Eloisa to Abelard

by Alexander Pope

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

“Eloisa to Abelard” is a 1717 epistolary poem written by famed English poet Alexander Pope, who is commonly regarded as one of the best English poets of the eighteenth century. The poem is inspired by Ovid’s poetry collection—“Heroides,” and it is based on the popular French medieval love story of Heloise and Pierre Abelard, which is actually true. Thus, “Eloisa to Abelard” describes the romantic love between an esteemed Parisian philosopher and teacher—Pierre Abelard, and his beautiful, intelligent and well-educated pupil—Heloise, who is almost twenty years younger than him.

Basically, Pope’s poem is written in the form of a love letter from Eloisa (a variation of the name Heloise) to Abelard. In these "letters," Eloisa writes of her solitude, her undying love for Abelard, her longing for passion and excitement, and her never-ending feelings of sadness and melancholy. We learn of the joyous and happy times that they spent together, and the horrible suffering they both went through when they were forcibly separated.

After Abelard establishes himself as one of the best teachers in Paris, he and Eloisa start a passionate love affair. Soon, Eloisa’s family finds out about the affair and they do everything they can to separate them. Eloisa becomes pregnant and Abelard secretly asks for her hand in marriage. She accepts, however, when Eloisa’s uncle (Fulbert) tries to expose their secret marriage, Eloisa lies and says that she is not married to Abelard, in order to save her husband’s career. Thinking that Abelard no longer wants Eloisa, and as a punishment for his "attempts to seduce her," Fulbert has him castrated. Thus, Eloisa and Abelard are separated and both of them seek salvation and solace in religion—Eloisa becomes a nun, while Abelard becomes a monk.

As the years go by, however, Eloisa realizes that nothing can beat the love she feels for Abelard, not even the love she feels for God. She misses him terribly and hopes and prays that they will someday be reunited again. She slowly begins to accept the fact that such reunion will not be possible, and in the very end she hopes that God will let her meet her husband once again, when they are both dead.

The tragic and timeless love story of Eloisa and Abelard was retold numerous times, and many authors and poets used Pope’s poem as an inspiration for their works.

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