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An Essay on Criticism

Alexander Pope

Book Overview: 

An Essay on Criticism was the first major poem written by the English writer Alexander Pope. However, despite the title, the poem is not as much an original analysis as it is a compilation of Pope’s various literary opinions. A reading of the poem makes it clear that he is addressing not so much the ingenuous reader as the intending writer. It is written in a type of rhyming verse called heroic couplets.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Thence form your judgment thence your maxims bring
And trace the muses upward to their spring.
Still with itself compared, his text peruse,
And let your comment be the Mantuan Muse. [129]

When first young Maro in his boundless mind, [130]
A work to outlast immortal Rome designed,
Perhaps he seemed above the critic's law
And but from nature's fountain scorned to draw
But when to examine every part he came
Nature and Homer were he found the same
Convinced, amazed, he checks the bold design
And rules as strict his labored work confine
As if the Stagirite o'erlooked each line [138]
Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem,
To copy nature is to copy them.

Some beauties yet no precepts can declare,
For there's a happiness as well as care.
Music resembles poetry—in each
Are n. . . Read More

Community Reviews

So you want to be a critic? Read this book as your premier steps.

Ahem. It's kind of awkward, trying to review a great poem about reviewing. I have to reread everything I type and examine it for Pope's fiercely lambasted Follies. I believe I shall confine my comments to this:

-This is as true now as it was 301 years ago, when it was published. (It both pleases and

I had heard of this work by Pope before I read it. I’ve always assumed it to be a lengthy wordy lecture about something, though I wasn’t sure what it would be criticising. Instead, I discovered a lengthy poem mocking critics and bad poets. In places he doesn’t hold back the contempt he feels for eit

18th-century English literature (+ the Restoration) is somewhat of an anomaly. I’ve always considered it the dry spell in the canon, with relatively few works that I’ve managed to read cover to cover: the novels are gruesomely long (and, what’s worse, often epistolary), the poetry rigid and draws to


“A little learning is a dangerous thing”
“Some praise at morning what they blame at night;
But always think the last opinion right.”

how prescient was Pope?
did he foresee the heavy-handed and ultimately uninspired contemporary, po-mo approach to lit-crit?
indeed, Alexander Pope offers the most precise summation of post-modernism available:

"Such labored nothings
in so strange a style
amaze th' unlearned
and make the learned smile"

Well, I actually enjoyed it, probably because my real life is even crappier than an 18 century poem.

This one is even more delightful than The Rape Of The Lock. It has the nuanced satire on the critics that foolishly reject and criticize every innovative endeavor by a poet. So here is a little chastisement for those lost soul.
The poem has some excellent couplets and few very quotable verses that w

Sometimes, I grow the silly delusion that I might have the potential to be a writer. As a curative, I read this, Lycidas, and Hours of Idleness; then I recall that not only am I not a writer, I am old.

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