Pope's Thames

By Jack Lynch

Delivered 14 July 2006 at the Literary London conference in Greenwich

My title is "Pope's Thames." I'll begin with a confession on how I came to settle on this title and this topic. I spoke on my usual hobbyhorse, Samuel Johnson, at this conference two years ago, and I was keen to branch out into poetry. The conference theme is the Thames, I thought, and Alexander Pope may be the eighteenth-century poet most connected with the river, so I settled on the title "Pope's Thames" — partly because I liked the sound of it, partly because it was broad enough to cover anything I might have to say about the subject. Then it was just a matter of thinking of something to say. I turned to the collected edition of his works and searched databases, but inspiration refused to come. I tried leaving my notes lying around the house at night, waiting for the elves and gremlins to complete the paper. (Since we're in a river-themed conference, I suppose it should be the naiads and nixes.) But the spirit world was more than usually uncooperative.

My frustration, in other words, was finding something coherent to say about a river and a poet. It's easy to catalogue facts, but difficult to say something specifically poetic about the Thames. Eventually, though, I realized that both Pope and I were having the same trouble with finding a poetic way to address the Thames. My problems, I discovered, were Pope's problems. (I'm pleased to announce that the converse isn't true, and that Pope's problems aren't necessarily mine. All things considered, I'd just as soon not be a splenetic four-foot-six tubercular hunchback who probably died a virgin.) So I'd like to discuss Pope faced in trying to address the river in his poetry.

The Thames played a bigger part in Pope's life than it does in most of ours — as it did for virtually everyone in the eighteenth century. How often do must of us need to go on the river today? Apart from commuters who use ferries and the lushes who frequent booze cruises, I imagine few of us have much reason ever to leave dry land. When we have to get from one side of a river to the other, we have a choice of bridges to take us over it and tunnels to take us under it. But that wasn't the case in Pope's day, when only one bridge crossed the Thames in the London area, the old London Bridge, which stood until 1831. Westminster Bridge didn't open until 1750, six years after Pope's death. If you wanted to cross the river in the early eighteenth century, if you wanted to get to London from outlying areas, or even if you wanted to travel along the east–west axis, a boat was usually the best, and often the only, way to go. And Pope, as we'll see, had a special interest in the river, more than most eighteenth-century Londoners. He built his house at Twickenham directly on the banks of the Thames. (Pope, by the way, like the rest of his age, pronounced the river as Taymz, and the earliest Temz pronunciation I've been able to find is from 1860. Mind you, it takes a lot of courage for a Yank like me to stand here in Green-wich, before a predominantly English audience, trying to pronounce English place names. It's only fair to warn you, then, that, if I make any embarrassing blunders in my pronunciation, I plan to declare with false confidence that it's how the name was pronounced in the eighteenth century, and to bid defiance to anyone who expresses skepticism.)

So it's only natural that the Thames, or Taymz, should feature in Pope's poetry. Those who know his major poems will remember several high-profile references to the river. Windsor-Forest, for instance, invokes "the fair Lodona," offspring of Father Thames, and the poem ends with a prophecy of Britain's future glory:

The Time shall come, when free as Seas or Wind
Unbounded Thames shall flow for all Mankind.

Another work gives the river an even more prominent place: in The Rape of the Lock, Belinda and her party set out on the river for their outing at Hampton Court:

Not with more glories, in th'etherial plain,
The Sun first rises o'er the purpled main,
Than issuing forth, the rival of his beams
Lanch'd on the bosom of the silver Thames.

And his last great poem, The Dunciad, is parodically structured around the Lord Mayor's Day, which, since the middle fifteenth century, included a procession of barges on the Thames.

