Close Reading of Passage

An Essay on Criticism: Close Reading​

Part 1:
‘Tis hard to say, if greater Want of Skill
Appear in Writing or in Judging ill,
But, of the two, less dang’rous is th’ Offence,
To tire our Patience, than mis-lead our Sense
Some few in that, but Numbers err in this,
Ten Censure wrong for one who Writes amiss;
A Fool might once himself alone expose,
Now One in Verse makes many more in Prose. … (1–8)

The main theme of the poem is presented within the first two lines. In lines 1-8 as a whole, Pope attempts to investigate human beings’ ability to criticize literature and art. He makes it clear that criticizing literature poorly is much worse than literature that is bad to begin with. In line 8 Pope is suggesting that for every bad poem out there, there are several more critics who will ignorantly tear the writing apart and make themselves look worse than the poem did on its own. He uses strong diction to draw out the underlying theme.

Part 2:
And ten low words oft creep in one dull line:
While they ring round the same unvaried chimes,
With sure returns of still expected rhymes;
Wher’er you find “the cooling western breeze”,
In the next line, it “whispers through the trees”;
If crystal streams “with pleasing murmurs creep”,
The reader’s threatened (not in vain) with “sleep” . . . (347–353)

Through his use of descriptive language, Pope identifies the faults of critics and their criticism. Pope states that it is easy to point out the faults in writing but it takes an expert to truly dissect a piece of work. A skilled critic will not contradict himself which is the opposite of what many critics do. Pope points this out in lines 347 through 348. These lines are especially interesting because at the same time as he is being critical of poets who use “ten low one dull line,” that is exactly what Pope is doing in this line. The best way to illustrate what Pope considers bad poetry, is to write bad poetry. This line is in perfect iambic pentameter with ten one syllable words. Iambic pentameter without any variation gets “dull” very quickly and by writing a “dull” line Pope can make his point very clear. A critic must be fluent and concise, contradicting oneself will only prevent the criticism from being credible. He gets his idea across effectively by using words that are expressive and reinforce the idea of faulty critics.

Part 3:
‘Tis not enough your Counsel still be true,
Blunt Truths more Mischief than nice Falsehood do;
Men must be taught as if you taught them not;
And Things unknown propos’d as Things forgot:
Without Good Breeding, Truth is disapprov’d;
That only makes Superior Sense belov’d.
Be Niggards of Advice on no Pretence;
For the worst Avarice is that of Sense:
With mean Complacence ne’er betray your Trust,
Nor be so Civil as to prove Unjust;
Fear not the Anger of the Wise to raise;
Those best can bear Reproof, who merit Praise. (572-583)

After investigating the role of poets and the faults of critics, Pope offers advice on how to become a good critic. He reminds the reader that honesty is not always the best policy, as it does not take into consideration the untrustworthy human intuition. Instead he advises the critic to be civil and wise when criticizing a piece of literature as that is the only way there will be redemption in criticism.