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The Poetic Workmanship of Alexander Pope

The Poetic Workmanship of Alexander Pope

Copyright Date: 1955
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Poetic Workmanship of Alexander Pope
    Book Description:

    Through a detailed examination of Alexander Pope’s poetic practices, Mrs. Parkin throws light both on the craftsmanship and on the philosophical concepts which governed the creative thought of the poet. She analyzes Pope’s use of such literary devices as irony, antithesis, metaphor, narrative, paradox, tension, tonal variation, and the dramatic speaker. She discusses the Pope’s work as a whole. The study also provides an evaluation of the influence on Pope’s work of the neo-classical concepts of genre and imitation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3686-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Preface
    (pp. v-vi)
    Rebecca Price Parkin
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-6)

    The following chapters examine certain poetic practices of Pope as they contribute to and clarify his total meaning. His use of such devices as the implied dramatic speaker, irony, tension, parallelism, antithesis, paradox, narrative, metaphor, and tonal variation are considered as they function in the individual poem and in his work as a whole. The influence of the classical concepts of genre and imitation is discussed. It is hoped that this study will help remove some of the misapprehensions which have existed concerning both what Pope said and how he said it.

    The guiding principle has been one which Pope...

  5. 2 The Implied Dramatic Speaker
    (pp. 7-30)

    Use of a dramatically conceived communicator is not, of course, confined to Pope. The device is present in all poetry; it is, in fact, an indispensable condition under which every poem functions. Poets differ from each other, however, in their handling of the speaker; and an individual poet may, as Pope definitely does, vary his use from poem to poem. The reward of examining the function of the speaker—in general, in a poet’s works as a whole, and in individual poems—is that, like the analysis of any part of a poem, it leads to clearer and fuller understanding...

  6. 3 Irony
    (pp. 31-52)

    Irony is a humanly significant disproportion between the thing itself and a limited perception of it. The intelligent observer (the Eiron) recognizes the disproportion. The unintelligent (the Dupe) takes the partial for the whole. The two intrinsic parts of irony, then, are the hidden “real real” and an apparent but misleading real. The element of human observation and perception constitutes a third aspect of the Idea (in the Platonic sense) of irony.

    To borrow a metaphor from Scholastic philosophy, the above definition of irony as a humanly significant disproportion between the thing itself and a limited perception of it is...

  7. 4 Humor
    (pp. 53-65)

    Irony has a humorous facet, but Pope’s use of humor has aspects which go beyond concern with the operation of any one humorous mode. Humor in general plays a part in establishing three important qualities of his poetry—qualities, incidentally, in which contemporary poetry is sometimes considered deficient. These are clearness, balance of viewpoint, and universal appeal.

    Humor is, moreover, like metaphor, a cognitive device: it is a way of getting at knowledge as well as a manner of communicating it. Set against the background of the gods’ inextinguishable laughter, a subject gains in perspective and hence in precision, and...

  8. 5 Parallelism, Antithesis, and Paradox
    (pp. 66-84)

    Parallelism, antithesis, and paradox are closely related to one another. Antithesis is a special kind of parallelism, and paradox may be defined as a special kind of antithesis in which both halves of the antithesis are asserted to be true.

    The predominance, of the first two especially, in neoclassical English poetry and particularly in the poetry of Pope, has long been acknowledged and commented on. There is no major poem of Pope’s in which all three are not in some degree exemplified.

    Pope’s main purpose in using them is to achieve an effect which is itself paradoxical: motion in stance....

  9. 6 Metaphor
    (pp. 85-123)

    Metaphor, like irony and paradox, is one of the means available to the poet of making his communications about reality fuller and more accurate than is possible within the confines of accepted, current speech. Metaphor is therefore basically a pioneering technique. A poet with a new insight cannot always convey it in existing idiom, accepted, like paper money, at declared value. He must have recourse again to whatever, standing behind the currency, gives it value—to things themselves. He must furthermore, if meaning is to be conveyed, make clear to his readers one or more connections or similarities between things...

