Photo of Alexander Pope

Group Reports/ Members

Jamie, Novia ,Derrick, Emily, Herbert


Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

"An Essay on Criticism"

Thursady,March 7, 2000



About Life of Alexander Pope
"An Essay on Criticism"
1. Paraphrase
2. Vocabulary
3. Speaker
4. Listener
5. Tone
6. Imagery
8. Symbol
9. Personal Opinion

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The Life of Alexander Pope (1688-1744 )

Alexander Pope was a son of a London cloth merchant who was also a Roman Catholic draper. Pope was educated at various Catholic schools until the age of twelve, when a severe illness of spine left him crippled. Therefore, he never grow taller than 4ft 16in (about 127c.m.) and was subject to violent headaches. He was exceptionally irritable all his life because of that illness. After his illness, he mainly self-educated. Pope has admired Horace (a Roman poet) and Vergilius (poet) and valued them as models of poetry. In his time, Pope was famous for his witty satire and aggressive, Bitter quarrels with other writers. Pope is generally regarded as the leading 18th century English poetic satirist. He's one of the greatest poets of Enlightenment and his breakthrough work " An Essay on Criticism" (1711) appeared when he was at age 23. Pope was considered literary dictator of his age and the epitome of English Neoclassicism.

The 18th century Poetry

After the end of the Restoration period (around 1714, when the last Stuart monarch, Anne, died and the German ruling family, the Hanovers, took over in the form of George I), the stage in England becomes a pretty dismal place, and for the most part remains that way until the late 19th century. Plays were no longer a major literary form. After the death of Pope and Swift, poetry is no longer the preferred form and the prose works of this period are much stronger.


"An Essay on Criticism"


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.

But most people judge a poet's poem by Versification (an art of composing verse, which has special form, and emphasizing on tone). They judge a poet to be right or wrong depending on whether the tone is smooth or rough.

Though thousands of charm conspires the bright Muse, her voice is all these tuneful fools, who haunt Parnassus but to please their ears, admire. These fools are just as some people who go to church repair for the music there but not for the doctrine.

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.

These syllables are required equally long, though the ear often tired with the open vowels. While expletives do join their feeble aid and ten low words are often placed in one dull line. While they ring the same unchanged chimes over and with certain returns which is 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".

Whenever you find " the cooling western breeze", whispers through the trees" appear in the next line. If there is line saying a crystal stream, "with pleasing murmurs creep" will follow behind. Then readers can predict the following word to be " 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.

Then, at the end a couplet contains with some unmeaning things that those poets call a thought ends the poem with a needless Alexandrine. (A line verse containing six iambic feet) And it is like a wounded snake, dragging its body crawling away.

Leave such to tune their own dull rhymes, and know What's roundly smooth, or languishingly slow; And praise the easy vigor of a line, Where Denham's strength, and Waller's sweetness join.

The poets tune their poem with the dull rhymes and said that was roundly smooth and languishingly slow.

And people praised the easy vigor of a line in the poem, and said that was combined Denham's strength and Waller's sweetness.

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance. 'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence, The sound must seem an echo to the sense.

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance; it is just like those who have learned to dance can move in the easiest way. It's not enough emphasizing on sound only, the sound must correspond to the sense.

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.

(Pope gave several examples to show how the meaning in the poem correspond to the sound. They are as following.)

When describing zephyr blows gently, the strain is soft and the smooth stream flows in smoother numbers. But when describing loud surges lash the sounding shore, the hoarse, rough verse should be like the torrent roar.

When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw, The line too labors, and the words move slow; Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain, Flies o'er the' unbending corn, and skims along the main.

(Two more examples were given here.)

The line and the word move slow to show that Ajax strives to throw a rock of vest weight. Like Camilla swiftly scours the plain, flying over the unbending corn, and skims along the ocean.

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:

(One more example given.)

Just hear how the poem Timotheus' varied the lines to be full of surprises to make readers' feeling fall and rise with these changes. We can see those undulation in the son of Libyan Jove.

(Then Pope retells the story of that poem in the following lines.)

"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 subdued by sound! The power of music all our hearts allow, And what Timotheus was, is Dryden now.

Persians and Greeks are apt to use the turns of nature to express their thought and those famous poets now insist to be covecame by rhyme (to focus on rhyme.) But the power of music should allow our hearts to lead out emotion like the poem "Timotheus"did and the way Dryden is doing now.





---Principles or beliefs, especially religious ones. ---Statement of official government policy. (In American use)

E.g.: In the latest press conference, the official announces new doctrine.


