Alexander Pope and An Essay on Criticism

Alexander Pope and An Essay on Criticism
Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope was an English poet born in 1688. He wrote many poems, including English translations of the Iliad and Odyssey. One of his most famous poems, An Essay on Criticism, is written like a guide on how to write and criticize poetry.

Some points that Pope makes in his essay are:

  • The critics have to understand "How far your genius, taste, and learning go" before criticizing someone else's work so that they can give a fair criticism.
  • Critics should "follow Nature" by comparing how much the poem aligns with Nature's "just standard" of "Life, force, and beauty".
  • Writers should try to discover "Those Rules of old" and write their poems accordingly.
  • Writers and critics should also compare and try to align their poems with the "classics" of Ancient Greece (during Pope's time, the society placed great value in the classics).
  • Before criticizing, a critic should know much about the material he is criticizing, since "A little learning is a dangerous thing".
  • A critic should also criticize in the context of a whole work, not just a part of it because "'T is not a lip or eye we beauty call / But the joint force and full result of all"
  • A critic should also not look for perfection in writing because it does not exist "Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see, / Thinks what ne’er was, nor is, nor e’er shall be."
  • A writer should put the quality of his words above the quantity.
  • A critic should measure the quality of the poetry, not necessarily the uniformity of its lines.
  • A critic should "[not] pardon vile obscenity" in a work he is criticizing.
  • A critic should "let Truth and Candour shine" - or, he should be honest and tell the truth.
  • A critic should "Be silent always when you doubt your Sense" - or, not criticize anything unless he is sure that what he is saying is correct. If they are wrong about something, they should admit it.
  • A critic should be tactful, but also truthful:
    "Men must be taught as if you taught them not, / And things unknown proposed as things forgot."
    However, a critic should also "[not] be so civil as to prove unjust".
  • Again, a critic should look to the classics to criticize modern works because "Learning and Rome alike in empire grew, / And arts still follow’d where her eagles flew;"