General Characteristics of Alexander Pope's Poetry

Also Read

      Pope is the most important, though not the greatest, poetical figure of the eighteenth century. His importance lies in the fact that he exercised the greatest influence on the classical poetry of the century. His poetry was. intellectual, didactic and satiric, and was almost all written in heroic couplet. It is never of the highest class, but within its limits, it stands unrivaled in the language.

      Advent of Classicism. Pope is by far the most important poetic figure of the age called after him (1700-1740). The age of Dryden that preceded it was marked by a critical spirit and by the advent of classical temper. The Elizabethans and the Metaphysical poets had indulged in romantic excesses and extravagant conceits, which needed to be checked. Hence, after the Restoration there was a desire for order and balance; and so classical temper with its ideal of sanity entered into the literature of the age of Dryden. This was the beginning of what is called 'classicism' in English literature; in the next age Pope consolidated it. In the writings of Pope, rationalism with its ideal of order and common sense established itself firmly.

      Psuedo-Classicism. The works of the ancient poets of Greece, on the one hand, were full of true poetic impulse, and on the other were marked by excellence of form and construction. This is true classicism - poetic ardor combined with excellence of form. In Pope, the true poetic ardor and energy is absent but he is exceedingly careful about the technique of form and style. In Pope's work the real substance of poetry is missing, while its external garb is polished. In the substance of Pope's poetry, we do not find anything worthwhile. Satire, didactic poetry; and a flimsy mock-heroic poem are all his poetic achievements; they are mere products of intellect, and artificially constructed; they do not reproduce true classical spirit. Hence, it is not correct to describe Pope as a true classicist. (Milton with his poetic impulse and perfection of form, is a true classicist). The classicism of Pope is the shadow of classicism; it is false or pseudo-classicism.

      A Conscientious Artist. Pope was a conscientious poetic artist, and his work is always marked by careful workmanship. His great aim was to express himself clearly, and he succeeded in accomplishing his aim. There is nothing loose or vague in his writing. In fact, no poet has expressed more clearly than Pope what he had to express. It is true that he had not much to express— he had hardly any original thing to say, his thoughts are mostly borrowed or common place, but what gives distinction to his poetry is its lucid expression. His aim was to set gems, not to create them. Lessing said: "Pope's great merit lay in what we call the mechanics of poetry."

      Pope's Poetry is Intellectual. Pope's poetry was of his age, and it reflected in full measure the spirit of the age. It is intellectual and its appeal is to the mind rather than to the heart. It is full of wit and epigram, the brilliancy of which is unsurpassed. Pope is next only to Shakespeare, in contributing quotable lines of verse, which are remarkable for their pregnancy, neatness and brevity. The lack of emotion in Pope's poetry is compensated (if it can be compensated) by intellectual clearness and neatness of expression. Lowell truly says: "Pope as literary man represents precision and grace of expression."

      A Poet of Wit and Fancy. Pope was a poet of wit and fancy. The subjects of poetry in which he excelled are of the satirical and mock-heroic kind. He is the unchallenged master of artificial poetry, i.e., poetry dealing with artificial life, and in this sphere, The Rape of the Lock stands unmatched. It shows a rare combination of wit and fancy. It has been called the most exquisite monument of playful fancy that can be found in any literature. His satire may lack the largeness of Dryden's; but "he looked on society with an unclouded eye, and he expresses his views with a pen that never stumbled, never made slips of form, and always said the right thing in the right way." (Saintsbury)

      Lack of Originality and Lyricism. There is no originality, or glow of emotion or imagination in the classical poetry of the eighteenth century. It excludes all that is subjective or emotional. Hence, there is no lyricism in (classical poetry, which is either satiric or didactic or imitative. "It would be scarcely rash to say that there is no original thought, sentiment, image and example of the other categories of poetic substance to be found in the half of a hundred thousand lines of Pope" (Saintsbury)

Previous Post Next Post