To clarify: "The Rape of the Lock" is extremely witty, but he does it by breaking the very rules he establishes in "An Essay on Criticism."
In "An Essay on Criticism," Pope's notion of "Wit" is difficult to pin down in a few words, not unlike attempting to explain the Japanese notion of "zen." We generally understand "wit" to refer to the quality of being clever, or funny. Pope no doubt includes this definition (as he liberally applies it himself), but his definition of the word is considerably broader. Let's begin with his most quoted lines on wit:
True Wit is Nature to Advantage drest,
What oft was Thought, but ne'er so well Exprest,
Something, whose Truth convinc'd at Sight we find,
That gives us back the Image of our Mind:
As Shades more sweetly recommend the Light,
So modest Plainness sets off sprightly Wit:
For Works may have more Wit than does 'em good,
As Bodies perish through Excess of Blood.
In short, "wit" begins with observing truth in Nature (human affairs, generally),...
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