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Poem of the week: An Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope

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❶But where's the man who counsel can bestow, Still pleased to teach, and yet not proud to know? When patriarch wits surviv'd a thousand years:

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Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library. An Essay on Criticism: Of all the causes which conspire to blind. Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind,. What the weak head with strongest bias rules,. She gives in large recruits of needful pride;. What wants in blood and spirits, swell'd with wind;.

Pride, where wit fails, steps in to our defence,. If once right reason drives that cloud away,. Trust not yourself; but your defects to know,. A little learning is a dang'rous thing;. Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,. Fir'd at first sight with what the Muse imparts,. In fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts,.

Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind,. But more advanc'd, behold with strange surprise. New, distant scenes of endless science rise! So pleas'd at first, the tow'ring Alps we try,. Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky;. And the first clouds and mountains seem the last;. Th' increasing prospect tires our wand'ring eyes,.

Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise! A perfect judge will read each work of wit. Survey the whole, nor seek slight faults to find,.

Where nature moves, and rapture warms the mind;. The gen'rous pleasure to be charm'd with wit. That shunning faults, one quiet tenour keep;. Thus when we view some well-proportion'd dome,. The world's just wonder, and ev'n thine, O Rome!

No monstrous height, or breadth, or length appear;. Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see,. Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be. Since none can compass more than they intend;. Applause, in spite of trivial faults, is due. T' avoid great errors, must the less commit: Once on a time, La Mancha's knight, they say,. Discours'd in terms as just, with looks as sage,. Concluding all were desp'rate sots and fools,. Produc'd his play, and begg'd the knight's advice,. All which, exact to rule, were brought about,.

So vast a throng the stage can ne'er contain. Thus critics, of less judgment than caprice,. Some to conceit alone their taste confine,. And glitt'ring thoughts struck out at ev'ry line;.

Pleas'd with a work where nothing's just or fit;. Poets, like painters, thus, unskill'd to trace. What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd,. Something, whose truth convinc'd at sight we find,. For works may have more wit than does 'em good,. Others for language all their care express,. Their praise is still—"the style is excellent": Words are like leaves; and where they most abound,.

Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found. But true expression, like th' unchanging sun,. Clears, and improves whate'er it shines upon,.

Expression is the dress of thought, and still. For diff'rent styles with diff'rent subjects sort,. As several garbs with country, town, and court. Some by old words to fame have made pretence,. Ancients in phrase, mere moderns in their sense;. Such labour'd nothings, in so strange a style,. A prudent chief not always must display His pow'rs in equal ranks, and fair array, But with th' occasion and the place comply, Conceal his force, nay seem sometimes to fly.

Those oft are stratagems which errors seem, Nor is it Homer nods, but we that dream. Still green with bays each ancient altar stands, Above the reach of sacrilegious hands, Secure from flames, from envy's fiercer rage, Destructive war, and all-involving age. See, from each clime the learn'd their incense bring! In praise so just let ev'ry voice be join'd, And fill the gen'ral chorus of mankind!

Whose honours with increase of ages grow, As streams roll down, enlarging as they flow! Nations unborn your mighty names shall sound, And worlds applaud that must not yet be found! Oh may some spark of your celestial fire The last, the meanest of your sons inspire, That on weak wings, from far, pursues your flights; Glows while he reads, but trembles as he writes To teach vain wits a science little known, T' admire superior sense, and doubt their own!

Of all the causes which conspire to blind Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind, What the weak head with strongest bias rules, Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools. Whatever Nature has in worth denied, She gives in large recruits of needful pride; For as in bodies, thus in souls, we find What wants in blood and spirits, swell'd with wind; Pride, where wit fails, steps in to our defence, And fills up all the mighty void of sense!

If once right reason drives that cloud away, Truth breaks upon us with resistless day; Trust not yourself; but your defects to know, Make use of ev'ry friend—and ev'ry foe.

A little learning is a dang'rous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again. Fir'd at first sight with what the Muse imparts, In fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts, While from the bounded level of our mind, Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind, But more advanc'd, behold with strange surprise New, distant scenes of endless science rise!

So pleas'd at first, the tow'ring Alps we try, Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky; Th' eternal snows appear already past, And the first clouds and mountains seem the last; But those attain'd, we tremble to survey The growing labours of the lengthen'd way, Th' increasing prospect tires our wand'ring eyes, Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise! A perfect judge will read each work of wit With the same spirit that its author writ, Survey the whole, nor seek slight faults to find, Where nature moves, and rapture warms the mind; Nor lose, for that malignant dull delight, The gen'rous pleasure to be charm'd with wit.

