Can Alexander Pope's “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot” be considered as a plea for genuine poetry? Discuss.(Long Essay with major points )

1 Answer | Add Yours

durbanville's profile pic

durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

As an acknowledged satirist, having caused discord among colleagues and other learned men due to his style and ability to mock people and institutions, Alexander Pope uses his poetry as a vehicle through which to "converse" and state his opinions whilst showing his appreciation for the opinions of others and expressing his disdain for his enemies and critics. 

Examining his own illustrious career, Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot is written to his dear friend, Dr Arbuthnot, as a tribute to their long and enduring friendship. His capacity to also mock himself, even using himself to create rhyme ("elope....Pope"), he classifies himself with such abstract qualities as "Genius," "Wit and Poetry and Pope." Others should, if they cannot appreciate his words, ignore his often mere "posturings." If others are offended, it is due to their own shortcomings.  Note the use of capitalization for these abstract qualities.  Pope is sensitive to the feelings of those about whom he writes; hence, he berates himself regularly. Any direct affront found in this work is also indicative of his dislike for those who hide behind political or other agendas in their efforts to place themselves above criticism.  

In writing a long essay, a thesis statement could take the form of a generalization. The writer may wish to use a style similar to Pope's and introduce a measure of satire. Consider:

Alexander Pope is a man to be taken seriously, fully aware of his reputation. His words are carefully presented and not at all perfunctory, as he "deal(s) in dangerous things." 

The whole essence of Pope's Epistle is his appeal to any reasonable person - and in this case the doctor - to appreciate the value of a good poet. His use of various emotions gives the poem its depth. There is no shortage of emotions on display and Pope amuses himself as he intersperses with his friend's supposed advice to beware of "foes like these." Pope's self awareness is occasionally interspersed with self pity. He is bitter as he remembers that his friend has nursed him through his "long disease, my life!" 

In his call to let "neglected Genius bloom," (257) there is a melancholy and a feeling of loss as development of poetry often suffers from a lack of insight. Early in his career, with the famed An Essay on Criticism, Pope speaks of innate abilities but also in the belief that some can acquire poetic genius. He is critical of critics and immediately wonders whether it it the writer's lack of skill or if the person assessing the writing is the one who lacks skill and foresight, in his opening words: "... greater Want of Skill / Appear in Writing or in Judging ill,..." (An Essay on Criticism)

It is important to "maintain a poet's dignity and ease," (263) especially as, as Pope points out "To live and die is all I have to do!"  Those who give poetry a bad name are not deserving and Pope reminds the reader who they might be in his quest to rid the world of so- called "patrons of the arts" who operate only for their own glorification: "Bufo...fed with soft dedication all day long." (232-33) and also, "Let peals of laughter, Coudrus! round thee break." (85)

Then,there are those who can add value but who are not appreciated. Pope wonders why others still do not appreciate his style of poetry by now and "Poor guiltless I" (281) reveals that he is still calling for others to appreciate good poetry. He, too, has been wrongly maligned but, ironically, it may have enhanced his abilities as a poet.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,911 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question