Of course Pope wasn't the first to treat a river poetically. The rivers of mythology make frequent appearances in verse: Phlegethon, Lethe, Styx. And most of the real world's great rivers have featured in poetry: the Amazon, the Po, the Seine, the Rhine, the Liffey. Everyone knows Enobarbus's description of Cleopatra on the Nile: "The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne/ Burned on the water." The Ganges shows up whenever English poets want to explore the boundaries of the known world, as when Milton describes Satan's search for Eden, "over Pontus, and the Poole/ Mæotis, up beyond the River Ob;/ . . . thence to the Land where flowes/ Ganges and Indus." Even the Mighty Mississip' shows up in poetry — helped, perhaps, by the fact that "Mississippi" is a perfect trochee. I imagine few are familiar with Richard Emmons's masterpiece, The Fredoniad; or, Independence Preserved: An Epick Poem on the Late War of 1812, where in canto 40 — yes, there are forty cantos, and the whole is more than thrice the length of Paradise Lost — we have a rousing declaration:

Soon, I in person shall augment your powers —
The Mississippi and her floods are ours!

But Wordsworth's Excursion is more familiar, as the poet resolves to flee urban corruption: "Let us, then, . . ./ Leave this unknit Republic to the scourge/ Of her own passions. . . ./ Contemplations, worthier, nobler far . . . attend/ His independence, when along the side/ Of Mississippi . . . he walks." And within the last century the American bard Woody Guthrie tried to give the Columbia River the same sort of mythical treatment.

This survey has been a little miscellaneous, but it's possible to impose some order on it, because rivers tend to be associated with a few poetic kinds. Consider the pastoral. You can't walk very far into the canon of pastoral poetry before you find yourself standing in a stream: in Theocritus's first Idyll, line 2, Thyrsis laments the death of Daphnis by the obligatory spring. Several of Virgil's Eclogues continue the Theocritean tradition with a variety of rivers, streams, and springs, and the tradition is nowhere clearer than in Jacopo Sannazaro's Piscatory Eclogues of 1520. These fishermen's pastorals are actually closer to georgic, pastoral's cousin-german, a tradition that shares many of the same potamological interests. And the landscape of heroic poetry is crossed by countless rivers. No one river dominates the Iliad, but at least twenty-nine of them are mentioned, including the River Oceanus, the Styx, and Lethe. The most important earthly river is the Scamander, mentioned twenty-one times in the Iliad. A river plays a much bigger role in the Aeneid: the Tiber is central to books 7 and 8, the future home of the empire Aeneas is to found. There's also the more modern tradition of locodescriptive poetry, which, when it's not focused on a country house, is almost certainly focused on a landscape crossed by at least one river, and the locales it describes are usually shown to be saturated with history.

That's rivers generally; of course there's also a more specific tradition of Thames poetry and, before discussing Pope's place in the tradition, it's worth considering what we might call "the literary geography of the Thames." "The literary geography of' the Thames!" exclaims the Victorian belletrist William Sharp in an enthusiastic flux. "Is not this a more hazardous undertaking than would be an itinerary of the Lake Country, or of that which follows on the long waters of Geneva? For who could number the many who have written about, or sung of, or dwelt beside, or had some abiding association with, our great river?" Despite his own warning, though, he spends a chapter expatiating on the literary Thames, waxing dithyrambic over all the favorite names in the Victorian pantheon of literary greats: "From Chaucer to Milton," he says, "from Milton to Shelley, from Shelley to the latest true poet of the Thames, Mr. Robert Bridges, what a catalogue of sounding names!"

Well, yes, although Chaucer never actually mentions the Thames, and Milton does it only in a few Latin poems. Still, Chaucer, even though he doesn't mention the river by name, sets the beginning of the Canterbury pilgrimage in the Tabard Inn at Southwark, and this may make him the first great English poet with a significant claim on the river. Spenser's Prothalamion of 1596 is probably the single most resonant of Thames poems, with its refrain, "Sweete Themmes runne softly, till I end my Song," setting up T. S. Eliot's famous echo in "The Fire Sermon" section of The Waste Land. Spenser also gave us the marriage of the Thames and the Medway in Faerie Queene book 4, canto 11, and several other river marriages in Colin Clouts Come Home Againe and the Mutabilitie Cantos. Critic Jack Oruch put Spenser at the head of "an interesting but neglected sub-genre in Elizabethan poetry," which he calls the river poem, and which includes works by William Camden and Michael Drayton.

