Discuss the relationship between form and content in Pope's An Essay on Criticism.

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What is so suitable about the relationship between form and content is the way that Pope chooses to write his guide on criticism of poetry in poetic form. This allows him to present the reader with a series of examples of bad and good poetry, whilst also satirising the failings of various critics to do their job properly. Pope therefore ironically produces a poem that is about the mechanics of what constitutes "good" poetry, and he deliberately uses the form to present the reader with a series of good and bad examples.

For example, it was considered that meter was a key element of poetry, and Pope averred that false critics judged poetry by meter and whether it was smooth or rough mistakenly, as poets should be trying to fit the sound to the sense, whether that involves the use of smooth or rough meter. Consider the following example he provides:

Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,

And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;

But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,

The hoarse, rough verse should like a torrent roar.

He uses sibilance in the repetition of "s" in the first two lines to help create a smooth meter, emphasised by the repetition of "smooth," but then he goes on to use alliteration of the repetition of "l" in the third line and onomatopoeia in words such as "roar" to support his claim that rough meter equally has its place depending on what is being described. Pope's choice of form therefore allows him to not just talk about what makes good poetry, but to show his readers what constitutes good poetry in concrete form.

Read the study guide:
An Essay on Criticism

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question