Alexander Pope: The Poetry of Allusion

Alexander Pope: The Poetry of Allusion

Alexander Pope: The Poetry of Allusion

Alexander Pope: The Poetry of Allusion


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 . . .

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