the river Thames addresses the people of England:
"Hail Sacred Peace!" hail long-expected Days
That Thame's glory to the Stars shall raise
No more my Sons shall dye with British Blood
Red Iber's Sands, or Ister's foaming Flood;
Safe on my Shore each unmolested Swain
Shall tend the Flocks, or reap the bearded Grain;
The shady Empire shall retain no Trace
Of War or Blood, but in the Sylvan Chace
And Arm employ'd on Birds and Beasts alone.
(lines 355-72)

The words of the Thames offer opulent rhetorical justification for "Sacred Peace," plumbing the depths of concordia discors to create an England in which that peace is not simply a promise but a way of life. Yet for this magnanimous promise of the future, the ominous homophone "die" and "dye" reminds the reader that, when not engaged in war, the English will be involved in imperialism through trade. By converting the action of dying, which is the most likely if equally most hidden result of British imperialism, to the very commodity those deaths gain, Father Thames engages in a rhetorical game in which commodification serves to underscore the fact that the desire for "dye" will only cause more, and not "no more," to die. If they are not British sons, then the dead will be the sons of England's other "realms."

Father Thames also proclaims what Pope has already made evident: that the "Sylvan Chace" will sublimate "warlike energies" into an apparently harmless and honorable hunt. Given what Pope has made of the chase, however, both on its own terms and in relation to Lodona, the tenor of Thames's speech fails to strike a nerve with the reader who has seen that imperialism is simply an international version of the same native "Sylvan Chace" that creates one of the poem's central conflicts. Through his subtle georgic manipulations, Pope has established the "verdant Limits" of Windsor Forest as the ne plus ultra of English hope and possibility, and now that England has not merely ventured beyond but celebrated the transgressing of those "verdant Limits" it once claimed as its own, Father Thames's harangue holds nothing save extravagant promises of progress, which the marginal narrative of Pope's original "Windsor Forest" has rendered meaningless. Williams has written, "The town and country fiction served to promote superficial comparisons and to prevent real ones." (29) The comparison of England-as-Windsor Forest and England-as-Father Thames is not a superficial comparison, nor is it meant to "prevent real ones." It is instead a comparison conditioned by Pope's manipulations of georgic conditions, meant to reveal the superficiality of the era promised by Father Thames and the stark, heartless reality of an England that has forsaken its past for a dubious future; a reality looking back longingly at a past all too soon forgotten, dwelling in an uncertain present, and dreading the imminent and extolled future.

Although the figure of the swain, who appears "with tears," "industrious," "vigorous," "unmolested," and "listening" may have some claim to it, no figure in "Windsor Forest" is as aware of and subject to the effects of England's progress and the loss it necessarily incurs as the poet (lines 53, 64, 94, 369, 433). We encounter the poet as a primary figure in "Windsor Forest," a hesitant bard whose very reluctance establishes the tone against which so much of the poem's "eagerness" is read. As England continues its long march toward peace and prosperity of a particularly urban type, the "golden years" seem to offer retreat and accommodation as the only proper response of the poet:
Happy the Man whom this bright Court approves,
His Sov'reign favours, and his Country loves;
Happy next him who to these Shades retires,
Whom Nature charms, and whom the Muse inspires
Whom humbler Joys of home-felt Quiet please,
Successive Study, Exercise and Ease.
(lines 235-40)

This call for a renewed poetic presence in the Court comes at a rather conspicuous moment: immediately after Lodona's transformation into the river Loddon. Already recognized as a moment in which the transgression of Windsor Forest's boundaries causes irreversible and fundamental change for herself and for England, the scene is also important for how Lodona formulates her rescue from Pan:
Ah Cynthia! ah--tho' banish'd from thy Train
Let me, O let me to the Shades repair,
My native Shades there weep, and murmur there.
(lines 200-2)

Lodona, ostracized from Cynthia's "Train," calls on not only her "Shades" but also her "native Shades" to escape her destructive transformation. So too does the happy man "whom the Muse inspires" find comfort and refuge, not at Court but through retirement in "native Shades."

