Poem introduction

The Dunciad is Pope's greatest poem, dazzling, rich and varied, full of complicated symbolic events and personalities. This little episode is one of the games performed before the Goddess of Dulness in her relentless London power bid, representing the removal of her imperial seat from the city to the polite world. It's a mock heroic poem of course, so this an imitation of the games in the Aeneid, which was about the removal of the empire of Troy to Latium. Pope's subject is, as he saw it, the corrupting influence of middle-class taste. And it's inevitable that a perfectly good novelist like Eliza Haywood would come to be one of Pope's victims. Daniel Defoe also appears in The Dunciad. Here she's made to be the prize in a urinating contest among publishers; the consolation prize is a chamber pot.

from The Dunciad Variorum, Book ii

ll. 149–182

See in the circle next Eliza placed,
Two babes of love close clinging to her waist;
Fair as before her works she stands confess’d,
In flowers and pearls by bounteous Kirkall dress’d.
  The Goddess then: ‘Who best can send on high
The salient spout, far-streaming to the sky,
His be yon Juno of majestic size,
With cow-like udders, and with ox-like eyes.
This China Jordan let the chief o’ercome
Replenish, not ingloriously, at home.’
  Chetwood and Curll accept the glorious strife
(Tho’ this his son dissuades, and that his wife);
One on his manly confidence relies,
One on his vigour and superior size.
First Chetwood lean’d against his letter’d post;
It rose, and labour’d to a curve at most:
So Jove’s bright bow displays its wat’ry round
(Sure sign that no spectator shall be drown’d).
A second effort brought but new disgrace,
For straining more, it flies in his own face
Thus the small jet, which hasty hands unlock,
Spirts in the gard’ner’s eyes who turns the cock.
Not so from shameless Curll; impetuous spread
The stream, and smoking flourish’d o’er his head:
So (famed like thee for turbulence and horns)
Eridanus his humble fountain scorns;
Thro’ half the heav’ns he pours th’ exalted urn;
His rapid waters in their passage burn.
Swift as it mounts, all follow with their eyes;
Still happy Impudence obtains the prize.
Thou triumph’st, victor of the high-wrought day,
And the pleas’d dame, soft smiling, lead’st away.
Chetwood, thro’ perfect modesty o’ercome,
Crown’d with the Jordan, walks contented home.

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Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope Downloads read by John Fuller

1A Farwell to London in the Year 1715


2Epistle to Lord Bathurst


3Epistle to Cobham


4From Sober Advice to Horace


5From the Dunciad Variorum Book ii


6From The Rape of the Lock