Alexander Pope Essay 1

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  • Topic: Alexander Pope, Poetry, The Rape of the Lock
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Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope is the greatest poet of the neoclassical period. He is best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. He preached correctness in literary composition, the filling and polishing of phrases and lines until perfection is reached. An Essay on Criticism is one Pope’s first major poems written. It is written in the rhyming verse called heroic couplets. The favorite verse form for the neoclassical poets was the rhymed couplet, which reached its greatest sophistication in heroic couplet of Pope. At the time the poem was published, the heroic couplet style was a moderately new genre of poetry, and Pope's most ambitious work. An Essay on Criticism was an attempt to identify and refine his own positions as a poet and critic. The poem was said to be a response to an ongoing debate on the question of whether poetry should be natural, or written according to predetermined artificial rules inherited from the classical past. The poem commences with a discussion of the rules of taste which ought to govern poetry, and which enable a critic to make sound critical judgments. Judgments are partial, and true taste is as rare as true genius, so Pope sets some rules to follow in order to reach perfection. The first rule is following Nature. Nature in the neoclassical theory means a rational and comprehensible moral order in the universe, demonstrating God's providential design, and it is permanently true. First follow NATURE, and your Judgment frame

By her just Standard, which is still the same:
The second rule is to learn from the old, which means the precepts of poetry and criticism set down by the classical Greek and Roman authors or imitate their literature. Those RULES of old discover'd, not devis'd,

Are Nature still, but Nature Methodiz'd;
This is typical to the neoclassical spirit; which sought to revive the ideals of the Roman and Greek originals. It is also typical with Pope’s fascination with the Greek, especially Homer. Hear how learn'd Greece her useful Rules indites,

When to repress, and when indulge our Flights:
In it Pope comments, too, upon the authority which ought properly to be accorded to the classical authors who dealt with the subject. He also identifies the main flaws a critic is prone to, and therefore the greatest obstacles to good criticism. The first flaw is pride, which is considered to be the biggest pitfall. The second is the little learning which makes critics exposed to pride, by making them think they know more than they do. A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring
Other flaws include: a love of parts, which means emphasizing one aspect of a poem at the expense of all others; love of extremes; judging authors according to the opinions of others rather than the merit of the work; and valuing only those works which agree with one's own point of view, are written by member of one's own party, are written by friends, etc. He concludes (in an apparent attempt to reconcile the opinions of the advocates and opponents of rules) that the rules of the ancients are in fact identical with the rules of Nature: poetry and painting, that is, like religion and morality, actually reflect natural law. This work is thoroughly representative both of Pope and of his period. The substance of the poem is not original with Pope but is a restatement of the ideas of the Greek Aristotle, the Roman Horace, especially of the French critic Boileau, who was Pope's earlier contemporary, and of various other critical authorities, French and English. Translations of the Iliad

Pope had been fascinated by Homer since childhood. His translation of the Iliad appeared between 1715 and 1720. It was his greatest achievement as a translator. It was acclaimed by Samuel Johnson as "a performance which no age or nation could hope to equal" (although the classical scholar Richard Bentley wrote: "It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it...
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