The middle seventeenth century produced Denham's Cooper's Hill, which contains in its description of the Thames some of the most quoted, most imitated, and most parodied lines in all of seventeenth-century English verse:

O could I flow like thee, and make thy streame
My great example, as it is my theme!
Though deep, yet cleare, though Gentle, yet not dull,
Strong without rage, without ore-flowing full.

Dryden was one of the first to draw attention to these lines: "I am sure there are few who make Verses, have observ'd the sweetness of these two Lines in Coopers Hill. . . . And there are yet fewer who can find the Reason of that sweetness." But by the early eighteenth century everyone knew them. In 1755 Paul Whitehead invoked "Thames, made immortal, by her Denham's strains," and two years later Charles Peters called these verses "The most celebrated lines, perhaps, in all our English poetry." In 1779 Johnson said that "almost every writer for a century past has imitated" them. They were so familiar that they are even quoted in Stephen Switzer's Introduction to a General System of Hydrostaticks and Hydraulicks (1729) and John Payne's Geographical Extracts, Forming a General View of Earth and Nature (1796). It's hard to imagine modern hydrostatics textbooks quoting verse, but it gives us some idea of how firmly these lines were impressed in the eighteenth-century mind.

So that's the Thames of English poetic tradition. It's no surprise that it's also the Thames of Pope's early works, when he most felt the pressure of that tradition, and reveled in what Geoffrey Tillotson called "glades, fables, and hexameters." Like every good aspiring poet who knew the Virgilian cursus honorum, he began his career with pastoral poetry. Here's the opening of his first pastoral, Spring:

First in these Fields I try the Sylvan Strains,
Nor blush to sport on Windsor's blissful Plains:
Fair Thames flow gently from thy sacred Spring,
While on thy Banks Sicilian Muses sing;
Let Vernal Airs thro' trembling Osiers play,
And Albion's Cliffs resound the Rural Lay.

These lines were written when Pope was just sixteen years old, and yet they show a virtuoso's poetic talents — perhaps a tad ostentatiously. The "Sicilian Muses" recall Theocritus, who hailed from Sicily; they also echo the opening of Dryden's translation of the Pollio, the famous fourth Eclogue. And just as Theocritus opens the pastoral tradition with an invocation of a spring, Pope traces the Thames from its "sacred Spring." Calling England "Albion" at once mythologizes England and anglicizes mythology. And in exhorting "Fair Thames" to "flow gently," he echoes Spenser's "Sweete Themmes runne softly." Later in the same poem, Strephon suggests the Thames is all an English poet, or shepherd, needs; the rest of the world's rivers are supererogatory:

O'er Golden Sands let rich Pactolus flow,
And Trees weep Amber on the Banks of Po;
Blest Thames's Shores the brightest Beauties yield,
Feed here my Lambs, I'll seek no distant field.

So the Pastorals make the case that the Thames is in the same literary league as the great rivers of antiquity, just as the juvenile poet is making the case that he is in the same literary league as the great poets of antiquity. But all of this is backward-looking and, however impressive it may be as a display of prosodic fireworks and allusive exuberance, it's both limited and limiting. I don't want this lecture to degenerate into a discussion of the ways in which Pope filched from the classical tradition, turning the Thames into the great rivers of Greece and Rome. And I'm happy that I don't have to, because some of the charms of Greece and Rome dissipated as Pope matured.

In that I think he's typical of the poets of his age. I've never liked the term "neoclassical" for eighteenth-century British culture. As Donald Greene put it, the long eighteenth century "was not 'The Age of Neoclassicism': no 'revival of interest' in the classics took place after 1660." Yes, many eighteenth-century poets admired the classics of Greece and Rome — but the same can be said about nearly every era of literary history. I remember in my first introductory course on eighteenth-century literature, Paul Fussell insisted that "You'll find more that's 'neoclassical' in Ben Jonson or in Keats than in anything that came in between." Pope and Swift may have sided with the ancients in the Battle of the Books, but their practice was deeply "modernist."

