Hope springs eternal

[size=150][color=darkblue]Hope springs eternal in the human breast.[/size]

In this verse, the use of ‘eternal’ as an adverb struck me as odd. The reason I was surprised is that I found the line on its own in my old ‘Modern English Practice’ book, as part of an exercise on the articles.

Is it some kind of poetic liberty or can this adjective be used in place of the adverb ‘eternally’ in natural everyday English?

Thank you and – to use the word as a noun – may the Eternal guide you!

[color=darkblue]Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

-Alexander Pope (English poet and satirist),
An Essay on Man, Epistle I, 1733

Hi Conchita,

You said:

Yes, I would say this is certainly poetic licence and also the line wouldn’t scan right if Mr Pope had written eternally!

What amazes me is that an 18th century poet is quoted in a book on Modern English Practice. I think in the 21st century it’s not a good idea to follow the style of Alexander Pope.


Alan, do you know if this is partly a holdover from some earlier time when the “-ly” (or very early “-like”) was not as obligatory on many adverbs as now? I don’t know the answer; I’m just asking.

What I think is interesting is how some dialects have not reduced that suffix to “-ly”, and still retain it as “-like”, such as in Appalachian, “Hold it real gentle-like.” I suppose people would say this in parts of the UK also.

Notice that the poem also includes “blest”, which I don’t think is normal in any form of standard English today. It’s like some of Jane Austen’s interesting past participles, such as “dropt”.