But in such lays as neither ebb, nor flow, Correctly cold, and regularly low, That shunning faults, one quiet tenour keep; We cannot blame indeed—but we may sleep. In wit, as nature, what affects our hearts Is not th' exactness of peculiar parts; 'Tis not a lip, or eye, we beauty call, But the joint force and full result of all.

Thus when we view some well-proportion'd dome, The world's just wonder, and ev'n thine, O Rome! Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see, Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be. In ev'ry work regard the writer's end, Since none can compass more than they intend; And if the means be just, the conduct true, Applause, in spite of trivial faults, is due. As men of breeding, sometimes men of wit, T' avoid great errors, must the less commit: Neglect the rules each verbal critic lays, For not to know such trifles, is a praise.

Most critics, fond of some subservient art, Still make the whole depend upon a part: They talk of principles, but notions prize, And all to one lov'd folly sacrifice.

Once on a time, La Mancha's knight, they say, A certain bard encount'ring on the way, Discours'd in terms as just, with looks as sage, As e'er could Dennis of the Grecian stage; Concluding all were desp'rate sots and fools, Who durst depart from Aristotle's rules. Our author, happy in a judge so nice, Produc'd his play, and begg'd the knight's advice, Made him observe the subject and the plot, The manners, passions, unities, what not?

All which, exact to rule, were brought about, Were but a combat in the lists left out. Some to conceit alone their taste confine, And glitt'ring thoughts struck out at ev'ry line; Pleas'd with a work where nothing's just or fit; One glaring chaos and wild heap of wit. Poets, like painters, thus, unskill'd to trace The naked nature and the living grace, With gold and jewels cover ev'ry part, And hide with ornaments their want of art.

True wit is nature to advantage dress'd, What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd, Something, whose truth convinc'd at sight we find, That gives us back the image of our mind. As shades more sweetly recommend the light, So modest plainness sets off sprightly wit. For works may have more wit than does 'em good, As bodies perish through excess of blood. Others for language all their care express, And value books, as women men, for dress: Their praise is still—"the style is excellent": The sense, they humbly take upon content.

Words are like leaves; and where they most abound, Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found. False eloquence, like the prismatic glass, Its gaudy colours spreads on ev'ry place; The face of Nature we no more survey, All glares alike, without distinction gay: But true expression, like th' unchanging sun, Clears, and improves whate'er it shines upon, It gilds all objects, but it alters none.

Expression is the dress of thought, and still Appears more decent, as more suitable; A vile conceit in pompous words express'd, Is like a clown in regal purple dress'd: For diff'rent styles with diff'rent subjects sort, As several garbs with country, town, and court. Some by old words to fame have made pretence, Ancients in phrase, mere moderns in their sense; Such labour'd nothings, in so strange a style, Amaze th' unlearn'd, and make the learned smile.

Unlucky, as Fungoso in the play, These sparks with awkward vanity display What the fine gentleman wore yesterday! And but so mimic ancient wits at best, As apes our grandsires, in their doublets dress'd. In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold; Alike fantastic, if too new, or old; Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Not yet the last to lay the old aside. But most by numbers judge a poet's song; And smooth or rough, with them is right or wrong: In the bright Muse though thousand charms conspire, Her voice is all these tuneful fools admire, Who haunt Parnassus but to please their ear, Not mend their minds; as some to church repair, Not for the doctrine, but the music there.

These equal syllables alone require, Tho' oft the ear the open vowels tire, While expletives their feeble aid do join, And ten low words oft creep in one dull line, While they ring round the same unvaried chimes, With sure returns of still expected rhymes. Where'er you find "the cooling western breeze", In the next line, it "whispers through the trees": If "crystal streams with pleasing murmurs creep", The reader's threaten'd not in vain with "sleep".

Then, at the last and only couplet fraught With some unmeaning thing they call a thought, A needless Alexandrine ends the song, That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along. Leave such to tune their own dull rhymes, and know What's roundly smooth, or languishingly slow; And praise the easy vigour of a line, Where Denham's strength, and Waller's sweetness join.

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance. Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows, And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows; But when loud surges lash the sounding shore, The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar. When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw, The line too labours, and the words move slow; Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain, Flies o'er th' unbending corn, and skims along the main.

Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprise, And bid alternate passions fall and rise! While, at each change, the son of Libyan Jove Now burns with glory, and then melts with love; Now his fierce eyes with sparkling fury glow, Now sighs steal out, and tears begin to flow: Persians and Greeks like turns of nature found, And the world's victor stood subdu'd by sound!

