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Sophie Fouts
Professor Uglow
ENG. 1302
18 October 2016

The Expression of the Mortal Christian Soul


Stealthy as a shadow in the dead of night, cunning but affectionate if given a bite. Never
owned but often loved. At my sport considered cruel, but thats because you never know me at
all. What am I? (Girdwood) Death is a 100% certain for any creature that lives on earth, but it is
also one of the most denied fates. Throughout history, famous poets and authors have often
attempted to explain the concept of death. One of the most famous explanations for mans
struggle with it was written by Willian Shakespeare in Hamlet with the soliloquy To Be or Not to
Be, in which Hamlet contemplates the sleep of death with a bare bodkin or knife in his hand
(Sparknotes). Largely speaking, each authors depictions of this final passing varies, but they are
often reflective of their own personal beliefs. The first poems were developed as a means of
religious expression to explain and communicate the message of their creed. Even unto today,
poems are written to communicate religious teachings and ideas. As opposed to Hamlet and his
contemplation of suicide, these poems offer a very different perspective on death and how people
must deal with it. Dying may not be a thing to which any human looks forward to, but according
to Alexander Pope, death is the triumphant entry into eternity.
To understand the concepts behind Alexander Popes poem, one must first understand the
context, which is a key element of poetry. The first clue to the material the poem will cover is
given in the title The Dying Christian to his Soul. There are many religions that exist around the
world, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Atheism, and those who do not choose to adopt a
religion except their own (Central Intelligence Agency), but no system of beliefs has ever had

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such a profound effect on the world as Christianity.
To explain Christianity as just a religion descended from Judaism, although fact, does not
entirely explain a movement that has lasted for more than 2,000 years. The Bible, the main
source for the Christian faith, tells what some authors would describe as the first love story. For
it says, but God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for
us (Romans 5. 8). This scripture is reflective of the modern concepts of the knight in shining
armor rescuing his lost bride from the clutches of the enemy. Through the teachings of Jesus in
the New Testament, people of all nations are able to understand the hope that they now have
because of his name. The word hope (Gk elpis) is different than the typical English word
hope, which usually implies vague possibilities and unexpected outcomes depending on
uncertain outcomes. But true Biblical hope is not a hope-so hope; rather, it is a know-so
hopea confidence from God concerning his promises (Stamps, Huffman, and Adams 1,588).
It is a result of this hope that Pope was able to describe the death of a Christian in his poem.
Alexander Pope was born in London, England May 21, 1688 (Butt). Known as one of the
most epigrammatic of all English authors, Pope was the son of linen merchant of a Roman
Catholic family (Butt). Because of his religion, Pope could not attend a university and was
mostly taught by Catholic priests and various Catholic schools. Pope is described to have eagerly
set out in advancing his own personal studies by reading in Latin, Greek, French, and Italian late
into the night (Butt), but obtaining a slight hunchback and tubercular infection as an end affect.
Writing several poems and satires later on in life, Pope became most well-known for his
mock-heroic The Rape of the Lock, which earned him a spot as the first English poet to see his
works published internationally in modern and ancient language (Butt). Although not one of his
better known poems, The Dying Christian to his Soul is an ode that uses the same level of dictation
and imagery Pope used in the The Rape of the Lock (Butt).
An ode, according to the Poetry Foundation, is, A formal, often ceremonious lyric poem

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that addresses and often celebrates a person, place, thing, or idea; the idea for this poem being
death. The first stanza of the poem reads:
Vital spark of heavenly flame!
Quit, oh quit this mortal frame:
Trembling, hoping, lingering, flying,
Oh the pain, the bliss of dying!
Cease, fond Nature, cease thy strife,
And let me languish into life (Pope).
Fire, is the symbol of Gods presence. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent
wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what
seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were
filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts
2. 2-4). The words, Oh the pain, the bliss of dying! is a paradox. Pain refers to the dying of
the earthly flesh, but bliss is referring to the freeing of the soul. Cease fond Nature is the
narrator begging for his body to give up and cease its task of living.
The next stanza declares:
Hark! they whisper; angels say,
Sister spirit, come away.
What is this absorbs me quite?
Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
Drowns my spirits, draws my breath?
Tell me, my soul, can this be death (Pope)?
In this moment, death is approaching the narrator. It is drawing him to the lack of
awareness before the onset of sleep and causing him to shut his eyes. His breath is also fading.
The angels are beckoning the narrators soul to eternity. On another note, the second stanza sets
the repeated use of the rhyme scheme AABBCC in each 6 line stanza.
The final part of the poem says:
The world recedes; it disappears!
Heaven opens on my eyes! my ears
With sounds seraphic ring:
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!

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O Grave! where is thy victory?
O Death! where is thy sting (Pope)?
When Christians die and are admitted into heaven, they are forever brought into the
presence of the Lord. In Judaism, a human could not enter into the presence of God directly. A
special place was set up called the Holy of Holies. Here the high priest would enter in once a
year to make atonement for the sins of Israel, but because of Jesuss sacrifice on the cross people
can now enter into the Lords presence with boldness. For as it was described in Ephesians 3:1112, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him
and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. This information
also explains why the narrator hears the seraphic ring because seraphim are angels that fly
around the throne room of God. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and
exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were
seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered
their feet, and with two they were flying (Isiah 6. 1-2). After the narrator alights on the wings of
angels unto heaven, Pope writes the final verses, O Grave! where is thy victory? O Death!
where is thy sting? This is the last allusion of the poem to 1 Corinthians 15:54-56 where it
reads,
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with
immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up
in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives
us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Death no longer bears the burden and fear of the beyond, for it has been given a new meaning
that can only be described as a triumphant.

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Pope put a whole new idea on the nature of death. Though it be within what people might
consider as the constricting confines of religion, Popes poem does not reflect this ideology. The
narrator longs for the freedom offered because of Christ in death, ignoring every logical sense of
a humans natural self-preservation. He wants to die so he can go before the throne of God and
be with his Lordship and King. In the end, Pope establishes what so many people fear does not
lie on the shores of death, hope.

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Works Cited
Pope, Alexander. The Dying Christian to his Soul. Bartleby. Google. January 1, 2015. Web.
April 4, 2016.
Stamps, Donald, Carey, Huffman, and Wesley, Adams. Fire Bible Student Edition. Springfield:
Life Publishers International, 2007. Print.
Poetry Foundation. Ode. Poetry Foundation. Poetry Magazine, Media & Press, and Harriet
Monroe Institute. January 1, 2015. Web. April 4, 2016.
Butt, John. Alexander Pope. Encyclopedia Britannica. Yale Law School, Art Institute of
Chicago, Clo TV, and The Society of Military History. March 4, 2015. Web. April 4,
2016.
Central Intelligence Agency. Library. Central Intelligence Agency. Open Gov. January 1, 2016.
Web. April 4, 2016.
Sparknotes. Hamlet. Sparknotes. B&N. March 21, 2013. Web. April 4, 2016.
Girdwood, Andrew. Ride the Riddles. Geek Native. WordPress and Studio Press. December 16,
2009. Web. April 4, 2016.

Unpublished work 2016 Sophie D. Fouts.

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