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1 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,
Let me languish into life!
2 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, soul, can this be death?
3 The world recedes; it disappears;
Heaven opens on my eyes; my ears
With sounds seraphic ring:
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O grave, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?
Alexander Pope was born in London, in 1688. His parents were Roman Catholics. He had a feeble constitution, was deformed in person, and attained the age of only fifty-six. He early acquired the means of independence by his literary gifts, and purchased his celebrated villa at Twickenham, whither he went to reside at the age of thirty. Of his many published works, his translation of the "Iliad" and "Odyssey" of Homer has given him the greatest reputation. As an English satirist, also, he stands very high. Nearly all his works, however, are imitations. He died at Tickenham, in 1744.
--Annotations of the Hymnal, Charles Hutchins, M.A., 1872… Go to person page >
Vital Spark of heavenly flame. A. Pope. [The Soul Immortal.] In the Spectator for Nov. 10,1712, Steele gives a letter sent to him by Pope on the words spoken by Hadrian on his deathbed. This letter, in The Works of Alexander Pope, Esq. . . . Printed verbatim from the Octavo edition of Mr. Warburton. London, C. Bathurst, 1788. Vol. v. p. 185, is dated Nov. 7, 1712, and begins:—
"I was the other day in company with five or six men of some learning; where chancing to mention the famous verses which the Emperor Adrian spoke on his death-bed, they were all agreed that 'twas a piece of gaiety unworthy of that prince in those circumstances. I could not but differ from this opinion: methinks it was by no means gay, but a very serious soliloquy to his soul at the point of his departure; in which sense I naturally took the verses at my first reading them, when I was very young, and before I knew what interpretation the world generally put upon them. The letter then proceeds with a prose translation of these lines, and a vindication of the same.
What Steele did with this ode we cannot say. It was certainly not inserted in the Spectator, as is generally supposed. It was included in various editions of Pope's Works, and was taken from thence for use in the hymnals. Collyer included it in his Collection, 1812, No. 627, and since then it has been repeated in numerous hymnbooks. In the Congregational Hymn Book , 1836, J. Conder gave Pope's original text as No. 612, and a rewritten form of the same, beginning with the same first line, as No. 613. This rewritten form was repeated in his Choir and Oratory, 1837, p. 246, and in his posthumous Hymns of Praise, Prayer, &c, 1856, p. 169.
--Excerpts from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)