As Pope's career progressed, he began turning his attention to the modern Thames, which was becoming a commercial river, one linking London to the empire. Windsor-Forest therefore combines elements of pastoral, georgic, and locodescriptive verse into a new hybrid better able to describe the modern river. To celebrate the Treaty of Utrecht, Pope places the Thames among its international rivals:

Hail Sacred Peace! hail long-expected Days,
That Thames's Glory to the Stars shall raise!
Tho' Tyber's Streams immortal Rome behold,
Tho' foaming Hermus swells with Tydes of Gold,
From Heav'n itself tho' sev'n-fold Nilus flows,
And Harvests on a hundred Realms bestows;
These now no more shall be the Muse's Themes,
Lost in my Fame, as in the Sea their streams. (355–62)

Pat Rogers, in one of only two articles I've discovered that discuss Pope's verse and the river, discusses the ways Windsor-Forest fits into the tradition of river poetry. I'm more interested in how it doesn't fit. This passage, I'll grant, isn't entirely sui generis; it echoes Ovid's catalogue of rivers in Metamorphoses 2, and there are hints of Ausonius, Horace, and more recently Denham. But Windsor-Forest marks an early step away from a mechanical embracing of poetic conventions, a way Pope sought to say something new — something, in other words, about the Thames of 1713, not about rivers generally.

The problem is that the Thames of 1713 wasn't particularly poetic, at least in its eastern stretches, and at least in the usual definition of "poetic." Go close enough to the source, and it seems to have been very pleasant indeed. Even up to the western suburbs of London it was deep yet clear, gentle yet not dull. But as you got into Westminster and the City it became shallow and turbid. And as you got near London Bridge, it could be unbearable. Remember that London Bridge was largely responsible for the great "frost fairs"; the bridge slowed the flow of water, allowing ice to collect and the river to freeze solid. Unfortunately, the same fluid dynamics also allowed sewage to collect.

Complaints about the Thames, especially in the City, go back to the fourteenth century, so it's not as if the river suddenly became filthy in 1715. But the increasing urbanization of the late seventeenth century made it filthier faster, and by the early eighteenth century, care of the river was becoming an ever larger political concern. Thus we see acts in Parliament like An Act for the Better Preservation and Improvement of the Fishery within the River of Thames (1711) and An Act for the Speedy and Effectual Preserving the Navigation of the River of Thames (1714). Rivers were being overfished, waste was making it difficult to breathe, and accumulated sludge was causing boats to get stuck. What's more, "It is well known," wrote James Boswell, "that there was formerly a rude custom for those who were sailing upon the Thames, to accost each other as they passed, in the most abusive language they could invent, generally, however, with as much satirical humour as they were capable of producing." Ned Ward gives a fine specimen of this ritualized raillery in The London-Spy, one worth quoting at some length. The narrator explains that he entered the wherry of "a Jolly Grizzle-Pated Charm," when

a scoundrel crew of Lambeth Gardeners attacked us with such a Volley of saucy Nonsence, that it made my Eyes stare. . . . One of them beginning with us after this manner, You couple of treacherous Sons of Bridewell B—s, who are Pimps to your own Mothers, Stallions to your Sisters, and Cock-Bawds to the rest of your Relations; Who were begot by Huffing, spew'd up, and not Born; and Christen'd out of a Chamber-pot; How dare you show your Ugly Faces upon the River of Thames, and Fright the Kings Swans from holding their heads aboue Water? To which our well-fed Pilot . . . most manfully Reply'd, You Lousie starv'd Crew of Worm-pickers, and Snail-Catchers; You Offspring of a Dunghill, and Brothers to a Pumpkin, who can't afford Butter to your Cabbage, or Bacon to your Sprouts; You shitten Rogues, who worship the Fundament, because you live by a Turd; who was that sent the Gardener to cut a hundred of Sparragrass, and dug twice in his Wives Parsley-bed before the Goodman came back again? Hold your Tongues, you Knitty Radish-mongers, or I'll whet my Needle upon mine A--s and sow you Lips together.

