Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady

by Alexander Pope

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 347

Suicide and Christian Doctrine

The speaker of the poem makes the case that because the woman in the poem took her life as a result of the cruelty of her uncle and guardian, her suicide ought not to be considered a sin—thus, the speaker argues that she should be admitted into heaven. The speaker entreats the heavens to consider whether or not "to love too well" is a crime; here, the speaker is pointing out the fact that a person who loves wholly and completely (with love itself being encouraged by the Church) cannot be condemned for ultimately being unable to bear a life without the person she loves. The speaker cannot believe that someone who died so "bravely" or thought so "greatly" could be callously damned because of the fact that suicide is a universal and categorical sin.

The Desire for Justice

The speaker visits a curse on the dead woman's uncle and guardian. He declares that if there is any "eternal justice," any future wives that the uncle might take or children he might have will die tragically. The speaker suggests that this curse would be a natural punishment that would arise from "hearts unknowing how to yield." Just as the man's obdurate actions were uncompromising in their cruelty to the young woman, so too will his punishment be unyielding. The speaker calls for funeral processions, one after another, to beset this man's door: a persistent reminder of his injustice toward the lovers.

Mortality and Memory

The speaker describes the fact that one day, all that will be left of the young woman is dust. While the woman's lover may be alive and thus keeps her memory alive, the speaker notes that someday the lover will die—"Poets themselves must fall"—and it is then that the dead women will be truly gone. For now, the lover grieves the loss of the woman and gives a kind of life to her, because he still has a life of his own. But once he is gone—as he inevitably will die—she will be wholly and truly forgotten.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access