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Alexander Pope: The Poet in Poems

Alexander Pope: The Poet in Poems

Dustin H. Griffin
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    Alexander Pope: The Poet in Poems
    Book Description:

    What is the precise relation between the "Pope" of the poems and the Pope of history? Seeking to clarify the nature of the intimate link between the historical self and the idealized self of the poetry, Dustin Griffin examines the various ways in which Pope's poems may be said to be self-expressive. He brings a sensitive critical reading of the texts and an impressive knowledge of the poet's life and writings to his discussion of poems from the entire range of the poet's career.

    The author argues that Pope is present in his poems as a private person whose special imaginative and psychological concerns emerge because they are expressed publicly. In some poems, Pope confronts quite openly his fervent moral idealism with his powerful aggressive feelings, and he explores his conflicting impulses toward retirement and engagement. In others, he reveals impulses and attractions that he would not admit to full consciousness in his letters. Pope is also present as poet-protagonist, self-consciously attempting to present and master a body of poetic material. Professor Griffin's study recovers some of the personal energy that invigorates Pope's greatest poems and makes them strikingly self-expressive products of an imagination intrigued and often at odds with itself and, yet more sharply, with the world.

    Originally published in 1979.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6924-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    This familiar passage displays one of the most distinctive characteristics of Pope’s verse: the presence of a voice, speaking in the first person, that identifies itself one way or another as “Pope.” The voice is a recurrent one, not only in the four full-scale satirist’s apologies (the poems to Fortescue and Arbuthnot, and the two “1738” Dialogues),² but also in the remainingHoratian Imitations, in the series of familiar epistles, and in other early poems. It is present too in his epic and didactic works, particularly in theEssay on Man, with its intimate address to Bolingbroke at the opening...


    • 1 An Approach to Pope
      (pp. 3-37)

      Pope was plainly one of his own favorite subjects, and nowhere so obtrusively as in his letters. His disposition toward self-revelation can be observed in the Horatian poems of the 1730s, but we can study that disposition and the motives that prompted it more clearly in his correspondence dating from 1710 and even earlier, when he began to develop the habit of “pouring himself out on paper.” The letters throughout his career are characterized by regular, self-disclosing, informal, but “sincere” (the word is a recurrent one) communication, couched not in wit but, to use one of Pope’s favorite phrases, “the...

    • 2 Pope’s Selves: A View of His Literary Personality
      (pp. 38-68)

      To whatever degree Pope may have arrived in his later letters and poems at a clearly defined self-image, it is plain that such a self was the end product not of a simple and linear process of maturation, but of a continuing drama. By “drama” I mean to imply conflict, but not a fully theatrical view of the self.¹ In his early years Pope showed some interest in the old metaphor of the world’s stage—“a true Modern Life is like a true Modern Play, neither Tragedy, Comedy, nor Farce, nor one, nor all of these”²—but he generally treats...


    • 3 “Candidate for Praise”: The 1717 Volume
      (pp. 71-99)

      Although Pope did not begin to take himself for an explicit subject until theHoratian Imitationsof the 1730s, he figures as a significant presence in his poems from the beginning of his career. In the major poems of the 1717 volume—thePastorals, Windsor Forest, theEssay on Criticism, The Temple of Fame, andThe Rape of the Lock—we hear the voice of a poet we can recognize as the “early Pope” and can distinguish it from that of the later poems. What are the qualities of this voice? In the 1730s Pope looked back on the 1717...

    • 4 Poetry and Friendship: The Familiar Epistles
      (pp. 100-126)

      In the major poems of the 1717WorksPope enters as the self-consciously “youthful bard,” reflecting on the writer’s situation, his capacities and limits, but silent about his wider life as a man. Only in the Preface to the 1717 volume does he hint at other values, other claims. But in another group of early poems, a sequence of familiar epistles written from 1710 to 1721, Pope begins to extend the range and depth of self-reference. Although in these poems he still focuses on himself as poet, the poet is both artist and friend; he speaks intimately, usually to a...

    • 5 “Ourselves to Know”: The Poet in An Essay on Man
      (pp. 127-164)

      To seek out self-expressive elements inAn Essay on Manmight at first appear to be a futile, or even perverse, misdirection of critical energy. Is theEssaynot a preeminently “impersonal” poem, discursive-didactic in a familiar eighteenth-century manner, an essay whose versified ideas are so traditional, so commonplace that one can hardly imagine Pope to be expressing anything significant abouthimself? In fact, however, the very commonplace quality of Pope’s ideas might well make the reader shift his critical attention elsewhere, from the content of the poem to the shaping and self-reflecting imagination of the poet. And indeed, the...

    • 6 Personal Drama in Pope’s Horatian Imitations
      (pp. 165-216)

      If we come to theHoratian Imitationsof the 1730s from a study of Pope’s earlier familiar epistles, we find that the poet’s personal sensibility has now become not only the focus for the poems’ climactic moments but also the very center of the poems themselves. In a series of poems, beginning in 1733 with the imitation of the first satire of Horace’s second book (To Fortescue) and continuing through theEpilogue to the Satires(1738), Pope set about quite openly, like Montaigne, to present “my Self to my Self for Argument and Subject.”¹ A number of the Horatian poems...

    • 7 Pope in The Dunciad
      (pp. 217-278)

      To turn from theHoratian ImitationstoThe Dunciadis to turn from poems in which Pope himself is often the explicit subject to a poem whose subject is the world of dulness and dunces, and in which Pope himself appears to figure very little. Yet theDunciadis also richly self-expressive. As W. J. Courthope wrote, “Pope himself, his power, his weakness, and his passion, is felt in every line.”¹ It is “personal satire,” not only in the sense that Johnson and Courthope meant, that is, a satire against persons and personal enemies,² but also in that it is...