The echo of "Shades" that redounds as a site of respite, peace, and sanctuary transforms the supposed secondary happiness of retreat into the foremost, and indeed, only response the poet can make to a new England that is transforming Windsor's trees into navies and happiness into a quality not of personal, individual effort but into political accommodation. Paralleling Lodona, who only moments before allegorically enacts the same retreat, the poet's retirement to the "Shades" becomes his last, best response to an England that willfully and joyously transgresses the "verdant Limits" of its past. The poet's ability to "live past Ages o'er" results in a poem, akin to "Windsor Forest," which hearkens back to and somehow reclaims the past as England's proper future (line 248). It also emboldens the poet, whose dwelling in and recalling of the past makes it an ever-present reality to ceaselessly urge England, and its people, to see what progress has wrought.

Pope names three people for whom the world in the end offered only retreat: "Such was the Life great Scipio once admir'd,/Thus Atticus, and Trumbal thus retir'd" (lines 257-8). Naming these three men does not merely grant historical perspective and validation to Pope's suggestion of retreat; it also relates the concept of retreat to the georgic tropes of "Windsor Forest." Of the three, only William Trumbull was a contemporary of Pope. Trumbull is the man to whom "Windsor Forest" was originally dedicated and the man whose "memory remains inseparable from Windsor Forest and the early history of its composition." (30) Trumbal, the poetic character, thus becomes a simulacrum of Pope's own poetic desire and helps to resurrect the presence, at this moment in which poetic endeavor appears destined for Court approval, of the original "Windsor Forest." The poem is not written over as if a palimpsest but is to be found, and narrated in the margins of the paratext, the poetic equivalent of Windsor's "Shades." To recall that original poem now as he does through the figure of Trumbal is to once again force the poetic, and specifically georgic, issue. The poem in which Pope has chronicled the progress of England from Windsor Forest to "golden years" and in which the happiness of man lies in Court approval must be read in contrast to the original poem that Pope provides on the margins, bringing us to a recognition that it is in that paratext that we are to find both the past lived "o'er" and the site of retreat desired by the poet and needed by England.

It also brings us to the poem's end:
Ev'n I more sweetly pass my careless Days,
Pleas'd in the silent Shade with empty praise
Enough for me, that to the listening Swains
First in these fields I sung the Sylvan Strains.
(lines 431-4)

Pope's place in the England envisioned by Father Thames is in the shade, within the very shadow of the forest he wishes England to be and to have remained. "[C]areless Days" and "empty praise" constitute the poet's lot, entities of a life that remains outside the pale of "Augusta's glitt'ring Spires" (line 377). More evident than Pope's retreat, however, is the georgic parallel inevitably arising from Pope's proclamation that he is satisfied with having "sung the Sylvan Strains." This ending of "Windsor Forest," in which the presumably seamless poetic garment of georgic would find its beginning again, also finds its parallel in Virgil's Georgics, which ends "tityre, te patulae cecini sub tegmine fagi," (31) and his Eclogues, which begins "tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi." (32) The repetition of the line in the two separate works, with Tityrus moving from subject to object, marks a repetitive continuity: Tityrus sings in Virgil's Eclogues, and is sung of in the Georgics. It also institutes a simultaneously cyclical and linear manifestation of the repetition, bringing the reader back to the Eclogues while demonstrating the linear development of the poet's skill in progressing from pastoral to georgic and from silent figure to one who sings.

This same ideal of a renewed, emergent poet is not so much Pope's wish, nor does Pope make the same claim that Virgil does in the first georgic: that his poem is "audacibus coepit" (33) (begun audaciously). (34) Pope claims his lays are "unambitious Strains"; there is neither valorization nor lionization of Pope's art as poet here (line 427). He does, however, follow Virgil's lead and makes his final lines the echo of the first line of his own "Pastorals": "First in these fields I try the Sylvan Strains." (35) Pope makes a slight revision between texts, predicating his "Pastorals" on endeavor and essay ("try") and his final "Windsor Forest" line as the already attempted, past event ("sung"). To make the focus of this final line his past act and not a potentially future one connects the entire passage to the "sung" poem whose presence in "Windsor Forest" is marginal yet continual, as the original "Windsor Forest," "written ... at the same time with the 'Pastorals.'" (36)

