Critical poetry and An Essay on Criticism
The critical poem was popular in the Restoration and came into full bloom in the eighteenth century. Following the pattern set by Horace in his Ars Poetica (c. 17 b.c.e.; The Art of Poetry), the Italian poet Marco Girolamo Vida wrote De arte poetica (1527; Vida’s Art of Poetry, 1725) and the French poet Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux wrote L’Art poétique (1674; The Art of Poetry, 1683). In England, John Sheffield’s Essay on Poetry (1682), Wentworth Dillon, earl of Roscommon’s Essay on Translated Verse (1684), and Lord Lansdowne’s Essay upon Unnatural Flights in Poetry (1701) bore testimony to the increased interest in literary criticism and theory.
Pope’s An Essay on Criticism (1711), the zenith of this genre, condensed eighteenth century poetic standards. An Essay on Criticism is actually a poem on how to judge a poem and on what morals are requisite for a critic. The first requirement is to follow nature, then to follow the ancients who “discov’red” and “Methodiz’d” the rules of nature. The “laws of Nature” to the Augustans meant, roughly, the right principles that every person of common sense and goodwill would follow in thought and conduct. The French called nature la belle nature, and Pope maintained that it is “the source, and end, and test of Art.” The faith that humans have in a...
(The entire section is 361 words.)
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