  10. 7 Tension
    (pp. 124-135)

    Poetry is expected to communicate with an urgency higher than that of prose. The most obvious attribute differentiating most poetry from prose, regularity of rhythm, helps achieve tension. So does rhyme and, when used as a line-marker especially, alliteration. Once expectations of repetition—not to mention phonic processes subtler than repetition—in meter and sound have been set up, the reader’s ear remains alert to have them satisfied.

    This physical satisfaction is not, however, the only aspect of the poetic exploitation of sound which helps produce tension. As soon as a reader with even a little experience in poetry hears...

  11. 8 Tonal Variation
    (pp. 136-141)

    As Pope matured poetically he used tonal variation with increasing rhetorical emphasis, precision of effect, and complexity.

    The classic pastoral is one of the few genres in which tonal variation is not a desideratum. Uniformity of tone is one of pastoral’s conventional assets. As mentioned previously, with the possible exception of Thyrsis’ final speech inWinter, Pope carefully excludes from these poems any allusions to unpastoral material or attitudes. Even thoughSummertreats of unrequited love,Autumnof perjured love, andWinterof grief for the dead, these emotions are successfully tranquilized by the pastoral mode. The pervading equanimity and...

  12. 9 Narrative Elements
    (pp. 142-159)

    Whether Pope is using a short narrative to serve the strategy of a particular poem or a long narrative as his primary organizing element, he displays a keen perception of the demands, uses, and conduct of fiction. And he satisfies these demands in ways consonant with his general poetic practice and outlook. Little attention has been focused on Pope’s use of narrative, perhaps because his excellence has been taken for granted. Yet, removing this element from his work would leave a very big gap indeed. Of all Pope’s major poems only theEssay on Manneither tells a story in...

  13. 10 Genre
    (pp. 160-183)

    Of all the traditional factors which shaped Pope’s career as poet, probably none was more powerful than the neoclassical concept of genre. One of the most illuminating aspects of his poetic practice is the way he adapts his style to various genres and yet contrives to remain recognizably Pope.

    Pope’s attitude toward genre was of a piece with his attitude toward the Rules. Conformity of subject matter and style to genre requirements was, in fact, one of the Rules. Hence, the maintenance of stylistic decorum in a genre is a part of Pope’s concept of “Nature methodised”; and by his...

  14. 11 Imitation
    (pp. 184-210)

    If in its physiological aspect Pope’s life was one long disease, in its poetical aspect it was one long imitation. The entire corpus of Pope’s works may, in a sense, be placed under the heading of imitation. It is merely a question of degree.

    “My first taking to imitating,” he told Spence, “was not out of vanity, but humility: I saw how defective my own things were; and endeavoured to mend my manner, by copying good strokes from others.” *

    Humility, aside from being good common sense, was part of the public decorum of a young poet. The Augustan audience...

  15. 12 The Approach to Correctible Evil
    (pp. 211-221)

    Pope’s poetry deals with two kinds of experience which, from the standpoint of the individual, may be called evil: cosmic evil, about which man can do nothing except submit; and man-made evil, which is correctible by human endeavor. Pope’s own basic attitude toward evil is conveniently summarized in these lines from theEssay on Man:

    What makes all physical or moral ill?

    There deviates Nature, and here wanders Will.

    God sends not ill; if rightly understood,

    Or partial Ill is universal Good,

    Or Change admits, or Nature lets it fall;

    Short, and but rare, till Man improv’d it all.


  16. 13 Pope’s Poetic World
    (pp. 222-230)

    Throughout his work Pope’s attention is firmly focused on man, generic man, as he is related to other men in human society, the world, and the universe. The direction of Pope’s interest in man is not inward and exclusive, but outward and inclusive. And the movement of his poetry, to borrow his own metaphor in theEssay on Man, is like that of self-love (by which he means a natural and proper concern for directing one’s self as a unit in society):

    Self-love but serves the virtuous mind to wake,

    As the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake;

    The centre...

  17. INDEX
    (pp. 231-239)