“Windsor-Forest” by Alexander Pope is an 18th-century topographical poem that reflects British history and politics within its 422 lines. Windsor Forest was a royal hunting ground and preserve, and Pope’s work incorporates panegyric, pastoral and georgic poetic elements. Along with the description of external nature, Pope injects his feelings about society and the country’s political events in the poem.
Pope’s Early Years
Born in 1688, it wasn’t mere coincidence that Pope grew up near Windsor Forest. His family was Catholic. The Test Act banned Catholics to live within 10 miles of London, so they moved 20 miles away to Binfield, Berkshire, which was in Windsor Forest, according to George Mason University. Pope was a young adult when he wrote “Windsor-Forest,” and he admitted that he wrote it at separate times -- in 1704 and 1713.
The Story of the Forest
At the beginning of the poem, Pope describes the forest that William the Conqueror established, the ruler’s family and George Granville, a poet, playwright and politician to whom Pope dedicated the work. He depicts the tranquility of the grounds, the colors of the landscape and the history of the New Forest land. He illustrates bird hunting in the fall, fishing in the spring and Queen Anne deer hunting in the summer. The poem discusses past and recent wars, the territories and people of the New World, alliances and past rulers. Pope writes that Queen Anne seeks a peaceful reign, and at the end of the poem, states that he hopes for peace in the land.
When Pope first wrote “Windsor-Forest” in 1704, England was involved in the War of the Spanish Succession, which began under the reign of William III. At this time, Spain had one of the largest empires in the world because of the settlements established in the New World. In 1711, England withdrew from the respective battles in Europe and the New World. Politicians created the Peace Treaty of Utrecht in 1712, and England signed it in 1713. Consequently, the treaty reduced the influence that Spain and France had in Europe and in the New World, making Great Britain one of the most powerful and influential nations on Earth. Pope had friends who helped write the peace treaty, and he used the end of the poem to celebrate the anticipated agreement.
Allusions in the Poem
Pope alludes to historical events, wars, people and places throughout “Windsor-Forest.” In lines 8 and 13, for example, Pope alludes to John Milton’s epic poem, “Paradise Lost.” "Oaks" in lines 31 and 218 refer to England’s wooden ships. When Pope talks about the land of the past in line 43, he refers to those that William the Conqueror and his successors ruled. The New Forest in line 65 is the land that William I settled, allegedly destroying 36 parishes. “Augusta” in line 342 is an allusion to Augusta Trinobantia, the name the Romans used for the city of London, according to the University of Toronto.
Understanding the metaphors in “Windsor-Forest” gives a reader more insight into the geographical areas, historical events and people to whom Pope refers. For instance, in line 7, Pope uses the Garden of Eden as a metaphor for the forest because he sees it as a perfect creation. He also says that Queen Anne is like the goddess Diana because of her strength and hunting skills. The heroes of Windsor in line 287 metaphorically describe the kings and queens of England. The mansion in line 225 represents Windsor Castle, and Pope calls the River Thames the “father of British floods” in line 216.