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Dulness’ Apocalypse (The Dunciad 4.627-56)(1742)

Alexander Pope

In vain, in vain— the all-composing hour
MeterIn vain, in vain— the all-composing hour
Resistless falls; the Muse obeys the power.
MeterResistless falls; the Muse obeys the power.
She comes! she comes! the sable throne behold
MeterShe comes! she comes! the sable throne behold
Of Night primeval, and of Chaos old!
MeterOf Night primeval, and of Chaos old!
Before her Fancy’s gilded clouds decay,
MeterBefore her Fancy’s gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying rainbows die away.
MeterAnd all its varying rainbows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
MeterWit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
MeterThe meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea’s strain,
MeterAs one by one, at dread Medea’s strain,
The sick’ning stars fade off th’ ethereal plain;
MeterThe sick’ning stars fade off th’ ethereal plain;

Note on line 10: Pope made this line queasy, as if infected by what plagues the stars, which is also what turns the poet’s stomach as he takes his dystopian survey of contemporary culture. If you restore the syllables his two printed contractions elide, there are 13 of them jostling for 10 spaces: hence the cramped-up effect, which 4B4V accentuates with a mid-line trochee reinforcing the brassy long-a assonance of “fade” with “plain” (which an iamb in that place, while permissible, forfeits).

As Argus’ eyes, by Hermes’ wand opprest,
MeterAs Argus’ eyes, by Hermes’ wand opprest,
Closed one by one to everlasting rest;
MeterClosed one by one to everlasting rest;
Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
MeterThus at her felt approach, and secret might,
Art after Art goes out, and all is night.
MeterArt after Art goes out, and all is night.
See skulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
MeterSee skulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
Mountains of casuistry heap’d o’er her head!
MeterMountains of casuistry heap’d o’er her head!
Philosophy, that lean’d on Heaven before,
MeterPhilosophy, that lean’d on Heaven before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
MeterShrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Physic of Metaphysic begs defence,
MeterPhysic of Metaphysic begs defence,
And Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense!
MeterAnd Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense!
See Mystery to Mathematics fly!
MeterSee Mystery to Mathematics fly!
In vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
MeterIn vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
Religion blushing veils her sacred fires,
MeterReligion blushing veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires.
MeterAnd unawares Morality expires.
Nor public flame, nor private, dares to shine;
MeterNor public flame, nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!
MeterNor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread empire Chaos! is restor’d;
MeterLo! thy dread empire Chaos! is restor’d;

Note on line 27: The double caesura of this line, which introduces the truly awesome finale to Pope’s no longer mock epic, reminds us how skillfully his management of the intra-line pause has varied a verse form that, with its steady pentameter and chiefly end-stopped couplet rhyming, would otherwise incur monotony – a.k.a. Dulness, which of course is the poem’s malignant, triumphant villain.

Light dies before thy uncreating word:
MeterLight dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
MeterThy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And universal Darkness buries all.
MeterAnd universal Darkness buries all.

Rhyme
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