“I know a thing that’s most uncommon;
(Envy, be silent and attend!)
I know a reasonable Woman,
Handsome and witty, yet a Friend.
Not warp’d by Passion, awed by Rumour;
Not grave through Pride, nor gay through Folly,
An equal Mixture of good Humour
And sensible soft Melancholy.
“Has she no faults then (Envy says), Sir?”
Yes, she has one, I must aver;
When all the World conspires to praise her,
The Woman’s deaf, and does not hear.”
Alexander Pope, “On a Certain Lady in Court”
Eventually Pope would turn up in any list of poetry. This is not his most famous writing (“To err is human” and “Hope springs eternal” are far more renowned) but it is one of his most graceful and rhapsodic works with enough irony to recognize Pope’s hand but not enough sardonicism to bite. It also demonstrates a “roman a clef” – that maddening riddle that points to a certain, living person who will never be uncovered because of lost allusions and context. The ‘certain lady’ may be a satirical invention or she may be a real figure, but we may never know.