It's been decades since I read The Dunciad or the The New Dunciad (which means it might be time for a reread), but the poem's final stanza has imprinted itself on my memory regardless. To date, it remains one of my favorite stanzas of verse despite the despair it communicates.
Religion blushing veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires.
Nor public flame, nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread empire Chaos! is restored:
Light dies before thy uncreating word;
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall,
And universal darkness buries all.
I memorized the stanza above twenty-five years ago because I was struck by how accurately it reflected the ills of the contemporary world. Read through the stanza slowly yourself. Take a moment to contemplate each line, and then ask yourself if the words do not indeed depict our spiritually decayed modern world. In my opinion they do, meted out in memorable iambic pentameter
Pope wrote the final stanza of his Dunciad nearly three centuries ago, yet it is as valid today as it had been in the 1700s. The timelessness of the stanza above could be partly attributed to Pope's understanding of how the devastating changes he had experienced in his lifetime would extend into the future. Pope captured the beginning of something in The Dunciad, the process of which appears to be in its terminal stage in our time.
We truly do live in a time when universal darkness threatens to bury all. I would go as far as to claim this universal darkness has buried most, but it has not succeeded in buring everyone, and it need not succeed in burying you.
This is easy to claim and difficult to demonstrate, but I wholeheartedly believe we are only halfway through Pope's apocalyptic stanza. Religion truly has hidden her sacred fires as nearly all forms of organized Christianity have been corrupted. Morality has been successfully inverted and our contemporary world teeters on the edge of becoming a Dostoevskian nightmare where everything is permitted. The public flame in the West is but a ghostly wisp of curling smoke rising from the end of a candle wick. The few who still nurture dwindling flames have become timid and fearful. Barely any of them speak, let alone dare to shine.
All of this has come to pass, but I do not believe we have gone past the fourth line in the stanza yet. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I have faith the human spark still lingers in some, and I firmly hold these human sparks still catch glimpses of the divine. If you can discover the human spark within yourself, you stand a chance at catching a glimpse of the divine. Once the glimpse is caught, the decaying process might be halted and a reversal may begin.
At least for you. The light may continue to die all around you, but if it does not die in you then Chaos cannot be completely restored. Your word cannot be uncreating for you will have approached the realm of creation through love.
The universal darkness may bury many, but if it does not bury you, it cannot bury all.
And in the end, that might make all the difference . . . at least for you.