Essay on Poetic Theory

An Essay on Criticism (1711)

by Alexander Pope
       But soon by impious arms from Latium chas'd,
Their ancient bounds the banished Muses pass'd;
Thence arts o'er all the northern world advance;
But critic-learning flourish'd most in France.
The rules a nation born to serve, obeys,
And Boileau still in right of Horace sways.
But we, brave Britons, foreign laws despis'd,
And kept unconquer'd, and uncivilis'd,
Fierce for the liberties of wit, and bold,
We still defied the Romans, as of old.
Yet some there were, among the sounder few
Of those who less presum'd, and better knew,
Who durst assert the juster ancient cause,
And here restor'd wit's fundamental laws.
Such was the Muse, whose rules and practice tell
"Nature's chief master-piece is writing well."
Such was Roscommon—not more learn'd than good,
With manners gen'rous as his noble blood;
To him the wit of Greece and Rome was known,
And ev'ry author's merit, but his own.
Such late was Walsh—the Muse's judge and friend,
Who justly knew to blame or to commend;
To failings mild, but zealous for desert;
The clearest head, and the sincerest heart.
This humble praise, lamented shade! receive,
This praise at least a grateful Muse may give:
The Muse, whose early voice you taught to sing,
Prescrib'd her heights, and prun'd her tender wing,
(Her guide now lost) no more attempts to rise,
But in low numbers short excursions tries:
Content, if hence th' unlearn'd their wants may view,
The learn'd reflect on what before they knew:
Careless of censure, nor too fond of fame,
Still pleas'd to praise, yet not afraid to blame,
Averse alike to flatter, or offend,
Not free from faults, nor yet too vain to mend.

Originally Published: October 13, 2009
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 Alexander  Pope

Biography

Alexander Pope was born in London to a Roman Catholic family. A childhood sickness left him with stunted height, a curved spine, and ill health for the rest of his life. Pope earned fame and great financial success as a poet, satirist, and translator. He is perhaps best remembered for his mastery of the heroic couplet, as in An Essay on Man and “The Rape of the Lock.”

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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