A little learning is a dangerous thing.
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the muse imparts,
in fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts,
while from the bounded level of our mind,
short views we take, nor see the lengths behind:
but more advanced, behold with strange surprise
new distant scenes of endless science rise !
So pleased at first the towering Alps we try,
mount o’er the vales and seem to tread the sky,
the eternal snows appear already pass’d,
and the first clouds and mountains seem the last:
but, those attain’d, we tremble to survey
the growing labours of the lengthen’d way,
the increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!
Oh, I like this poem, by Pope, a difficult one for me to grasp the first time through. And I'm not sure I understand it all, but here is my take on it.
I begin to reminisce about days when I saw life and all I thought it had to offer and I was so sure I was well equipped to handle all that would come my way. So eager to jump into the fray. With youth comes the boundless optimism as well as energy, “fired at first sight with what the muse imparts, in fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts.” I think much of my life has been spent in intoxicated thinking that I had some wisdom or understanding of life, only to find I have been drinking shallow. So naively confident that I could see the heights, and the depths of life, taking life on the surface, thinking I saw all there was. “Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind”.
As life unfolds her endless mysteries it so humbles the soul, the infinite climb to reach just the base.
The line “The eternal snows appear already pass’d” is something that time alone can refute. When young we think the way things are, will always be, and as time sweeps by we see the snows, or difficulties were only gone for a season, and as they blast once more the impact they have was completely unprepared for. “And the first clouds and mountains seem the last” as I have aged and lived through many a cloudy day and scaled a few mountains only to see another behind it, brings a seriousness to me, and a vivid awareness of the lack of true courage in me. I have spent most all my life battling and scaling the foothills. Completely unaware of the Alps beyond. Said much better by Pope in the last two lines.
“The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes, Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise.”