‘An Essay on Criticism’ poem

 by Alexander Pope

 
Title: A Woman Reading, 1997 (acrylic on canvas)
Artist: James, Laura (Contemporary Artist)
Location: Private Collection

 

“‘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.

‘Tis with our Judgments as our Watches, none

Go just alike, yet each believes his own.

In Poets as true Genius is but rare,

True Taste as seldom is the Critick’s Share;

Both must alike from Heav’n derive their Light,

These born to Judge, as well as those to Write.

Let such teach others who themselves excell,

And censure freely who have written well.

Authors are partial to their Wit, ’tis true,

But are not Criticks to their Judgment too?

Yet if we look more closely, we shall find

Most have the Seeds of Judgment in their Mind;

Nature affords at least a glimm’ring Light;

The Lines, tho’ touch’d but faintly, are drawn right.

But as the slightest Sketch, if justly trac’d,

Is by ill Colouring but the more disgrac’d,

So by false Learning is good Sense defac’d.

Some are bewilder’d in the Maze of Schools,

And some made Coxcombs Nature meant but Fools.

In search of Wit these lose their common Sense,

And then turn Criticks in their own Defence.

Each burns alike, who can, or cannot write,

Or with a Rival’s or an Eunuch’s spite.

All Fools have still an Itching to deride,

And fain wou’d be upon the Laughing Side;

If Maevius Scribble in Apollo’s spight,

There are, who judge still worse than he can write…..”

(Extract taken from: An Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope)
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