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Features of an essay on criticism by alexander pope

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An Overview Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism is an ambitious work of art written in heroic couplet. Published in 1711, this poetic essay was a venture to identify and define his own role as a poet and a critic.

An Essay on Criticism

He strongly puts his ideas on the ongoing question of if poetry should be natural or written as per the predetermined artificial rules set by the classical poets. Alexander Pope 1688-1744 This essay by Pope is neoclassical in its premises; in the tradition of Horace and Boileau.

An Essay on Criticism Summary

Pope believes that the value of literary work depends not on its being ancient or modern, but on its being true to Nature. This truth to Nature is found in true wit. Nature is to be found both in the matter and in the manner of expression, the two being inseparable.

The truth of human nature is to be found in common humanity, not in any eccentricity.

  • As men of breeding, sometimes men of wit, T' avoid great errors, must the less commit;
  • The work remains, however, one of the best-known commentaries on literary criticism;
  • Therefore, the first job of the critic is to know himself or herself, his or her own judgments, his or her own tastes and abilities;
  • In some fair body thus th' informing soul With spirits feeds, with vigour fills the whole, Each motion guides, and ev'ry nerve sustains; Itself unseen, but in th' effects, remains.

Pope argued that human nature is ever the same. He does not negate the possibility of transgressing the rules if the basic aim of poetry is achieved and this transgression brings hope closer to the idea of the sublime. Clearly, the poet must have a strong sense of literary tradition in order to make intelligent judgments as the critic must have it too.

Pope says an artist imitates the nature. Classical artist already discovers the natural rules and laws.

Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope: An Overview

Now, it is not necessary to go to nature again because to follow the classical artist is to go to the nature. So, sources of art are society and ancient artists. Pope claims that artists possess genius whereas critics possess taste classical taste developed by classical artist. By taking the ideas of classical artists, a critic has to judge the text. He should not be over ambitious and over imaginative but critics can go beyond their intention.

  • For works may have more wit than does 'em good, As bodies perish through excess of blood;
  • But tho' the ancients thus their rules invade, As kings dispense with laws themselves have made Moderns, beware!
  • Part 2 Of all the causes which conspire to blind Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind, What the weak head with strongest bias rules, Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools.

Artist has to undergo practice, learning and experiences. Which are equally important to critics too.

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So, critic must not be proud. To be good critic, one should have courage, modesty and honesty. Decorum, for Pope, is the proper balance between expression and sound of content and form and it comes under versification.

  • Be silent always when you doubt your sense; And speak, though sure, with seeming diffidence;
  • Some to conceit alone their taste confine, And glitt'ring thoughts struck out at ev'ry line; Pleas'd with a work where nothing's just or fit; One glaring chaos and wild heap of wit;
  • Pope says an artist imitates the nature;
  • But still the worst with most regret commend, For each ill author is as bad a friend;
  • These leave the sense, their learning to display, And those explain the meaning quite away;
  • But as the slightest sketch, if justly trac'd, Is by ill colouring but the more disgrac'd, So by false learning is good sense defac'd; Some are bewilder'd in the maze of schools, And some made coxcombs Nature meant but fools.

Pope considers wit as the polished and decorated form of language. Style and thought should go together. Pope implies that if the artist needs to break rules and regulation, he should use poetic license.