Explain the following lines of Alexander Pope's "Windsor Forest."
Here earth and water seem to strive again,
Not chaos-like together crushed and bruised
But as the world, harmoniously confused
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During the 18th Century, Alexander Pope was known as...
...the greatest English poet since John Milton.
And while this impression did not last in the Romantic and Victorian eras, this poem shows how he could have be praised in this way.
In "Windsor Forest," Pope introduces "Eden," a Biblical allusion to the Garden of Eden. "Eden" is capitalized (a proper noun) and italicized, showing the author's desire to emphasize the importance of the word, but in lines 12-14, Pope also emphasizes "Chaos" in the same way.
This again provides a Biblical allusion. It would seem also that Pope is making a clear comparison between the beauty of Eden and that of Windsor Forest. In referring to chaos, he is alluding to the condition of the world before God placed His hands upon the unformed earth, eventually turning it into the very place that housed the often-praised Garden.
Refer to the Biblical account of the creation of the world, in Genesis 1:2—
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
The earth's condition as "formless and empty" alluding to chaos, which is defined as...
... a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order.
(This definition is important to paraphrasing and/or understanding Pope's poem, in lines 12-14.) In Genesis 2:8-9, God creates Eden:
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden…And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.
Biblically, Eden was perfect not only in providing food, but it was also beautiful to look at. This same feeling can be found in Pope's description of Windsor Forest. He notes that Eden has long since vanished: it only survives still in "description" and "song." However, Pope goes on to note that in this forest, it is alive again, in its...
...hills and vales, the woodland and the plain... (11)
Pope initially establishes the image of...
...The groves of Eden, vanish'd now so long... (6)
He then naturally moves along to compare the forest to the highly praised Eden. As Genesis 1:2 notes, chaos and water were first united in the creation of the world. Pope may be comparing the result (Eden) with Windsor Forest, maintaining that their beauty is similar. He writes:
Here earth and water, seem to strive again;
Not Chaos like together crush'd and bruis'd,
But as the world, harmoniously confus'd... (12-14)
When the word was created, the earth and water were in chaos— there is no harmony. Pope personifies the water and earth as if they had been fighting—"crush'd and bruis'd." However, in the forest, the water and land live in harmony, as both dwell together, one meeting the other. There may be confusion, but "harmoniously" infers a certain order in this joining. Pope goes on to support this image in the next two lines. There is "variety," and things are different, but they all "agree" (more personification). The chaos that once existed on the earth does not exist here:
Where order in variety we see,
And where, tho' all things differ, all agree. (15-16)
Where the water and earth together were once described as existing in chaos (confusion, disorder), in this magical place that Pope describes, he finds much to compare to Eden: the garden first made by the hand of God—thereby praising Windsor Forest as another Eden.
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