18th cen. poem-An Essay on Criticism

PosterĄG Esther Wu at 0:22:56 3/18/98 from d02.cef.org.tw


As the topic suggests, this look-unalike poem is a critical one talking about the heroic couplet.

First of all, a heroic couplet is the principle form of one of the English styles. A couplet is a stanza with end-stopped sentences that rhyme together. And the heroic couplet is one of the couplet, which has 5 pentameter and 10 syllables within one sentence. It is very strict. Poets in 18th century liked to pay attention on the form of poetry, and this poem was made based on that background.

Pope used the form of heroic couplet to present the bad, ridiculous feeling of heroic couplet. His purpose was to show the shallowness of those who pay lots of notice on rhyme and rhythm. He said:
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,
< Muse is supposed to be those who concern about sounds>
Her voice is all these tuneful fools admire,
< How vivid! >
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.

He said that there's no novelty in those kinds of form:
These equal syllables alone require,
Though oft the ear the open vowels tire,

While expletives their feeble aids 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 rhymesĄK

And then he gave examples:
1) Where'er you find "the cooling western breeze,"
In the next line, it "whispers through the trees",
2) If crystal streams "with pleasing murmurs creep,"
The reader's threatened (not in vain) with "sleep";

His examples are terrific that I couldn't help burst out laughing. J He just pointed out directly the repeatedness we are usually tramping into without awareness. From line 354~356 he said even harshly thath those tuneful fools used only couplet but nothing, and at the end of the poem just an unnecessary signature!

Then, at the last and only couplet fraught
With some unmeaning thing they call a thought,
A needless Alexandrine ends the song

He called those who concern, concentrate only about sounds, rhythm as tuneful fools. That's the main problem in a literary work Pope pointed out.

He thought that sense is more important than sound and rhythm are. Because it's the essense of the poem!
He said: The sound must seem an echo to the sense.
Sometimes the rhymers consider the form, the stately structure as important element in doing a poem that they appreciate the easy vigor of a line- cuz it looks beautiful on the structure! But what Pope thought was that the specialty of poetry, even literature, consists in the process of pouring thoughts. That's the true ART! It's not made of beautiful appearance of the structure, though being a part of a poem. The central part must be the idea.
He said: True ease in writing comes from art, not chance.

There are some lines with strange and hard sounds pronounce, which lie in lines 367~373. Those words are: strain, surges, hoarse, Ajax, strives, some, vast, scours, and skims. Those "s" sounds can create a good sense of friction, which made the readers slow down. And line 370 is very special that I found the syllables were all single ones. That creates the heavy feeling.


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