Alexander Pope: The Poetry of Allusion

By Reuben A. Brower | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
AN ALLUSION TO EUROPE: DRYDEN AND POETIC TRADITION

He professed to have learned his poetry from Dryden,
whom, whenever an opportunity was presented, he praised
through his whole life with unvaried liberality; and perhaps
his character may receive some illustration if he be com-
pared with his master.

( Samuel Johnson, Life of Pope)

ANY talk of Pope's achievement as a poet or of his relation to poetic tradition must begin with the tradition of Dryden. Like Dryden he was catholic in his tastes, and he enjoyed an easy commerce with the poetry of the past and present. From his early reading and imitations and translations, it is clear that Pope had direct and lively contact with Homer and the greater Roman and English poets and with many lesser English and French poets of his own generation and of the century before him. Feeling no nineteenth-century compulsion to be merely original, he took pleasure in imitating the poets he read and admired, one and all. Speaking years later of his youthful epic Alcander, he remarked to Spence,

I endeavoured, [said he, smiling] in this poem, to collect all the beauties of the great epic writers into one piece: there was Milton's style in one part, and Cowley's in another: here the style of Spenser imitated, and there of Statius; here Homer and Virgil, and there Ovid and Claudian.

Although it is highly probable that without Dryden's example Pope would have discovered a voice of his own and a way of mastering this embarrassment of poetical riches, the fact remains that he 'learned his poetry' from Dryden and that as Johnson also says,

By perusing the works of Dryden, he discovered the most perfect fabric of English verse, and habituated himself to that only which he, found the best. . .

From Dryden he learned how to imitate without loss of

-1-

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Alexander Pope: The Poetry of Allusion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Note on the Texts and Footnotes *
  • Contents *
  • Introduction - An Allusion to Europe: Dryden and Poetic Tradition 1
  • I - The Shepherd's Song 15
  • II - The World's Great Age 35
  • III - Heroic Love 63
  • IV - True Heroic Poetry 85
  • Appendix to Chapter IV 135
  • V - Am'rous Causes 142
  • VI - The Image of Horace 163
  • VII - Essays on Wit and Nature 188
  • VIII - The Proper Study of Mankind 240
  • IX - An Answer from Horace 282
  • X - This Intellectual Scene: The Tradition of Pope 319
  • Index 363
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