---A group of people makes a secret agreement for illegal things. E.g.: Mrs. Jones admitted conspiring to murder her husband. --- Work together to cause a particular result.

E.g.: To carry out the plan, England and The United States conspire together.

Syllable -

--Any of the units into which a word may be divided, usual consisting of a vowel- sound with a consonant.

E.g.: The word "lady" has two syllables.


---An expletive is a rude word or expression you use when you are annoyed or excited.

E.g.: He uttered several vigorous expletives when he dropped the iron on his foot.

Feeble -

-- Weak, faint, lacking force

E.g.: She is feeble from sickness.


---Vigor is physical or mental energy and enthusiasm.

E.g.: His body lacks the bounce and vigor of a normal two-year-old.


--- If you describe something as unvarying, you mean that it stays the same and never changes.

E.g.: Her unvarying refusal to make public appearances.


--- A couplet is two lines of poetry which come next to each other, especially two lines that rhyme with each other and the same length.

E.g.: Alexander Pope, an excellent poet was good at making couplet.


---If you say that situation or action is fraught, you mean that it is worrying or stressful.

E.g.: It has been a somewhat fraught day.

--- If a situation or action is fraught with problems or ricks, it is filed with them.

E.g.: The earliest operations employing this technique were fraught with dangers.


---Part of a tune or piece of music being performed.

E.g.: The choirboys sing the angelic strains.


---Soft gentle breeze

E.g.: Zephyr's blowing makes me comfortable.


--- Forward or upward movement.

E.g.: Viewing the surge of the sea, I can't help feeling afraid.

Lash -

-- To strike somebody or something with or as with a whip

E.g.: Rain lashed on the roof against the windows.


--- Having a specified sound or giving a mental impression of a specified kind.

E.g.: The sounding shore lashed by the sea looks magnificent.


---Sounding rough and harsh

E.g.: He shouted himself hoarse.


---writing arranged in lines, often with a regular rhyme scheme.

E.g.:Most of the scene is written in verse, but some is in prose.


---Violently rushing stream of water,lava,etc.

E.g.:The mountain torrent happened a couple of years ago.


---Try very hard to obtain or achieve something

E.g.: He strives to improve his performance.



The speaker in the poem " An Essay on Criticism" is Alexander Pope himself. He criticizes some poets who emphasize on sounds only and show his viewpoints of true writing.

Through the speaker, Alexander Pope, in this poem, we think his character and personality as the following. Pope is a critical perfectionist in poetry for he insists that poets should combine sounds with meanings when writing poem. He is firm in his own view as to the extent of writing satire to satirize other poets.

He may be a hot temper poet for he criticizes a lot. However, he is a literate with a sense of humor because he always knows how to criticize indirectly with wittiness. He is brave as well because regardless of whether other poets' anger or hatred toward him, he is bound to say and to show whatever he feels right.

Pope is knowledgeable because he uses things from large-scale filed in the examples he gave in this poem. Readers have to be informed with lots of information then to fully understand Pope's example. Meanwhile, he knows how to appreciate and bound to praise other's strong points if he thinks that good. For example, he praised Dryden in "An Essay in Criticism" for his excellent work "Timotheus."



The listener of this poet refer to all the people in Pope's period including all the poets and readers. He wrote this poem especially to those poets who emphasized on rhyme and sounds only instead of on sense and content.



Pope's tone in this poem was both critical and satirical but also along with a sense of humor. Alexander Pope was good at satirizing in a witty way.



That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length alone. (Line 357)

This gave readers the visual image that those long but meaningless sentences are like a long wounded snake trying hard dragging its heavy body.

Soft is the stream when Zephyr gently blows, (line366)

By this sound and visual image, readers seem to feel the gentle Zephyr blowing by and hear the soft sound of it.

And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows; (line367)

This is a visual image. We could see a smooth stream gently flows.

But when loud surges lash the sounding shore, (line368)

Both sound and visual image. We seem to see a scene of surges lash the sounding shore and hear the violent sound it creates.

The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar (line369)

This sentence contains both sound and visual image, too. Readers hear the hoarse roar of the torrent and see it flows violently.

When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw (line370)

This is a visual image, which gave a scene that Ajax trying hard throwing the vest weight stone away.

The line too labors, and the words move slowly; (line371)

The words can not really move but through this description, the poet seems to humanize the words. In our opinion, it is a personification.

Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain, (372)

Flies over the unbending corn, and skims along the main. (373)

A visual image of Camilla scours the plain swiftly over the file of unbending corn and the sea was given.



