Did You Know?A verse epistle is a poem addressed to a patron or friend (often in the form of a letter) that uses a familiar conversational style. Pope dedicated the four epistles that make up An Essay on Man to his friend Henry St. John Bolingbroke, a statesman and author.
● Pope, like Dryden and Swift before him, was influenced by the style and structure of classical poetry. For this reason, he and his predecessors are known as neoclassicists (neo means “new”). Neoclassical writers valued order, reason, balance, and clarity over emotion; their thinking typified the thought prevalent in this “Age of Reason.” They imitated the work of classical writers such as Horace and Virgil and were guided by the precedents set by the best ancient Greek and Roman authors. For example, An Essay on Man, a philosophical poem that defines humankind’s place in the universe, was inspired by the epistles of the ancient Greek poet Horace, a master of satire and philosophical verse.
● An epigram is a brief, witty poem or saying that sums up a philosophical or moral point. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined the epigram in this way:
“What is an epigram? A dwarfish whole,
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.”
Over the years, people have singled out certain lines or groups of lines from Pope’s poetry as
being especially pointed, witty, or insightful.
● An aphorism is a short, pointed statement that expresses a wise or clever observation about human experience in few words. An example is Pope’s saying from An Essay on Criticism:
“We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow;
Our wiser sons, no doubt, will think us so.”
Poetic form: mock epic
A mock epicuses the lofty style and conventions of epic poetry to satirize a trivial subject. In The Rape of the Lock, Pope makes fun of a silly quarrel by narrating it in a grandiose manner. As you read, look for epic characteristics such as formal language, boasting speeches, supernatural intervention in human affairs, and elaborate descriptions of weapons and battles.
Literary analysis: heroic couplet
A heroic coupletis a pair of rhymed lines written in iambic pentameter,a metrical pattern of five feet (units), each ofwhich consists of two syllables, the first unstressed and thesecond stressed. Pope was a master of the heroic couplet,employing it for matters both witty and wise, as in thefollowing example:
O thoughtless mortals! ever blind to fate,
Too soon dejected, and too soon elate:
As you read The Rape of the Lock, notice how Pope uses surprising rhymes to create humor.
Reading strategy: understand elevated language
Pope often uses difficult words and unusual syntax, or word order, to mimic the style of epic poetry and to maintain the meter and rhyme scheme of heroic couplets. The following strategies can help you make sense of his elevated language:
• Use sidenotesto understand unfamiliar words and historical allusions in the text.
• Try to visualizethe action in the poem.
• Paraphrasesentences, restating them in your own words. If sentences have unusual syntax, rearrange the words to form a more familiar sentence structure.