A Poem is a Speaking Picture: Pope and Iconography

Robert W. Williams

Abstract


That the device of personification is prevalent in much eighteenth century poetry is well known. It is frequent in Gray, Johnson and Cowper, and abounds in James Thomson's The Seasons. In Thomson's
"Summer", for example, the following description occurs:
o vale of bliss! 0 softly-swelling hills!
On which the Power of Cultivation lies,
And joys to see the wonders of his toil.
(11. 1435-7)
Of this image, an eighteenth-century contributor to The British Magazine observed:
We cannot conceive a more beautiful image than that of the Genius of Agriculture, distinguished by the implements of his art, imbrowned with labour, glowing with health, crowned with a garland of foliage, flowers, and fruit, lying stretched at his ease on the brow of a gently swelling hill, and contemplating with pleasure the happy effects of his own industry.
As Donald Davie notes, the contributor probably added nothing "that was not in Thomson's intention. For Thomson could count on finding in his readers a ready allegorical imagination, such as seems lost to us today." Davie is correct as far as he goes, but he does not take his observation far enough.

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