What does Alexander Pope mean in the following lines from ''An Essay on Criticism''?Others for language all their care express And value books as women men for dress Words are like leaves and...

What does Alexander Pope mean in the following lines from ''An Essay on Criticism''?

Others for language all their care express

And value books as women men for dress

Words are like leaves and where they most abound

Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found

But true expression like the unchanging sun,

Clears, and improves what'er it shines upon

Asked on by rozh

1 Answer | Add Yours

thanatassa's profile pic

thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

These three heroic couplets from Alexander Pope's "An Essay on Criticism" are part of a sequence of comments on imperfect critics who focus only on one aspect of a poem rather than reading a poem as a whole. In this section, he is criticizing a type of rhetorical criticism found in handbooks on tropes and figures that judges the value of a poem based on clever use of ornate language. Pope is arguing here that just as you should value people for their ideas and moral nature more than their clothing, so poems should be valued for thought as much as form. The best language for Pope is that which makes ideas clearer rather than obscuring them, i.e.:

But true expression like the unchanging sun,

Clears, and improves what'er it shines upon

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,912 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question