Pope faced the challenge of talking about this river, with its Fleet Ditch filth and its Billingsgate bawdry, and he found the poetic language he had at his disposal wasn't up to the job. The fact is that the eighteenth century was beginning to feel terribly self-conscious about its literary inheritance. Part of it comes from a sense that modernity is no longer compatible with the diction provided by the poetic tradition. We feel the same tension in our own age; the thought of any serious poet writing panegyrics on public figures or celebrating the Iraq war in heroic verse makes us giggle uncomfortably. Pope's age too fretted over the inability of clichés to capture reality. And pastoral poetry in particular was suffering from a superabundance of clichés. Samuel Johnson found pastoral conceits intolerable. Any "intelligent reader, acquainted with the scenes of real life," he wrote, "sickens at the mention of the crook, the pipe, the sheep, and the kids." Of Lyttelton's Progress of Love he says "it is sufficient blame to say that it is pastoral." Finally there's his famous dismissal of Milton's Lycidas: "Its form is that of a pastoral, easy, vulgar, and therefore disgusting." Joseph Warton agreed, noting that when English poets have discussed rivers they have "fallen into trite repetitions of classical images, as well as classical names."

As I said, the Thames didn't suddenly get dirty in 1715, but poets of earlier generations could turn away from it: their Thames was a Thames in inverted commas, not a real river. You wouldn't know the "silver Thames," a phrase I've traced back to 1585, could be unpleasant by reading poetry from before 1715 or so. But in Pope's age, poetic language was being perceived as less appropriate to describe the real river. We've seen the tremendous popularity of Denham's lines, "Though deep, yet clear." Already by Jonathan Swift's day, though, they too were easy, vulgar, and therefore disgusting. Swift makes the point in one of his less known poems, "Apollo's Edict," where he advises the modern poet to avoid the hollow clichés of the poetic tradition:

If ANNA's happy Reign you praise,
Pray not a word of Halcyon Days.
Nor let my Votaries show their Skill
In apeing lines from Cooper's Hill;
For know I cannot bear to hear,
The Mimickry of deep yet clear.

The young Pope was guilty of this hollow "mimicry," and later readers scolded him for it. Joseph Warton, for instance, complained that "A mixture of British and Grecian ideas may justly be deemed a blemish in the Pastorals of Pope: and propriety is certainly violated, when he couples Pactolus with Thames. . . . Complaints of immoderate heat, and wishes to be conveyed to cooling caverns, when uttered by the inhabitants of Greece, have a decorum and consistency, which they totally lose in the character of a British shepherd."

What, then, is there to say about the Thames if we're denied the traditional language of poetry? The answer seems to lie in a different poetic tradition. In my survey of the poetic Thames and its characteristic genres I neglected to mention one, largely because the tradition was contemporary with Pope and he himself was central to it. Alongside the pastoral Thames, the georgic Thames, the heroic Thames, and the locodescriptive Thames we have the satirical Thames.

Rivers make surprisingly few appearances in older satires. Juvenal's third Satire famously criticizes contemporary Rome, but there's only one brief reference to the Tiber there, and it's still imagined as the locus of purity corrupted only by foreign streams. Besides, the pollution is strictly metaphorical; there's no sense of actual dregs pouring into the Tiber, just foreign mores infecting the modern city. Satirists on the Thames had little ancient tradition to work with, and it's therefore fitting that the first important satirist of the Thames was in no position to work with the classical tradition. He's also the poet whose name is most firmly attached to the Thames, though that name is little known today. He's known to posterity — at least to those few who know him at all — as "Taylor the Water-poet."

John Taylor worked as a waterman in Southwark in the 1590s and early 1600s, and he knew Ben Jonson; it's tempting to imagine he ferried Shakespeare and other worthies to and from the Globe. He published travel narratives, royal elegies and epithalamia, religious meditations, verse paraphrases of Scripture, and even nonsense verse, a genre in which he is a pioneer. All the while he kept up his duties on the river, and even managed to secure a few royal gigs, as when he escorted Queen Henrietta Maria out of London to escape the plague of 1625. But when he chose to be satirical, he could be satirical:

I was commanded with the Water Baylie
To see the Rivers clensed both nights and dayly.
Dead Hogges, Dogges, Cats, and well flayd Carryon Horses
Their noysom Corpes soyld the Waters Courses:
Both swines and Stable dunge, Beasts guts and Garbage,
Street durt, with Gardners weeds and Rotten Herbage.
And from those Waters filthy putrifaction,
Our meat and drink were made, which bred Infection.

