Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot

by Alexander Pope

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"Who Breaks A Butterfly Upon A Wheel?"

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 112

Context: This poetic epistle is cast in the form of a dialogue between the poet and his good friend, Dr. Arbuthnot. Pope uses the poem to make deadly satirical comments upon his contemporaries, with whom he found little favor himself. The "butterfly" of this quotation is John, Lord Hervey, a well-known, seemingly harmless, court favorite of the time. Pope, for some unexplained reason, conceived an antipathy for the man, who seems undeserving of the following lines the poet wrote about him:

Let Sporus tremble–A. What? that thing of silk,
Sporus, that mere white curd of Ass's milk?
Satire or sense, alas! can Sporous feel?
Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?

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