Alexander Pope

Annie Lee | Aug 23, 2023

Table of Content


Alexander Pope (born May 21?

Alexander Pope's proper literary debut is considered to be the publication of his poem Poem on Criticism, modeled on Nicolas Boileau's codex of 18th-century classicism. Since then, his work - though stylistically unified and coherent in worldview - has encompassed the entire variety of literary genres and circles of interest known at the time, from satire and the heroicomic poem, of which he was a representative, to serious philosophical poems promoting faith in the goodness of God, and even religious songs.

Alexander Pope has remained on the tongues of literary critics for more than two hundred years as the protagonist of one of the greatest disputes in the history of English poetry, with some sides downgrading his work and even stripping him of his name as a poet. At the same time, as an aphorist, he is, next to William Shakespeare, the most quoted Islander. To this day, he is also considered the greatest poet of his generation, the first master of English satire and the most outstanding creator of the heroicomic poem.

Although Pope embodied all the characteristics of the English Enlightenment, an era that was somehow obsolete in terms of emerging Romanticism, his works played an important role in the work of poets such as George Gordon Byron and Adam Mickiewicz, and modern scholars increasingly see them as a vague turn toward a "Romantic Revolution." This thread represents yet another area of contention about Pope's poetry.

Alexander Pope's motto was the saying: "Everything that is, is right."

Alexander Pope was born on May 21, 1688 in London as the first-born son of devout Catholics Alexander Pope senior and Edith Pope, née Turner. From the beginning, the future poet was a sickly and physically weak child, which prevented him from attending school. His somewhat hobbled appearance from an early age affected his interpersonal relationships. The gates of English universities were also closed to him because of his Catholic faith.

Despite the lack of a solid education, young Pope took an interest in literature on his own. The whole situation had a beneficial effect on the boy's mind, as he grew in intellectual freedom and independence; in adulthood, especially in his years of literary splendor, he became known as "the most instinctive of classical poets." At home on the edge of Windsor Forest, he absorbed considerable quantities of masterpieces of ancient poetry; at around the age of twelve, he also began writing his own works. "He read and wrote incessantly," he used to say, "rattling off rhythms" and then discussing the value of his compositions with his adult friends.

Pope appeared on the unusually lively literary scene of Augusta's time as a teenage boy, an author, it was said, "of good promise," praised by William Wycherley, who read some of the young poet's poems. He eventually made his debut in 1709 with the bucolic poem Pastorals. It should be noted here the insincerity of the author, who, apparently wanting to pass himself off as a "child prodigy" of his era, publicly announced that he had written the poem at the age of thirteen, although it is well known that he often meticulously corrected and supplemented its contents at an older age. This incident became the first reason (among many) why to this day Pope's name is associated with hypocrisy, insincerity and spiteful injustice.

The brilliant debut made the young Pope feel like a fish in water in the literary arena of the time, still climbing the steps of the English Parnassus. In 1711, the poet's next work, a rhymed treatise on the art of poetry, containing elements of a didactic poem, An Essay on Criticism, appeared in print. Pope - perhaps too audacious in his restrictive literary judgments made at such a young age - took inspiration from Nicolas Boileau while writing. The piece immediately made a furor, and since then Alexander Pope's literary life has become an uninterrupted string of successes. It even came to the point that the young poet became interested in one of the pillars of the culture of the time, Joseph Addison, publisher of the famous magazine "The Spectator". Pope's fame was further cemented in 1714, when his most famous work was published: Knocked Up. His friends were then joined by Jonathan Swift.

In 1717 Pope's sudden fame was crowned by the first edition of his collected works, which included two new works: love poems about passion that differed significantly from the poet's previous work: Eloisa to Abelard and Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady.

Pope, from the beginning, manifested a number of personal traits that are colloquially used to call a difficult character. The poet's notorious envy and irritability, combined with constant relapses, became the cause of many bouts of criticism in the future, often unfairly rejected, taken too personally, or simply delusional. Pope's irony was effective, albeit not always subtle. Sometimes the wronged writer resorted to the sharpest tools of satire, boasting of his "ability to cause pain" (proper power of hurt).

Little is known about Pope's emotional life. It is believed that the love of his life was Marthy Blount, who accompanied the poet for many years and cared for him in the days of relapse. Intimate relations with Marthy brought Pope together just a short time after he proposed to his longtime friend Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and was violently ridiculed by her. Alexander had always displayed sensitivity to women's influence, so rumor has it that the bitterness caused by the incident aroused his hostility toward Lady Mary, which also carried over into the literary field. The works dedicated to Mrs. Blount were completely different in tone; in fact, the poet dedicated and dedicated all his most intimate poems to her.