These final lines do not then merely echo Pope's "Pastorals." They also echo one of Pope's ubiquitous footnotes, attached to lines 289-90 ("To sing those honors you deserve to wear/And add new luster to her silver star"): "What immediately follows made the conclusion [to the original poem]: Pleas'd in the silent shade with empty praise,/Enough for me that to the list'ning swains/First in these fields I sung the sylvan strains." This footnote has a double status as the end to both the original and 1736 edition of the poem and as a marginal verse. Pope ties his "Windsor Forest" both to its original version as presented in the marginal narrative he has woven as a countertext to his primary text and to the liminal site that narrative now occupies. At the moment in which the georgic sense of seamless transition would most ideally fit, in which the poem should come to an end without hint of transition, Pope does not lead his reader back to his "Pastorals." Neither does he lead them into a cyclical view of his own work nor a linear one of his own poetic development but to the tangential paratext and the narrative incessantly seeking to place the original poem into the forefront of generic expectation. The essential georgic reliance on transition and the veiling of poetic labor behind a continuous unity sustained by individual images advocated by Addison is the precise opposite of what Pope has achieved. He reveals the disjunctions of the poem, offering those fissures as the ultimate georgic precept of the poem and refusing to advocate England's own seamless progress to "Sacred Peace" with an equally seamless poem. The slouching of England toward its future, from the shade to the "glitt'ring Spires" and from Windsor Forest to Father Thames, is, as Pope intimates, a foolhardy and wanton political and historical lurch whose history, whose past, and in the end whose hope, as in "Windsor Forest," will and must continue to be written by poets in the shade and inevitably in the margins.


(1) There are two excellent sources for Alexander Pope's 1713 edition: Robert Schmitz's Pope's Windsor Forest, 1712: A Study of the Washington University Holograph (St. Louis: Washington Univ., 1952), and Windsor Forest. To the Right Honourable George Lord Lansdown. By Mr. Pope. (London: B. Lintot. 1713). Eighteenth-Century Collections Online. Pope, "Windsor-Forest," in The Works of Alexander Pope (London: B. Lintot, 1736), pp. 103-17; ECCO ESTC T005398.

(2) Pope to Jonathan Swift, 16 February 1732[33], in The Correspondence of Alexander Pope, ed. George Sherburn, 5 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), 3:348.

(3) All terms are from Pat Rogers's expansive analysis, in The Symbolic Design of Windsor-Forest, of the iconography and "symbolic design" integrated into the poem ([Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 2004], pp. 23, 17).

(4) See E. Audra and Aubrey Williams, introduction to "Windsor Forest," in Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope: Pastoral Poetry and "An Essay on Criticism," ed. Audra and Williams, 6 vols. (London: Methuen, 1961), 1:125-44; John Chalker, The English Georgic: A Study in the Development of a Form (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1969); Suvir Kaul, Poems of Nation, Anthems of Empire: English Verse in the Long Eighteenth Century (Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 2000); Renaissance Genres: Essays on Theory, History, and Interpretation, ed. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1986); Anthony Low, The Georgic Revolution (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1985); and The Country and the City Revisited: England and the Politics of Culture, 1550-1850, ed. Gerald MacLean, Donna Landry, and Joseph A. Ward (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006).

(5) Virgil, Georgics, in The Works of John Dryden, ed. William Frost, Vinton A. Dearing, and Alan Roper, trans. Dryden, 20 vols. (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1987), 5:155-266.

(6) Pope owned a copy of Dryden's translation, so it would have been a visible influence on him. See Maynard Mack's "'Books and the Man': Pope's Library" (pp. 307-21) and "A Finding List of Books Surviving from Pope's Library with a Few That May Not Have Survived" (pp. 395-460) in Collected in Himself: Essays Critical, Biographical, and Bibliographical on Pope and Some of His Contemporaries (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1982).

(7) Joseph Addison, An Essay on the Georgics, in The Works of John Dryden, 5:145-53.

(8) Addison, p. 158.

(9) Addison, p. 146.

(10) Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973), p. 120.

(11) Addison, p. 146.

(12) The relationship between Addison and Pope, at least in Pope's early career, was personal as well as literary. As Pope once wrote in a letter to Addison, "For my part I never return so much into myself, as when I think of you, whose friendship is one of the best comforts I have for the insignificance of myself" (14 December 1713, in The Correspondence of Alexander Pope, 3:143).

(13) Audra and Williams, p. 126.

(14) Pope, "Windsor Forest," in The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, 1:148-94, note to line 1. Future references to the poem will be cited parenthetically in the text by line number and will refer to this edition.