Dryden was another who turned his satirical attention to the Thames in Mac Flecknoe:

My warbling Lute, the Lute I whilom strung
When to King John of Portugal I sung,
Was but the prelude to that glorious day,
When thou on silver Thames did'st cut thy way. . . .
Methinks I see the new Arion Sail,
The Lute still trembling underneath thy nail. . . .
Echoes from Pissing-Ally, Sh[adwell] call,
And Sh[adwell] they resound from A[ston] Hall.
About thy boat the little Fishes throng,
As at the Morning Toast, that Floats along.

That "Morning Toast," if you couldn't guess, is human and animal waste. Pope's variorum notes on The Dunciad allude to this passage, and reveal something about Pope's consciousness of satirical and parodic techniques. Referring to a line in the Dunciad — "Obscene with filth, &c." — the ostensible annotator Scriblerus notes,

Tho' this incident may seem too low and base for the dignity of an Epic Poem, the learned well know it to be but a copy of Homer and Virgil . . . tho' our Poet . . . has remarkably enrich'd and colour'd his language, as well as rais'd the versification in these two Episodes. Mr. Dryden in Mac-Fleckno has not scrupled to mention the Morning Toast at which the fishes bite in the Thames, Pissing-Ally, Reliques of the Bum, Whipstitch, Kiss my ——, &c. but our author is more grave, and . . . tosses about his Dung with an air of Majesty.

Pope's friend John Gay joined in the use of the filthy Thames. In Trivia; or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London, published in 1716, he combines the conventions of georgic and locodescriptive poetry with his own satirical description of London:

But when the swinging signs your ears offend
With creaking noise, then rainy floods impend;
Soon shall the kennels swell with rapid streams,
And rush in muddy torrents to the Thames.

This is the most relevant poetic tradition in which Pope's major works were written after the early Pastorals and Windsor-Forest, and it's not so much a tradition as a rejection of the previous traditions — a kind of anti-tradition. The most important of these poems is The Rape of the Lock, and I already quoted the famous lines that open the second canto:

Not with more glories, in th'etherial plain,
The Sun first rises o'er the purpled main,
Than issuing forth, the rival of his beams
Lanch'd on the bosom of the silver Thames. (2.1–4)

Belinda's procession on the Thames is loaded with allusive significance. Critics have catalogued the allusions in this passage — Telemachus on the Ionian Sea, Aeneas on the Tiber, and of course Cleopatra on the Nile. This time, though, the allusions have a different function than in the Pastorals. No longer is Pope using allusion to link his time to poetic tradition; instead, he's using allusion to point out the gap between his time and the past.

In The Dunciad he goes even further in using allusion to bring about the ironic tension between the mode and the matter. Here he sets the traditional epic games in Fleet Ditch, where, "with disemboguing streams,"

Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames,
The King of dykes! than whom no sluice of mud
With deeper sable blots the silver flood.
"Here strip, my children! here at once leap in,
"Here prove who best can dash thro' thick and thin,
"And who the most in love of dirt excel,
"Or dark dexterity of groping well."

He also returns to the famous lines from Denham, but this time they serve not as a celebration of a river but as an attack on an inferior poet:

Flow, Welsted, flow! like thine inspirer, Beer,
Tho' stale, not ripe; tho' thin, yet never clear;
So sweetly mawkish, and so smoothly dull;
Heady, not strong; o'erflowing, tho' not full. (3.169–72)

The epic form and the heroic allusions serve not to link modern Britain with ancient Greece and Rome, but to divide them. The Thames becomes a symbol of what's unpleasant in the modern world, and not susceptible to conventional celebratory verse.

But Pope managed to preserve a glimpse of that older, traditionally "poetic" Thames; he just couldn't keep it in London. And this was his favorite Thames. As I confessed at the beginning, part of the attraction of my title, "Pope's Thames," was euphony — a pair of monosyllables, each beginning with a plosive, each ending with a labial sliding into a sibilant. Had I been less concerned with sound, I might have called this talk "Alexander Pope and the Thames," or "The Thames in the Works of Pope," or some such, thereby avoiding the possessive. But euphony led me to opt for the possessive, and it's worth thinking about that possessive — to reverse a Popean maxim, the sense will here be an echo to the sound. I'd like to consider what possession would mean in this case — the Thames belonging to Pope.