Aesthetic and religious poems (1709-1712)

1712 is the date of Pope's publication of perhaps his most famous work. The heroicomic poem The Rape of the Lock, as it is referred to, has enjoyed a reputation as a true masterpiece for nearly three hundred years, regardless of partisanship. Even at the time of its first publication, critics were drowning in admiration; they spoke of a genius for humor, a mastery of the pen or an unparalleled degree of fantasy and subtlety. A little later, Henry Hazlitt called Knocked Up a "notable example of filigree work." The work was dissected into five songs, describing in sublime Homeric style an authentic social scandal: Lord John Caryll, in love with the beauty of Lady Arabelia Fermor, attempts to rape a lock of her hair. In the poem, in addition to satirical elements, there are also fantastic and fairy-tale, and in the last song - philosophical and moralistic. To this day, The Knock Knock is considered the most outstanding example of a heroicomic poem in literature.

Descriptive Poems (1713)

In 1713 Pope published another important work, this time belonging to a group of descriptive poems fashionable among the aristocracy, Windsor Forest. The work depicts the charms of the forest located in the town of Windsor in Berkshire County. At this point it is necessary to mention the aesthetic views of the English classicist. According to Pope, the so-called pure description, i.e. a "pure description", devoid of the human factor or specific content jutting out from the long stretches of mimetically depicted nature, cannot constitute the entire text of the work. Such a description, moreover, should not seek to reduce the poet's self, or turn it into an impersonal instrument, recording sensory impressions from contact with nature, without drawing from it a sense of measure or intellectual meaning. To sum up, according to the English poet, pure descriptive poetry would spell nonsense. Such a work would be "like a feast consisting of sauces alone," while the conduct of the poet writing it would prevent him from putting the world in order, which is the main feature of art.

Love poems (?-1717)

Pope's 1717 volume of collected works included two poems whose date of composition is uncertain: Eloisa to Abelard and Elegy to an Unfortunate Lady. The poet tried to include passion and pathos in them.

Philosophical Poems (1731-1734)

One of the most important concepts running through Pope's entire oeuvre was the otherwise popular word "Nature" in the age of Enlightenment classicism, defined by the poet with truly philosophical precision, but representing at least three different meanings depending on the work and its date of composition.

Pope's Enlightenment optimism, well evident in his poem A Poem about Man, was somehow balanced and moderate in its assessment of the world and worldly life. The poet does not claim, as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz did, that we live in the "best of all possible worlds," but at the same time he is far from such an extreme opposition to this thesis as represented by Voltaire. Pope recognized that man's overriding task in mortality (for he firmly believed in the resurrection) is to reasonably take a path between extremes, so that his life path leads to ever-deeper self-knowledge. Between this acquired self-knowledge and personal and social happiness, in turn, there would be harmony; actions in accordance with the laws of beauty, goodness and truth, according to the poet, reliably strive towards the elimination of evil and moral progress and even spiritual self-realization in the world.

Adam Mickiewicz, as a thorough comparative analysis of his work - both mystical and more realistic - shows, is closer to Pope's poetics than to those of the Romantic school. It is also well known that the Bard wrote partly...

Byron, moreover, was Pope's last great defender.

Despite the well-established - not only by tradition, but, above all, by the unanimous verdict of literary scholars - opinion that Alexander Pope is the most outstanding author of English classicism and the author of the finest example of the heroicomic poem, he still causes considerable problems for literary criticism. Zealous disputes continue to this day as one of the biggest problems in English literature, and began with Pope's literary debut. Roughly speaking, they are summarized in two points:

The moral scandals surrounding Pope's poetry

Alexander Pope had already become a flashpoint among the literary elite for a host of scandals of the time during his lifetime. "Well, Pope differed from Dryden in this, among other things, that he could not accept criticism indifferently. In general, he was readily rebuked for his conceit, vanity, malice, vindictiveness, injustice in satirical assaults, in short, for his so-called difficult character (...) Pope liked to mock his opponents, "and Pope's mockery was not always subtle."

Discussions around the value of Pope's poetry

"Few poets have been so admired and at the same time so fiercely attacked as Pope. As a result, the poet was and still is (after years of rejection, contemporary interest in him is growing) either loved or hated, with the most prominent figures in English literature standing on both sides of the barricade. Among the strong critics, for example, was William Wordsworth, among the supporters - George Gordon Byron.

