“The Quiet Life” by Alexander Pope
Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.
Whose herd with milk, whose fields with
Whose flocks supply him with attire;
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter, fire.
Blest, who can unconcern’dly find
Hours, days, and years, slide soft away
In health of body; peace of mind;
Quiet by day;
Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mix’d; sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.
Alexander Pope’s “The Quiet Life” portrays an isolated but fulfilling life. Painted with pastoral imagery, framed by simple structure, and accented with subtle tone, the portrait of an undisturbed life ultimately becomes a somber depiction of identity.
According to Pope, a happy man is a simple and independent one. He “herds with milk,” “fields with bread,” and has “trees in the summer that yield him shade.” These light toned pastoral vignettes depict not only independence, but bliss. In other words, the quiet life involves shedding the dependency on trade and debt and finding freedom in home grown self-sufficiency. At the same time, alternating one-syllable rhymes such as “care,” “bound,” “air,” and “ground” create a steady rhythm that mirrors the setting and rising of the sun. No longer toiling under the tyranny of clocks or deadlines, the quiet farmer follows nature’s heartbeat of light and dark, easily allowing his years to “slide soft away.” Thus, only when man is free from the demands of society can he feel the “health of body” and “the peace of mind.”
Other than a steady rhyme and blissful pastoral imager, the technique that strikes the reader the most strongly is the brief two to four letter lines that conclude each stanza. Phrases such as “in his own ground” and “in winter, fire” imitate the quiet life they describe, simple and isolated. In addition, each phrase anchors their respective stanzas. Almost like the mysterious sunrise, “Quiet by day” ambivalently concludes a stanza on the natural rhythm of day and night. And with an almost matter-of-fact tone, the phrase “In winter, fire” concludes a stanza on the simplicity of living off nature’s provisions.
Still the most haunting stanza remains to be the last. The narrator requests that no one notice him or lament his death and that “not a stone/Tell where I lie.” Just as he follows his own rhythm of life, he dies a free self, an undisturbed identity, refusing to allow the stone carved by another impose any unwanted glory on his existence.