Alexander Pope Essay On Criticism Summary

Pope’s primary concern in this essay is his advice mainly for critics, and secondarily for artists or poets.Pope claims that artists possess genius whereas critics possess taste (classical taste developed by classical artist).

In it Pope comments, too, upon the authority which ought properly to be accorded to the classical authors who dealt with the subject; and 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.

The "Essay on Criticism," then, is deliberately ambiguous: Pope seems, on the one hand, to admit that rules are necessary for the production of and criticism of poetry, but he also notes the existence of mysterious, apparently irrational qualities — "Nameless Graces," identified by terms such as "Happiness" and "Lucky Licence" — with which Nature is endowed, and which permit the true poetic genius, possessed of adequate "taste," to appear to transcend those same rules.

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.

By taking the ideas of classical artists, a critic has to judge the text.

Artist can’t go beyond his intention, he is limited within his desires.What, in Pope's opinion (here as elsewhere in his work) is the deadliest critical sin — a sin which is itself a reflection of a greater sin?All of his erring critics, each in their own way, betray the same fatal flaw.It was in part an attempt on Pope's part to identify and refine his own positions as poet and critic, and his response to an ongoing critical debate which centered 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 judgements.He should not be over ambitious and over imaginative but critics can go beyond their intention.Artist has to undergo practice, learning and experiences. Pope says, “A little learning is a dangerous thing”. A critic if has pride, can’t take out the real essence from the text.The critic, of course, if he is to appreciate that genius, must possess similar gifts.True Art, in other words, imitates Nature, and Nature tolerates and indeed encourages felicitous irregularities which are in reality (because Nature and the physical universe are creations of God) aspects of the divine order of things which is eternally beyond human comprehension.Pope's "Essay on Criticism" is a didactic poem in heroic couplets, begun, perhaps, as early as 1705, and published, anonymously, in 1711.The poetic essay was a relatively new genre, and the "Essay" itself was Pope's most ambitious work to that time.

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