Thursday, August 29, 2019

Analysing An Essay On Criticism Poem English Literature Essay

Analysing An Essay On Criticism Poem English Literature Essay In the world of seventeenth century poetry, no poet exists in isolation. Not simply by being part of a club, such as Pope’s membership of the Scriblerus Club, but as being members of a particular class, a particular religion or a particular political outlook. Born into a Catholic family at a time when being Catholic meant being denied educational and political opportunities, may not have significantly influenced Pope worldview, but neither can such a fact be completely ignored. In this essay I shall argue that An Essay on Criticism is not a straight-forward treatise of writing poetry or indeed criticism, but rather a strong political and religious polemic. In a time of societal and political flux the intelligentsias of an age are often heavily influenced by the events which surround them. With the beginnings, albeit faltering beginnings of the industrial age, with many swapping traditional rural lifestyles to more urban settings, not least due to the ‘enclosure’ laws (a prohibition for rural dwellers from use of common acreage fodder (1), and the ever growing demand for workers in cities, coupled with new religious philosophies emerging from Europe from Luther and Calvin, in turn affecting political philosophies, the poets of the day could not remain immune to this change of landscape. That self same ‘landscape’ lay at the heart of early seventeenth century poets concerns expressed in poetry referred to a ‘pastorals’. But the approach to these poems, which attempted to define the new landscape and man’s role in it, could not have been more different. Two distinct factions emerged, one led by Ambrose Philip, the other by Alexander Pope. The former an adherent of the view of man as an individual, the latter, of the view that man’s role is primarily as a societal being, rather than an individual being. And what lay at the center of these views was no less than the future of mankind, at least as far as th ese two protagonists were concerned. Pope had already distinguished himself with the publication of Pastorals in 1709 before writing An Essay on Criticism at the relatively young age of twenty three. In this poem, which follows the Epic form, albeit in apparently less somber fashion than the Golden Age of Homer, Virgil and Ovid which influenced it, Pope offers his opinion on what exactly is or is not the essence and significance of poetry. Or at least, it may seem so at first glance. His opening four lines from part one:                      Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill                      Appear in writing or in judging ill;                      But, of the two, less dang’rous is th’ offence                      To tire our patience, than mislead our sense. (3) offers in many ways a synopsis of his entire treatise. That is, it’s one thing to read or write bad or annoying poetry, it’s a n entirely different affair to ‘mislead our sense’. Immediately what’s at stake is presented. An Essay on Criticism is not simply a dig at bad poets or bad poetry, but a real concern of what thinking, or what ‘sense’ may result from such work if left unchallenged. His lines 7 & 8, reiterate what is at stake:

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