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Introduction: Toward Deconfining Pope

  • G. Douglas Atkins
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Abstract

Despite some magisterial work, particularly on individual poems, critical commentary has not always served Alexander Pope well. Quite recently ignored, he had been a center of attention when the “industry” cranked out articles and books from what Hugh Kenner described as its “Natchez-Augustan manor.” Too often, Pope was “declawed,” made into a polite, civil figure whose ideas were hardly relevant, his bite by no means dangerous. In the heyday of criticism on Pope, his thinking was made to match the latitudinarian and liberal ideas of his commentators. It is time to return to Pope and to deconfine him (he himself stridently opposed all kinds of sectarianism, confinement, and reduction). Comparison of An Essay on Man with Dryden’s Religio Laici and Eliot’s Four Quartets offers valuable new insights into its character as both an essay(-poem) and a contribution to the layman’s faith tradition, the latter of which is strongly anti-sectarian and inclusivist; it sets us on a path toward appreciation of Pope’s concern with wholeness—with, that is, catholicity.

Keywords

Philosophic Idea Liberal Idea Thematic Constant Personal Essay Modern Poet 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    T.S. Eliot, “John Bramhall,” Selected Essays, 3rd ed. (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), 359.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Hugh Kenner, “In the Wake of the Anarch,” Gnomon (New York: McDowell, Obolensky, 1958), 171. Kenner is always provocative, stimulating, insightful.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Maynard Mack, Introduction, the Twickenham Edition of The Poems of Alexander Pope, Vol. 3-1, An Essay on Man, ed. Maynard Mack (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1950), xxiiiGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
  5. 5.
    T.S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (London: Methuen, 1920), 1.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid., 144–45.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., 145.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., 147.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    T.S. Eliot, John Dryden: The Poet, the Dramatist, the Critic (New York: Holliday, 1932), 16.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
  11. 11.
    Ibid., 17.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ibid., 17–18.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Ibid., 19.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    K.G. Hamilton, John Dryden and the Poetry of Statement (St. Lucia, Australia: U of Queensland P, 1967).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    See Geoffrey H. Hartman, Criticism in the Wilderness: The Study of Literature Today (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1980).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    See my Tracing the Essay: Through Experience to Truth (Athens: U of Georgia P, 2005).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    John Dryden, Religio Laici or A Laymans Faith, in Poems and Fables, ed. James Kinsley (London: Oxford UP, 1962).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    See my TS. Eliot and the Essay: From “The Sacred Wood” to “Four Quartets” (Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2010), and Reading T.S. Eliot: “Four Quartets” and the Journey toward Understanding (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    T.S. Eliot, Ash-Wednesday: Six Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1930).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    For the sake of convenience and accessibility, I have taken quotations from Poetry and Prose of Alexander Pope, ed. Aubrey Williams (Boston: Riverside-Houghton Mifflin, 1969).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    I have treated the essay as site in Tracing the Essay.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Eduardo Nicol, quoted in Phillip Lopate, ed., The Art of the Personal Essay (New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1994), xxxvii.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Pope, Poetry and Prose, 120.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Ibid., 120–21.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Ibid., 121.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
  27. 27.
    Sir William Habington, quoted in Henry David Thoreau, The Portable Thoreau, ed. Carl Bode (New York: Viking Penguin, 1947), 559.Google Scholar

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© G. Douglas Atkins 2013

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