"Eloisa to Abelard" by Alexander Pope a Timeless Love Poem
“Eloisa to Abelard” is a beautiful poem written by Alexander Pope in 1717 about the unrequited love between two lovers. The poem is based on the 12th century true story of Heloise and Pierre Abelard. Heloise was a well read and very educated young woman whose uncle is the Canon of Notre Dame. Pierre Abelard is her teacher, and is the most popular of teachers. He is a highly respected philosopher in Paris. Even though Eloisa is 20 years Abelard’s junior they begin a secret love affair. He is a supreme philosopher and after besting all who would challenge him he is nominated Canon and stepped into the chair at Notre Dame in 1115.
Eloisa’s uncle Fulbert finds out about the affair between Eloisa and Abelard, and he tried to separate them. They continue to meet secretly. She eventually becomes pregnant and is sent to Brittany and gives birth to a son. In order to appease Fulbert, Abelard proposes a secret marriage. When Fulbert announces the marriage publicly Eloisa denies it for fear of the damage it will do to Abelard’s career. Abelard convinces her to go to a convent.
Fulbert thought that Abelard was trying to rid himself of Eloisa and has him castrated; however, Abelard was only trying to protect Heloise from her uncle. This affair eventually ends his career and he goes away to become a hermit and Eloisa is forced to become a nun. Over the next 20 years Heloise and Abelard exchange love letters and only see each other once before they both die. Eventually, 600 years later, Josephine Bonaparte is so touched by their story that she has them exhumed and buried together.
An excerpt from the poem was said by Kirsten Dunst as Mary in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” The poem is quite long but Mary recites a very pretty part of the poem that gives the movie its title.
How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned
Labour and rest, that equal periods keep;
“Obedient slumbers that can awake and weep,”
Desires compos’d, affections ever ev’n,
Tears that delight, and sighs that waft to Heav’n.
Grace shines around her with serenest beams,
And whisp’ring angels prompt her golden dreams.
For her th’ unfolding rose of Eden blooms,
And wings of seraphs shed divine perfumes,
For her the spouse prepares the bridal ring,
For her white virgins hymenals sing,
To sounds of heavenly harps she dies away,
And melts in visions of eternal day.
It is a beautiful poem and shows the excellence of Pope in writing romantic poetry. It shows the love and pain that both Eloisa and Abelard suffered at the misunderstandings of those who would stand between their love. It also shows that love can truly be timeless.