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 threatened {not in vain} with "sleep";

Pope gave some forms that often appear in other poets' work in his period. He satirizes that their usage is cliche so that as long as one sentence appears, readers would soon know the following one.

Then, at the last end only couplet fraught

With some unmeaning thing they call a thought,

Pope does not consider those meaningless sentences formed only for sound can be count as containing thoughts. Therefore, he says ironically that other poets think of their unmeaning couplet as a thought. (But in Pope's viewpoint, they are not at all. They are dull and long couplet that has rhythm only.)



On our presentation, we said that the symbols in this poem are "Muse" and "a wounded snake" but Doris told us that we should go back to check the definition of symbol. We found that the symbol in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is [snake] which is a symbol of evil, then in our opinion that the symbol in "An Essay on Criticism." Is Muse. Muse is the symbol of beautiful melodies. People at that time judged a poem only by it's sounds so the writer use Muse as a symbol to be pleasant to listen to.



Personal Opinion
















For me, one who lacks poetic sense, to fully understand and to appreciate a poem is always a big task. This time, since we had to work on this poem, I did work hard joining the group discussion. And I found that one could really do something if he have to and does work on it.

Our group had a short time to prepare for the first satire we've ever had, An Essay on Criticism. It was truly difficult for us to analyze those complicated rhythm, metaphors, similes, and imageries. Also, it requires quite a lot of background information such as the emphases of the 18th century poetry to really understand this poem. Though we didn't give a perfect presentation, we did work hard on this and did learned how to work as a group. And of course, we learned how to figure out the meaning of a poem on our own!

I think Pope was marvelous because he criticized those poets without really scold them. Instead, he used a witty implied way and could give such great examples, which the sound fully corresponds to the meaning within his own poem. I considered this poem as a good example of satirical poetry. ( By Jamie)
















Through this poem, Pope clearly expressed all his thoughts to every reader's mind in a beautiful form. He made me recalling a Chinese scholar who also called on those poets at the time to write a poem or an article for publicizing truth, not only for meter and rhyme. The Chinese scholar also used the way, which was popular, and emphasizes on outside form to write the article, just the same with Pope. But Pope is more sarcastic and powerful because he directly pointed out those mistakes, which other poets often made, and illustrated them with many examples. Besides, this poem makes me understand that western poetry can also implies some truths and uses the limited meter at the same time, not only just to express the poets' emotion. And "An Essay on Criticism" is one of the best pieces of this kind of critical works. Its content is an article, but its style of writing is a poem, and the sound is also pleasing. I really adore Pope's talent and creativity, especially knowing the background of this poem. Pope was really a brave man, because at that time, there was rarely a person can see the problem of poetic literature, or even dare to criticize it; but Pope did, he stood out and defeated the social point of view by its familiar form of literature. He was an admirable poet, and I believe that this poem will be passed from generation to generation and last forever. ( By Novia )










I think this poem is so difficult, if Doris didn't tell us how to analyze it, I really don't know how to start the analysis. The writer uses many critical ways to criticize those poets at that time. My favorite part is on line357 "That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length alone." The sentence is so great because the writer can criticize other poets without any dirty word. He uses some vivid imagery instead of insulting that's why I think his critical skill is pretty good. ( By Derrick)
















Whenever I read a poem with only rhyme without full content, I feel it illusory. For me, the poem with only rhyme seems like a model, like a structure. What the poet should do is to put some proper words into the structure of the poem to make it sound fluently. That is to say, to create a poem is to collect some words with the same rhyme and place them in the last word of a sentence. In reality, sometimes I regard it as nonsense like the way we criticize the poem in some Chinese dynasty.

On the contrary, if I read a poem full of imagery and deep meaning, I would like to understand it more and think about what it includes. A meaningful poem would help readers go further mentally and cause a shock in reader's mind. The poem encourages readers to consider things inside it and develop every possible meaning in all directions, as does good to readers.

When preparing the report, we group members made great efforts. We use every seconds to do the difficult job because there is only a short time for us to finish it. We work on a project but do different things. Although we got tired, we accomplish it in the long run. Hopefully, we can do things like this better next time. (By Emily )





Alexander Pope tried to criticize many poets and readers through this poem. In this poem, he pointed out the common mistakes of the poets during the 18th century. And Furthermore, he criticize the reader just appreciated the poem blindly. Alexander Pope himself as an example, he try to avoid those "stupid" mistakes in the "An essay of criticism". (By Herbert)