Ode on Solitude
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 herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
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 mixed; sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please,
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me dye;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lye.

The impression the second rendition gives is probably closer to truth, for Alexander Pope wrote the poem before he was 12 (although I’m not sure if the poet was also a jock).  Child prodigy, it seems, besides a natural talent for technical command, could also possess profundity in thoughts and feelings.

It’s not all that surprising really, considering developmental psychology is regarded by some as microcosm of the evolution of human thoughts. Somehow, we already know all we are about to know. Empiricism is inevitably rooted in its poetic gene. After all, outside the realm of natural sciences and engineering, who would claim with full confidence that we are smarter than the ancients who lived more than 2000 years ago?

There is poetry, and there is prose. There are child prodigies, and there are those who “come to terms” late in their lives. As it happens, Stendhal is said to be ashamed of his youthful attempts to write poetry, and Leo Tolstoy is said to hold contempt for those who wrote poems only because they could not think clearly and who could not do anything more useful.

In the Milos Forman film Amadeus, an adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s play about Salieri, Mozart is portrayed as a goofy genius with silly laughs. This  image is probably as false as the senile portrait of Alexander Pope above – you only have to listen to the subtle sadness in his Symphony No. 1, written when he was about 9:

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