Does the formulation “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” include or exclude Pope’s use of heroic couplets to satirize a trivial theft of hair?  

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The dictum found in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads that “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” was, in fact, a programmatic rejection of the measured and rational poetry of the Augustans.  The phrase was specifically condemning not only the satire of “Rape of the Lock” and “Dunciad” but also the cerebral tone of “Essay on Criticism” and “Essay on Man”. Philosophically, Wordsworth and Coleridge are opposing the classical notionm of poetry as a craft espoused by Pope in such lines as “"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, / As those move easiest who have learned to dance"”. The emphasis on spontaneity appears to rule out the notion that writing well is a learned skill – perhaps misleadingly, as both poets devoted great effort to studying poetry, language, etc. and revised their own work quite carefully. The tranquillity in which emotion was to be recollected was also time for polishing and revising.

wordprof eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poetry becomes distinguished from verse during the transformation from the Classical to Romantic period.  Noone would ever accuse Pope of "recollecting in tranquility" any of his emotions, if he had any, other than satire and disdain for those he thought of as his inferiors. While "Rape of the Lock" may technically fulfill the Aristotelian definition of poetry, in that it has only one narrator, it does not fulfill the definition of "Romantic poetry."  Pope was not interested in Nature or his place in it – his concerns were political and social.  The oft-quoted lines from the preface of “The Lyrical Ballads" were not designed as a sweeping definition of all verse, but as a description of what the Romantic poets were striving for.