Poetic Diction of Alexander Pope

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      Pope - A Classic in Prose. Mathew Arnold has called Pope a 'classic in prose.' It looks like a paradox, since Pope was a poet and not a prose-writer. What Arnold means by his paradoxical statement is that Pope's poetic style has all those qualities which gave distinction, warmth and ecstasy. It has wit and sparkle, clarity and logic, but it lacks that movement and vehement emotional quality which is the hallmark of true poetry. There is nothing loose or vague or obscure in Pope's poetry; everything is clear and transparent. This is what Arnold meant when he said that Pope was a classic of prose.

      Force and Clearness of His Style. The excellence of Pope's style lies in the facility and aptness of expression. He knows what to say and how to say it. The neatness and perspicuity of expression have given dignity even to common place thoughts. Byron calls him the most faultless of poets - in fact, his supreme technical ability is acknowledged by all. Pope has a clear thinking with regard to details and his quick mind grasps every aspects of the thing he describes. There is, of course, nothing very deep in Pope but he had a clear mental image of things, and he reproduces this image by the most suitable, and the most telling words. It is these two factors, viz., clear thinking and choice of right words that give neatness, force and clarity to his style.

      Pope - A Conscientious Artist. Pope was a conscientious artist, and a laborious craftsman. He was not satisfied with anything that fall short of perfection. His one great aim was to express his best thoughts in the best words. His best thoughts were often borrowed or derived from others, but his expression was his own. And his ideal was 'correctness'; and correctness which Pope consists, among other things, is "the passionate search for and triumphant finding of the exact words," to express what he felt and thought. To achieve this end he examined the content, gravity and weight of every word that he used and he polished and repolished his phrases. This kind of polish, gave neatness and brilliance to his style, but at the same time, it robbed his style of that spontaneous ease, which is the mark of great poetry.

      Apt Use of Words. Pope is apt arid accurate in the use of the words - infact, his care for the right word never relaxes. He uses words which, are enriched by their association with his great predecessors - Dryden, Milton and Spenser. He looks for the word he wants, and what he chooses he subdues to his purpose. He is never conventional; there is the charm of novelty in the aptness of his diction. We must remember, however, that words change their meaning; for instance in Pope's time, 'gale' meant 'wind' or even 'gentle breeze,' so when Pope used 'cool gales', the phrase need not be condemned as an instance of artificial diction. 'Even Coleridge praised 'the almost faultless position and choice of words in Pope's original compositions. Pope carefully revised his writings, and his alterations were always for improvement. He aimed at enriching the meaning and music of his lines. Very few poets pursued their ideals more consistently than Pope. He chose the proper words and they went into their proper places.

      Lack of Grace and Spontaneity. Yet the perfection that Pope achieved was a limited perfection. He was no doubt correct and clear; his style is chiseled into brilliance, but the chiseling shows that art lies in the concealment of art, but in Pope, his artifice is visible. We miss in Pope's poetry those rare graces, which take us by surprise in the work of great poets - the only poet whose faultlessness has been made his reproach. He corrects and corrects so as to eliminate every fault. His style is faultless indeed, but his laborious correction has also taken away the easy grace and spontaneity which we look for in great poetry. But it is said to the credit of Pope that "he stands for exactness of intellectual expression, for perfect propriety of phrase, and is a striking instance how much success and permanence of reputation depend on conscientious finish as well as on native endowment."

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