How happy is the blameless Vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot;
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd.
The title Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes from these lines. Mary Svevo quotes Alexander Pope's poem in Eloisa to Abélard during Joel's procedure. Alexander Pope (21 May 1688 – 30 May 1744) was an 18th-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer.
Published in 1717, Eloisa to Abélard focuses on the 12th century love affair between the young, intellectual Eloisa (Héloïse) and her tutor, theologian Pierre Abélard. The affair resulted in a secret marriage and subsequent disaster: Eloisa was sent to a convent, and Abélard was forcibly castrated and unable to continue his advancement in the Catholic church.
Following their separation, the two erstwhile lovers exchanged a long series of correspondences, remembered today as deeply expressive, passionate letters of romantic love, devotion, and philosophy in the Medieval era. Pope's poem is an imagining of a letter from Eloisa in which she anguishes over the fact that despite her continuing love for Abélard, his emasculation has rendered him unable to physically return her love. Additionally, Eloisa grieves over the damage the lovers' affair has caused to Abélard's personal reputation and professional life as a philosopher and scholar. The hopelessness of her situation causes Eloisa to plead for forgetfulness, both of her unattainable love and the injury it has caused.
The quotation that Mary recites in the film is from lines 207-210, appearing about midway through Pope's poem. "Vestal" refers to the Vestal Virgins: six sacred women in Ancient Rome who maintained the fire of the goddess Vesta and enjoyed lives of privilege and luxury. Chosen during childhood, these women were required, under penalty of death, to maintain their chastity.