We find that Thames a few miles to the west of London, in Twickenham — or, as Pope pronounced it, Twitnam. Pope's villa there is best remembered for its grotto, the only part to survive the demolition of the buildings. But we should recall that his house faced a parterre that stretched directly down to the river's edge. As Peter Martin has pointed out, "living next to the river was as important as any other factor in his move." It was the scene of his retirement from everything he found offensive about London: as he wrote to his friend Charles Jervas in 1718,

At last, the Gods and Fate have fix'd me on the Borders of the Thames, in the Districts of Richmond and Twickenham. It is here I have pass'd an entire Year of my Life, without any fix'd abode in London, or more than casting a transitory Glance (for a Day or two at most in a Month) on the Pomps of the Town.

In this retreat from "the Pomps of the Town" the London Thames becomes a kind of symbol for political and cultural corruption. It's easy to figure corruption as pollution — or, to be more historically accurate, it's easy to figure pollution as corruption, since the English word had moral connotations before it became an environmental term. The "pollution of sin" long predates the pollution of chlorofluorocarbons. And as the London Thames is the site of corruption, the Twickenham Thames is the locus amoenus:

Thou who shalt stop, where Thames' translucent wave
Shines a broad mirrour through the shadowy cave,
Where lingering drops from mineral roofs distill,
And pointed crystals break the sparkling rill,
Unpolish'd gems no ray on pride bestow,
And latent metals innocently glow:

What's more, his own little stretch of the river allows him to participate, without the painful sense that he's living an anachronism, in the classical poetic tradition. His retirement to Twickenham, studied in detail in Maynard Mack's Garden and the City, lets him participate in the traditions of Horace at the Sabine Farm and of Juvenal's Umbricius in the third Satire; it lets him keep his pastoral language alive and protected from irony. He had hoped to design an ornament for his boat landing in the form of a swan, with "the statues of two river gods reclined on the bank, . . . with 'Hic placido fluit amne Meles' on one of their urns [from Politian, "Here the river Meles flows gently"], and 'Magnis ubi flexibus errat Mincius' on the other [slightly misquoted from Virgil's third Georgic, "where the broad Mincius wanders"]." It would also be surrounded by "the busts of Homer and Virgil, and higher, two others with those of Marcus Aurelius and Cicero."

So in his imitation of Horace's Satire 2.2, written in 1734, he can engage in many of the same poetic conventions that marked his career thirty years earlier, without worrying that he's engaging in what Warton dismissed as "trite repetitions of classical images," because the images have been revivified, at once traditional and authentic:

Content with little, I can piddle here
On brocoli and mutton, round the year;
But ancient friends (tho' poor, or out of play)
That touch my bell, I cannot turn away.
'Tis true, no Turbots dignify my boards,
But gudgeons, flounders, what my Thames affords. (137–42)

"My Thames" — Pope's Thames — is at once ancient and modern, Horatian and Popean. It is at once the avenue connecting him to London and the symbol of his retreat from it.

In this talk I haven't proposed any radical new way of looking at Pope's poetry or his career; in fact I'm telling a pretty conventional story about Pope's progress from his youthful pastorals, through the georgic and locodescriptive Windsor-Forest, to the great satires, accompanied by a withdrawal from London to his rustic villa. What I find fascinating, though, is that it's possible to tell the usual story of Pope's Virgilian cursus simply by looking at the Thames, because you can see Pope's entire poetic career reflected in its waters. He is constantly engaged with the poetic associations of the river, and it features prominently in all the stages of his poetic life, though in shifting ways. Jack Oruch, as I mentioned, described the Elizabethan genre of the "river poem," looking especially at marriages of rivers. I'd like to argue that a large proportion of Pope's poetry, including all of his most famous poetry, deserves to be styled river poetry — even that his career deserves to be called a river career. It may not be too much to say that at the heart of Pope's poetry is Pope's Thames.