Some partisans not only significantly lower the rank of his work, but even strip him of the name of poet, accusing Pope of an absolute lack of lyricism (with outstandingly developed aphoristic qualities), shallowness or absence of deeper intellectual content, saturation of his work with threads from the poet's private life, limited and secondary views, reduction of the poem to an elaborated form rather than a felt form (even when its subject was passion), in addition, burdened with the so-called "Pope's diction", which for many years became something shameful. "pope's diction", which for many years has impinged on the literary style of English poetry, and for many years became something shameful. Walter Pater spoke of Pope's "sophisticated lack of taste." He expressed his opinion in complete opposition to Tory aficionados, who see him as the epitome of word exquisiteness. Lytton Strachey, on the other hand, formulates his rebuke this way: "with an epic distich he has enchanted his shrieks into poetry." All these charges have made it troublesome for literary history to count Pope as a poet. Many of them are otherwise well-founded, nevertheless, "if to be a poet means to write the most divergent poems we know, to endow words with a vivid and exciting energy, to forge distichs and poems that remain forever in the memory, to present even a limited view of people and human life - then only an extraordinary persistence in madness or perversion can have Pope denied this title."

The paradox of Pope's poetry reception

From time immemorial, literary critics have accused Pope of smoothness, "politeness" of both form and content, a restraint that the poet has become synonymous with in English literature. It is said that the author of The Knapped Knock has betrayed the freshness of the outdoors, which belonged to the age-old and finest tradition of the poetry of the British Isles, for the stuffiness of cafes and the city. The opposition formed by Pope and William Cowper is well-known. The former is said to represent the so-called "poetry of the city," the latter - "poetry of the countryside." Another serious allegation goes as follows: Pope mechanized the poem, adapted it to the demands of the age of prose, abandoned spontaneous gusts of lyricism for a strictly, precisely worked-out poetics.

The paradox of the reception of Pope's poetry is that in its essence it presents the exact opposite of the accusations against it. While it is a fact that there is a pedantic attention to the finesse of rhymed form, "in reality ... Pope represents a reaction against artificiality and a return to nature." Tory rebelled against salon and conceptual poetry, and did not hold the Baroque in high esteem precisely because of its overemphasis on formal perfection. Pope rejected John Donne. As a result, although the moral overtones of his poetry proclaimed the rejection of dark, pessimistic thoughts in favor of what is light and wholesome, Pope is the main figure of the Enlightenment who should be associated with a revolution of the romantic type.


  1. Alexander Pope
  2. Alexander Pope
  3. ^ "Alexander Pope: The Evolution of a Poet" by Netta Murray Goldsmith (2002), p. 17: "Alexander Pope was born on Monday 21 May 1688 at 6.45 pm when England was on the brink of a revolution."
  4. "Alexander Pope: The Evolution of a Poet" by Netta Murray Goldsmith (2002), p. 17: "Alexander Pope was born on Monday 21 May 1688 at 6.45 pm when England was on the brink of a revolution."
  5. a b c d Alexander Pope. W: Henryk Zbierski: Historia literatury angielskiej. Poznań: Oficyna Wydawnicza Atena, 2002, s. 112. ISBN 83-87422-04-5.
  6. a b c d Alexander Pope. W: Henryk Zbierski: Historia literatury angielskiej. Poznań: Oficyna Wydawnicza Atena, 2002, s. 111. ISBN 83-87422-04-5.
  7. ^ Lessing-Herder, Dialoghi per massoni, Milano, Bompiani, 2014, p. 410, nota 4.
  8. ^ Alexander Pope, Saggio sull'Uomo, Macerata, Liberilibri, [1994] 1997.
  9. Vgl. Heinz-Joachim Müllenbrock: Pope, Alexander, in: Metzler Lexikon Englischsprachiger Autorinnen und Autoren. 631 Porträts – Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Hrsg. von Eberhard Kreutzer und Ansgar Nünning, Metzler, Stuttgart/Weimar 2006, ISBN 3-476-02125-4, S. 462–465, bes. S. 463 f.
  10. Borlase, William. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. 11. Auflage. Band 4: Bishārīn – Calgary. London 1910, S. 255 (englisch, Volltext [Wikisource]).
  11. Vgl. Heinz-Joachim Müllenbrock: Pope, Alexander, in: Metzler Lexikon Englischsprachiger Autorinnen und Autoren. 631 Porträts – Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Hrsg. von Eberhard Kreutzer und Ansgar Nünning, Metzler, Stuttgart/Weimar 2006, ISBN 3-476-02125-4, S. 462–465, bes. S. 464.

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