(15) Frans De Bruyn's comment that "Of all the works of classical antiquity, Virgil's Georgics ... was deemed by eighteenth-century British writers an unparalleled work of literary perfection" serves as ironic counterpoint to Pope's paratextual practice. Pope is actively undermining that notion of perfection by indicating that his text is visibly, perhaps even actively imperfect ("Reading Virgil's Georgics as a Scientific Text: The Eighteenth-Century Debate between Jethro Tull and Steven Switzer," ELH 71, 3 [2004]: 661-89, 661).

(16) James McLaverty, Pope, Print, and Meaning (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2001), p. 10.

(17) James Sutherland, ed. The Dunciad, vol. 5, The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope (London: Methuen, 1943).

(18) Gerard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, trans. Jane Lewin (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997), p. 319. McLaverty echoes Genette's statement: "[Paratext] like all textual thresholds ... can constitute a barrier as well as an invitation to the reader" (p. 10).

(19) In Virgil, Georgics, in Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid I-VI, trans. H. Ruston Fairclough, rev. G. P. Goold (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1999) Virgil's strongest appeal appears in the second georgic:
[T]uque ades inceptumque una decurre laborem
o decus, o famae merito pars maxima nostrae,
Maecenas, pelagoque volans de vela patenti.
(Book 2, lines 39-41, p. 118)

Dryden translates it,
The virtues of the sev'ral Soils I sing
Maecenas, now thy needful Succour bring!
O thou! the better part of my Renown,
Inspire thy Poet and thy Poem crown.
(Virgil, Georgics, in The Works of, John Dryden. 5:182-3)

(20) Pope, The Major Works, ed. Rogers (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009), p. 589.

(21) Rogers's Symbolic Design is imbued with the political overtones and ramifications of the poem's iconography (see especially chaps. 1-3, pp. 23-112), and critics Laura Brown and Howard Erskine-Hill have debated Pope's political sympathies in the poem (Brown, Alexander Pope [Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1985], pp. 28-45; Erskine-Hill, "Twofold Vision in Eightenth-Century Writing," ELH 64, 4 [Winter 1997]: 903-24, 905-8, 910-2).

(22) Brown, p. 33; Wallace Jackson, Vision and Re-Vision in Alexander Pope (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1983), p. 21; and Rogers, p. 16.

(23) Addison, p. 146. Not surprisingly, Addison uses an arboreal example when discussing Virgil's "effects": "Here we see the Poet consider'd all the Effects of this Union between Trees of different kinds ... this way of writing is everywhere much in use among the poets, and is particularly practis'd by Virgil, who loves to suggest a Truth indirectly, and without giving us a full and open view of it: To let us see just so much will naturally lead the Imagination into all the parts that lie conceal'd" (pp. 147-8).

(24) Gary Miles notes, "Examples of spontaneous growth of trees are everywhere. The variety of ways in which they propagate themselves is equally impressive" (Virgil's Georgics: A New Interpretation [Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1980], p. 112).

(25) Brown, p. 36.

(26) The footnote is also interesting for its use of the color purple. Pope uses the term four other times in the poem: "Even the wild heath displays her purple dyes" (line 25); "Ah, what avail his glossy, varying dyes,/His purple crest, and scarlet-circled eyes" (lines 115-6): "She saw her sons with purple deaths expire" (line 321); and "There purple Vengeance bath'd in gore retires" (line 415). As revealed in Pope's practice, purple is typically associated with death, dyeing, and vengeance--suggestions Pope seems to want remembered in the footnote.

(27) David Morris, Alexander Pope: The Genius of Sense (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1984), p. 119.

(28) Ronald Paulson, Breaking and Remaking: Aesthetic Practice in England, 1700-1820 (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1989), p. 57.

(29) Williams, p. 54.

(30) Audra and Williams, p. 127.

(31) Virgil, Georgics, in Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid I-VI, Book 4, line 566.

(32) Virgil, Georgics, in Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid I-VI, Book 1, line 1.

(33) Virgil, Georgics, in Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid I-VI, Book 1, line 40.

(34) Translation is mine.

(35) Pope, "Pastorals," in The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, 1:59-70.

(36) Pope, "Windsor Forest," in The Works of Alexander Pope (London: B. Lintot, 1736), p. 103.

Scott M. Cleary, Slouching toward Augusta: Alexander Pope's 1736 "Windsor Forest"

Scott M. Cleary is an assistant professor of English at Iona College in New Rochelle NY. He is working on a monograph regarding Alexander Pope's editorial work.
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Author:Cleary, Scott M.
Publication:Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2010
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