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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The speaker explains that Dulness had presided over the universe in ancient, preliterate times. The deposed goddess longs to be restored to her former place, in an era that the narrator—calling out to his comrade, Jonathan Swift—calls the new “age of lead.” The narrator mentions Cibber, a writer who composed classically derived works, along with his “brainless” associates, who guard the bleak, empty realm of lesser poets.

Great Cibber’s brazen, brainless brothers stand,
One cell there is, conceal’d from vulgar eye,
The cave of Poverty and Poetry.
Keen, hollow winds howl through the bleak recess,
Emblem of music caused by emptiness.

Pope satirizes John Milton’s Paradise Lost as it presents God’s creation. Pope’s narrator, in contrast, speaks harshly about the creative process, showing the difficulties that writers suffer in recording even a single word. They compare written “nonsense” to birth, not only of babies from embryos but of flies from maggots. Dulness observes,

How hints, like spawn, scarce quick in embryo lie,
How new-born nonsense first is taught to cry,
Maggots half-form’d in rhyme exactly meet,
And learn to crawl upon poetic feet.

The narrator singles out the writer Bayes as a plagiarist, accusing him of stealing from diverse writers including Fletcher, Moliere, and Shakespeare.

Next, o’er his books his eyes began to roll,
In pleasing memory of all he stole,
How here he sipp’d, how there he plunder’d snug,
And suck’d all o’er, like an industrious bug.
Here lay poor Fletcher’s half-eat scenes, and here
The frippery of crucified Molière;
There hapless Shakspeare . . .

Dulness, choosing among the diverse candidates, finds one dull enough to rule her kingdom, and all proclaim him “King Log.” Guided by the poetic Sibyl, the king arrives on the banks of Lethe, where he beholds “the souls of the dull” as they prepare to enter the “Elysian shade.” The ghost of Settle arrives to guide him from that point, showing the king past, present, and future wonders. This vision includes Britain as it will appear under the empire of Dulness. In decline, the kingdom will take its place among other once-grand nations:

how small a part of the world was ever conquered by science, how soon those conquests were stopped, and those very nations again reduced to her dominion.

The conquest of Britain by Dulness, who intends to impose mediocrity and conformity across the land, is finally achieved. The new queen bestows her gifts on those who embrace her commands: “My sons! be proud, be selfish, and be dull.” Ultimately, Chaos and Anarchy triumph over art, science, morality, philosophy, truth, sense, and other positive qualities and achievements.

Nor public flame, nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread empire, Chaos! is restored;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And universal darkness buries all.

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"Gentle Dullness Ever Loves A Joke"