The pow'r of music all our hearts allow, And what Timotheus was, is Dryden now. Avoid extremes; and shun the fault of such, Who still are pleas'd too little or too much. At ev'ry trifle scorn to take offence, That always shows great pride, or little sense; Those heads, as stomachs, are not sure the best, Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest. Yet let not each gay turn thy rapture move, For fools admire, but men of sense approve; As things seem large which we through mists descry, Dulness is ever apt to magnify.

Some foreign writers, some our own despise; The ancients only, or the moderns prize. Thus wit, like faith, by each man is applied To one small sect, and all are damn'd beside. Meanly they seek the blessing to confine, And force that sun but on a part to shine; Which not alone the southern wit sublimes, But ripens spirits in cold northern climes; Which from the first has shone on ages past, Enlights the present, and shall warm the last; Though each may feel increases and decays, And see now clearer and now darker days.

Regard not then if wit be old or new, But blame the false, and value still the true. Some ne'er advance a judgment of their own, But catch the spreading notion of the town; They reason and conclude by precedent, And own stale nonsense which they ne'er invent.

Some judge of authors' names, not works, and then Nor praise nor blame the writings, but the men. Of all this servile herd, the worst is he That in proud dulness joins with quality, A constant critic at the great man's board, To fetch and carry nonsense for my Lord. What woeful stuff this madrigal would be, In some starv'd hackney sonneteer, or me? But let a Lord once own the happy lines, How the wit brightens!

Before his sacred name flies every fault, And each exalted stanza teems with thought! The vulgar thus through imitation err; As oft the learn'd by being singular; So much they scorn the crowd, that if the throng By chance go right, they purposely go wrong: So Schismatics the plain believers quit, And are but damn'd for having too much wit. Some praise at morning what they blame at night; But always think the last opinion right.

A Muse by these is like a mistress us'd, This hour she's idoliz'd, the next abus'd; While their weak heads, like towns unfortified, Twixt sense and nonsense daily change their side.

Ask them the cause; they're wiser still, they say; And still tomorrow's wiser than today. We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow; Our wiser sons, no doubt, will think us so.

Once school divines this zealous isle o'erspread; Who knew most Sentences, was deepest read; Faith, Gospel, all, seem'd made to be disputed, And none had sense enough to be confuted: Unfortunately, our editorial approach may not be able to accommodate all contributions.

Our editors will review what you've submitted, and if it meets our criteria, we'll add it to the article. Please note that our editors may make some formatting changes or correct spelling or grammatical errors, and may also contact you if any clarifications are needed. An Essay on Criticism poem by Pope. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. In this part Pope stressed the importance of onomatopoeia in prosody, suggesting that the movement of sound and metre should represent the actions they carry: Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows, And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows; But when loud surges lash the sounding shore, The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar.

Learn More in these related Britannica articles: The mock-heroic The Rape of the Lock final version published in is an astonishing feat,…. Prosody was to be more nearly onomatopoetic; the movement of sound and metre should represent the actions they carry: Johnson, too, though he respected precedent, was above all a champion of moral sentiment….

This was An Essay on Criticism , published in Its brilliantly polished epigrams e. Early works exposition of prosodic theory In prosody:


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An Essay on Criticism was famously and fiercely attacked by John Dennis, who is mentioned mockingly in the work. Consequently, Dennis also appears in Pope's later satire, The Dunciad. Part II of An Essay on Criticism includes a famous couplet: A little learning .

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Pope wrote “An Essay on Criticism” when he was 23; he was influenced by Quintillian, Aristotle, Horace’s Ars Poetica, and Nicolas Boileau’s L’Art Poëtique. Written in heroic couplets, the tone is straight-forward and conversational.

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'A little learning is a dang'rous thing,' Alexander Pope famously writes in his poem 'An Essay on Criticism.' The poem is one of the most quoted in the English language and one that offers tremendous insight into Pope's beliefs and into the culture in which Pope was writing. An Essay on Criticism was published when Pope was relatively young. The work remains, however, one of the best-known commentaries on literary criticism. The work remains, however, one of the best-known commentaries on literary criticism.

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AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM. Written in the Year (by Pope, Alexander) THE CONTENTS OF THE Essay on Criticism. PART I. 1. That 'tis as great a fault to judge ill, as to write-ill, and a more dangerous one to the public. 2. The variety of men's Tastes; of a true Taste, how rare to be found. 3. An Essay on Criticism, didactic poem in heroic couplets by Alexander Pope, first published anonymously in when the author was 22 years old. Although inspired by Horace ’s Ars poetica, this work of literary criticism borrowed from the writers of the Augustan Age.