Alexander Pope: “Eloisa to Abelard”

Alexander Pope, one of the greatest English poets of the eighteenth century, was born on 21 May 1688. Considered a master of the heroic couplet (pairs of rhymed lines in iambic pentameter), he is best known for satirical and discursive poetry.
In 1717 he wrote “Eloisa to Abelard”, his artistic interpretation of the 12th-century story of Héloïse’s illicit love for philosopher Pierre Abélard, who was her teacher. Their secret marriage caused her family’s brutal vengeance when they castrated him.
The poem is a long verse epistle which explores the woman’s struggle to reconcile her desires for physical passion and spiritual contentment.

Here are some lines:

I view my crime, but kindle at the view,
Repent old pleasures, and solicit new;
Now turn’d to heav’n, I weep my past offence,
Now think of thee, and curse my innocence.
Of all affliction taught a lover yet,
‘Tis sure the hardest science to forget!
How shall I lose the sin, yet keep the sense,
And love th’ offender, yet detest th’ offence?
How the dear object from the crime remove,
Or how distinguish penitence from love?
Unequal task! a passion to resign,
For hearts so touch’d, so pierc’d, so lost as mine.
Ere such a soul regains its peaceful state,
How often must it love, how often hate!
How often hope, despair, resent, regret,
Conceal, disdain,—do all things but forget.
(1)

The final lines of the poem are:

Such if there be, who love so long, so well;
Let him our sad, our tender story tell;
The well-sung woes will soothe my pensive ghost;
He best can paint ’em, who can feel ’em most.
(2)

These lines almost seem to invite a response from others, and a lot of imitations and parodies were written by the end of the century, and later.

(1) Vedo il mio sbaglio , ma mi illumino alla sua vista,
e mentre mi pento dei vecchi piaceri e ne bramo di nuovi-
A volte, rivolta al cielo , piango la mia passata colpa,
altre invece penso a te e maledico la mia innocenza.
Di tutte le prove a cui è sottoposto un amante,
l’oblio quella più ardua.
Come eliminare il peccato se vivo il senso ne rimane?
E detestare l’offesa , se amo l’offensore?
Come separare dalla colpa il caro oggetto,
o distinguere la penitenza dall’amore?
Allontanare una passione: compito impari
per un cuore spezzato, trafitto, perduto come il mio.
Prima che un’anima simile ritrovi la smarrita pace,
quante volte deve amare, e quante odiare,
quante volte sperare, disperare, soffrire, rimpiangere,
nascondere, sdegnarsi, prima di poter dimenticare?

(2) Se c’è persona che sappia amare così a lungo e così tanto
racconti la nostra tenera e triste storia;
i dolori celebrati placheranno la mia ombra meditabonda;
ma solo chi li prova intensamente potrà dipingerli bene.

(L.Z.)

Image: Edmund Blair Leighton -1883 – Abelard and his Pupil Heloise

61 thoughts on “Alexander Pope: “Eloisa to Abelard”

      1. Eh no, Romeo e Giulietta hanno consumato nella notte che era stata così bella che avrebbero voluto volevano tirar tardi. Infatti si dicevano che non era l’allodola che annuncia il mattino l’uccello che si era messo a cantare ma l’usignolo della notte😘😉

        Liked by 2 people

  1. So interesting that this story dates to the same 12th century which saw the flowering of the poetry of the Courts of Love in French and English territory and especially around Eleanor of Acquitaine and her daughter.

    Love as a choice of the heart, as with Heloise and Abelard, separated from the duty of marriage.
    A development said by some to be the prerequisite step for the individualization of our choices in the matter of love, or what passes for love!, today. Love as a function of the human spirit rather than of human society.

    Thank you, Luisa, for this reminder! Sarah

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Penso che il peccato sia stato attribuito alla passione perché è un sentimento incontrollabile … e bisognava in qualche modo avere il controllo delle coscienze!
      Ma forse è un ragionamento poco ortodosso 🪁🦋🎈

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s