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,... [continues]
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