Alexander Pope was a poet greatly concerned with perception: his perception of God and his fellow man, and how he was perceived by others, both personally and as an artist. Despite his physical maladies, he saw himself as a great poet, destined for the craft and blessed with true talent. Many of his works assume a didactic air, denouncing the vainglorious pride of Man and proffering as a solution his own successful transcendence of this common folly. In his Essay on Criticism, Pope addresses his own literary critics, who, in his opinion, take joy in criticizing his work because they have no talent of their own to nurture.
[...] But Pope does not embrace the moral of this piece of advice: instead of using the knowledge of his mortal limitations to cultivate a sense of humility, he develops an overconfident bravado with which he faces the world through his art. This essay is a perfect example of how he instructs others in modesty without taking a single word of it to heart. In An Essay on Man, this self-exclusion from the humility he advises others to embrace is even more apparent. As he goes on for pages on end about the vainglory of man and his inability to accept God's creations without complaint, he never curbs his own forays into justifying God's earth. [...]
[...] Once again, Pope's voice is one of authoritative reasoning, deigning to offer the masses advice and information on the nature of life itself. He criticizes those thinkers who blame God for the imperfection of life on earth and who would alter what God has created, were they able. Chiding humans for their constant dissatisfaction with their lives and selves, he declares: Presumptuous Man! the reason wouldst thou find, Why form'd so weak, so little, and so blind! First if thou canst, the harder reason guess, Why form'd no weaker, blinder, and no less! [...]
[...] Just as he expounded upon the proper humility of man in his essays, both before and after the 1714 publication of this heroic-comical piece, Pope-as-Clarissa voices an enlightened opinion concerning human nature as it pertains to these individual characters. The other characters in Rape of the Lock do not, however, seem to appreciate hearing Clarissa's earth-bound reason. In a world of protective, if impotent, Sylphs and the elaborate game of courtly romance, there is little space for rational thinking such as this. [...]
[...] The essay discusses the talents of true poets, and those of true critics, both infrequent occurrences in the world, says Pope: In Poets as true genius is but rare, True Taste as seldom is the Critick's Share (11-12). The term “true taste” seems somewhat ambiguous, since taste is often a subjective sense, though Pope almost certainly includes his own work in the body of poetry that one with this taste would appreciate. While he considers himself among the rare poets of genius, the couplet excludes his many critics from the select group he describes. [...]
[...] Nuttall describes the interplay between these two explorations: Pope's fluid antithesis of pride and humility has swiftly grown until it encapsulates one of the primary philosophical tensions of the poem; that is, the tension between a view of man which confines him to merely human concerns and the grand metaphorical overview of man in relation to God and the creation, which at one and the same time provides a rationale for the first view and violates it (Nuttall, 54). By studying man alone, Popes argues, we can draw conclusions about our immediate surroundings without implicating God's intentions, but without considering God's role, what is the point of the study of man? [...]
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