An Essay on Criticism Questions and Answers
by Alexander Pope

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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

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In order to fully understand these lines from Pope's verse discourse An Essay on Criticism (1711), a seminal exploration of Neoclassical poetic ideals and literary criticism, we need to look briefly at Pope's argument with respect to both good poetry and good criticism, both of which are subjects of the Essay. From Pope's perspective, poetry and those who interpret poetry are inextricably bound, and between bad poetry and misinterpretation of that poetry, the misinterpretation can be the most harmful:

'Tis hard to say if greater want of skill

Appear in writing or in judging ill

But, of the two, less dang'rous is th' offence

To tire our patience, than mislead our sense (I:1-3).

In short, criticism that misinterprets a poem is more dangerous than a bad poem because it leads readers astray.

Pope, having come of age at the beginning of the Neoclassical Period in English literature, is not only steeped in the classics but is himself a Neoclassicist. He believes that the essence of good writing...

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