Essay On Criticism "The Sound Must Seem An Echo To The Sense"

Alexander Pope

"The Sound Must Seem An Echo To The Sense"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Warning that to be a bad critic is far worse than to be a bad poet, Pope notes that many critics lack genius and more a proper education. Among the causes of poor critical judgment are false pride, the tendency to consider a work of art as segments rather than a whole, and the habit of delighting in a single aspect of poetry, such as wit, flowery language, or smooth versification. The versification, says Pope, is good only if it is appropriate to the sense of the poem:

Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense:
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 the torrent roar.
When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
The line too labours, and the words move slow:
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er the unbending corn, and skims along the main.
Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprise,
And bid alternate passions fall and rise!
While, at each change, the son of Libyan Jove
Now burns with glory, and then melts with love:
Now his fierce eyes with sparking fury glow,
Now sighs steal out, and tears begin to flow:
Persians and Greeks like turns of nature found
And the world's victor stood subdued by sound!