"Al Pope" (pseud.), "The Ratiad" (1714? / 1994)

        In 1994, Goucher had only a rudimentary local intranet called a "bulletin board" system because the Internet was yet in its infancy.  Nonetheless, students and faculty could use it to share documents, and to communicate in a serial fashion not unlike email.  Normally only users on campus knew how to log on, but others could dial in from off campus and occasionally the conversation grew more cosmopolitan.  Identities of users were supposed to be strictly controlled by Information Technology, but at least one spoof identity surfaced and was allowed to thrive because he was such a witty, well-informed hacker.  "Al Pope" claimed to be the electronic shade or spirit of English satirical poet, Alexander Pope, who had been summoned to haunt the Goucher Bulletin Board by some ironic diety with a taste for C++ programming and rhyming couplets.  He irregularly posted satirical observations on "GBB" which teased users to identify him as one of us.  I have a vague notion of who he might have been, but it was never confirmed, and he vanished along with GBB when we got our own Internet address.  As proof of his Age of Enlightenment poetic identity, "Al" wrote in a fairly passable imitation of Pope's epistolary prose style and even occasionally ventured into verse.  Following the lead of Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" or Dunciad, or Jonathan Swift's "Description of a City Shower," or John Dryden's Mac Flecknoe, "Al"'s preferred mode was mock heroic verse, rhyming pentameter couplets that addressed low subjects in high style often borrowing tropes from Homeric epic (e.g., extended similes, epithets).  I have one surviving example of such a pseudonymous mock heroic poem that, alas, is but a fragment, though (like "Kubla Khan").  Readers also will detect in it some stylistic allusions to Book I of Paradise Lost, such were "Al"'s ambitions! It may be an "intentional fragment," intended to tantalize its readers by forcing them to experience the loss of some larger whole.  Such readers would be an odd bunch, but in this fallen age, I can easily imagine their existence.  "Trolls" and "trolling" had only just begun to emerge in those days, and to his credit, "Al" took up digital arms against such a verminous interloper who dared to threaten student bulletin board users with scornful abuse.  Bless you, "Al," wherever you are, and if you want to come out of the cold, I invite you to contact me.

<< Goucher College Bulletin Board >>  Node 10  05‑02‑94 13:06


Date: 04‑29‑94 (17:22)              Number: 41584 of 41765 (Refer# NONE)


From: 71224.2265@CompuServe.COM, AL POPE

Subj: For your perusal, Sir...

Read: 05‑02‑94 (13:05)              Status: RECEIVER ONLY

Conf: InternetEmail (28)         Read Type: GENERAL (‑)

Date: 29 Apr 94 12:52:29 EDT

From: Al Pope <71224.2265@CompuServe.COM>

To: Arnie Sanders <arnie.sanders%goucher@wb3ffv.ampr.org>

Subject: For your perusal, Sir...

Message‑ID: <940429165229_71224.2265_DHQ52‑1@CompuServe.COM>

Sir: I send you Book One of my forthcoming Epic. My other work‑in‑progress,

the "Essay on Chicken," is a more daunting project than I had at first

imagined and will be delayed, perhaps because I spend too much of my time

on projects like this one.


The Ratiad, part the second;


The Odyssey of FLATRAT,

a work in progress.

 Book I

The Argument:

A flat, quite dead rat is seen lying next to a dumpster

in a Baltimore alley, bounded on the south by 30th street,

on the north by 31st.

The rat is observed to make its way north over a period of

several days, until it finally disappears into a storm drain

on the corner.


Sing, Muse‑‑the oogah horn, the garbage truck

Sing gutters redolent, rats out of luck‑‑

Sing rain and lights, a road too soon grown dim;

Perhaps the driver, cruel, aimed at him;

No matter‑‑now in climes empyreal sails

(Or when the wind blows, some say, erring, scales)

Our FLATRAT, while his mother, griefstruck, wails.

Sing, Muse, of dumpsters' sumptuous bounty sacked,

Of journeys home delayed, fur Firestone‑tracked;

Sing now the alley's pathless storm‑toss'd waste,

The perils unendurable, the taste

Of ratty fear. How FLATRAT, ever thinner,

(O, mocking fates! He wanted only dinner!)

Sailed northward, sing; Say how our FLATRAT, curs'd,

Navigated up to 31st.

Full foetid glared the summer's gutter flood,

Fresh press'd was he, to pavement wed. The blood

Of whisker'd generations' scrabbling toes

Fond waves dissolved; and buoyant, now, he rose.

Still stiffly grinning, gleefully afloat,

Our late‑kill'd FLATRAT, sailing like a boat,

Join'd in the stream with passing wrap and rind,

Left rodent ways (and bits of tail) behind.

Alas! Black storm‑soaked tread (all‑weather) rushed

Too near, the stiff'ning craft dashed, sinking, crushed

To weighty depths. Then soaring ever higher,

Our FLATRAT rose again, stuck to the tire.

A ferris wheel, at night, when summer lingers,

Will pause, sometimes, mid‑cycle; sticky fingers

Cotton‑candied, children swing on high

(Small silhouettes against a circus sky)

While bits of hot dog, ticket stubs, and gum                         

Awaiting revolutions yet to come

Unyielding, cling: so FLATRAT at the top

Adhered, no less determined than the slop

That wetly clung around him. Or as when

Cortez, upon his peak in Darien

(He, thinner still, consisting just of pages)

Stood unexpected, none the less couragous,

So FLATRAT stuck surveying his demesne

Atop the tire, betissued, in the rain.

"Leave us alone" the flotsam seemed to call;

"We will not wander further. Here is all

That can be wished; we are so tired, and sore;

Leave us alone; we will not wander more."

Still FLATRAT was not sway'd, though swaying; slow

At first, then faster turn'd the wheel; below

Raged torrents; tarmac steamed; and cold

Clawed deep within, or must have, as he rolled.

Sing, Muse! what rat, steel‑sinew'd, late compress'd

Looms o'er the black‑wall'd retread's stone‑scarr'd crest?

No styx, this gutter; no Teiresias calls

Out to our Flatrat; Morn to Eve he falls.

Sing, Muse, how Flatrat near the Zenith fell,

No Mulciber, he, damp, extinguish'd; tell

How Flatrat, falling, tumbled wetly into Hell.


End of Book One.

I remain, Sir, as always, yours truly, &c. &c., Al.