Literary critic Claudia Thomas Kairoff (2005) explains that this interest, was for Pope, a way of exploring how to develop good human virtues – that in the later years he came to believe that retreat was the only way to nurture such virtue. Kairoff argues that major critics of Pope’s work such as Kelsall and Landry `overlook the degree to which Pope’s poems frequently break with conventional assumptions of the rural superiority they apparently celebrate.
‘ Instead, argues Kairoff, Pope’s poetry promoted a `new, professional, non-landed perspective on the country-city ethic,’ whereby he focussed on the identity of the self amidst a changing world (Kairoff, 2005: p. 15). Further to this, Pope experiments in how history can inform an imaginative understanding of the past. He embarks upon an imaginative journey through the ages, recounting a series of historical events which enabled society to form and prosper.
From the time of the Greeks to Rufus in the forests of Dorset, Pope identifies the changing nature of man’s relationship with the countryside, often highlighting the indifference of the landscape: `Lo Rufus, tugging at the deadly dart/ Bleeds in the forest, like a wounded hart. ‘ (Lines 83-4). In contrast, Swift’s portrayal of city life is not historically informed. Rather, the activities within the city are centred around the self and what happens in the immediate vicinity.
For example, when the rain threatens the `devoted town. / To shops in crowds the daggled females fly,/ Pretend to cheapen Goods, but nothing buy. ‘ There is a pervading sense that people in the city try to continue in their courses of action, as if nothing is out of the ordinary; they are unwilling to recognise the ominous threat of the rain and do not wish to reveal their emotions to one another. For example, the seamstress, well-dressed and `tucked-up’ reveals only her `haste’ to escape the rain.
There is a definite sense that a man alone in the country has less to fear than a man alone in the city. It is perhaps human nature itself that is the most fearsome, rather than the storm. For Swift’s depiction of what he calls a `shower’ in the title is more aptly described as a storm or flood. This might be a more subtle reference to less known unconscious forces in man’s psyche – and the undertone of corruption. Rain and floods symbolised a sense of spiritual retribution from a higher order of things.
Swift mentions the little detail of her umbrella having `oiled sides’; another perhaps symbolic reference to the closed exterior to the personas of city-dwellers. Brendan O Hehir (1960, p. 194) recognised that Swift had drawn extensively from symbolic meanings in Classical literature, most notably the floods in Georgic I which `portended the death of Caesar. ‘ In `Windsor Forest’ Pope experiments with the inversion of traditional uses of space, where `the fox obscene to gaping tombs retires/ And savage howlings fill the sacred quires.
(lines 71-2). Similarly, Swift too has an interest in changing the function of city spaces, where shop doorways suddenly become impromptu places to hide from the weather. In the corrupt city of London life operates very much in the present, where people are unwilling to reflect upon their morality, whereas Pope’s poem allows space for the poet to reflect upon the long slow process of society’s evolution over time. The behaviour of the people in Pope’s poem is very different to the behaviour of the people in Swift’s poem.
Instead of being closed off to one another, Pope’s depictions of man involve a more honest and open communication with nature, where `He gathers health from herbs the forest yields/ And of their fragrant physic spoils the fields/ With chymic art exalts the mineral powers/ And draws the aromatic souls of flowers’ [lines 241-244]. Pope seeks to examine the root of existence that began with man learning to hunt and continued in the fanatical following of hunting sports in the eighteenth century.
Within the poem exists a certain beauty in the death of a wild animal, such as the pheasant: the `flames’ in its breast linking back to the beginning of the poem to Pope’s reference to the `equal flame’ in his own breast. In conclusion, Swift’s poem about city life is less experimental than Pope’s portrayal of country life. Swift places more emphasis on the symbolism in his work, caring less for historical significance – where a `beau’ in a box is still like a Greek trapped in a wooden horse because man’s nature is essentially corrupt and unchanging.
In contrast, Pope’s message is a little brighter, if not only for his belief in `retreat’ from society being a way to readdress the balance between man and nature. As critic Kathleen Williams reminds us, Swift’s greatest gift was for his ability to present objects as they really existed in life `without heightening or enlarging them, and without adding any imaginary circumstances. In this way of writing Swift excelled. ‘ (Williams. Cited in Wharton, 1995, p.209).
This comment is reflected in Swift’s novels which gave literature some of the earliest forms of realism. In contrast, Pope relied more upon imaginative devices to entertain his reader, where he recounts his version of historical events within the landscape in order to make vivid the changing relationship between man and nature. Both representations of city and country life did reflect pressing problems and concerns of eighteenth-century living.
For example, the corruption so acutely symbolised by Swift, and Pope’s interest in the threat of industrialisation. Perhaps what is most apparent is the contrast between city and country living, where in Swift’s London disorder is – like the approaching storm – only a few minutes away, and in Pope’s the landscape disorder used to be the natural order of things, before mankind fought to achieve some form of stability.