If "imitation is the sincerest flattery," then more than 250 years after his passing Alexander Pope deserves a spot in the ranks as one of the most flattered writers of all time. His works have been dissected of every phrase of possible significance and spilled onto page-a-day calendars and books of wit across the world. The beauty of his catchy maxims is that they are not only memorable, but attempt to convey his philosophy with perfect poetic ingenuity. Unfortunately, his well-achieved goals of "strik[ing] the reader more strongly" (Man 2527), easy retainability of his words, and most decidedly, conciseness, also yield an undesired effect. Utilizing this dicey method of epigrammatic couplets for such serious issues, Pope sacrifices pieces of his intended message, for the sake of rhyme, leading to easily misleading and generalizing messages that are open to scathing criticisms, misunderstandings and the possible loss of his some of his composition's integrity as well as a confusion of his own convictions.
The keys to great aphorisms are their ability to be applied to more common situations, thereby making them even more memorable by their availability for frequent usage, their ear-catching prominence and their paradoxical nature. That final element is what makes aphorisms so engaging. The most witty and intelligent examples are those that expose two supposed opposites for their ironic closeness and display the fine line between contradiction and a surprisingly parallel relationship between both.
A good example of such a saying is found in line 213 of "An Essay on Criticism." "Trust not yourself; but your defects to know, / Make use of every friend - and every foe." Here Pope is in the advising stage of his Essay and uses the surprise ending "and every foe" as a display of irony, in that it's not only the counsel of friends one needs to depend on, but the unabashed critique of one's rivals that can prove useful, as well. It is these types of...
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