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Write dull receipts how poems may be made;
These leave the sense, their learning to display,
And those explain the meaning quite away.
You, then, whose judgment the right course would steer,
Know well each ancient's proper character;
His fable, subject, scope in ev'ry page;
Religion, country, genius of his age:
Without all these at once before your eyes,
55 Cavil you may, but never criticise. Be Homer's works your study and delight; Read them by day, and meditate by night; Thence form your judgment, thence your maxims bring, And trace the Muses upward to their spring.
60 Still with itself compared, his text peruse; And let your comment be the Mantuan Muse.
When first young Maro in his boundless mind A work ť outlast immortal Rome designed, Perhaps he seemed above the critic's law,
65 And but from Nature's fountains scorned to draw; But when ť examine ev'ry part he came, Nature and Homer were, he found, the same: Convinced, amazed, he checks the bold design; And rules as strict his laboured work confine
70 As if the Stagyrite o'erlooked each line. Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem: To copy Nature is to copy them.
Some beauties yet no precepts can declare, For there's a happiness as well as care.
75 Music resembles poetry: in each Are nameless graces which no methods teach, And which a master-hand alone can reach. If, where the rules not far enough extend (Since rules were made but to promote their end), 80 Some lucky license answer to the full Th' intent proposed, that license is a rule. Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take, May boldly deviate from the common track; From vulgar bounds with brave disorder part,
85 And snatch a grace beyond the reach of art, Which, without passing through the judgment, gains The heart, and all its end at once attains.
In prospects thus, some objects please our eyes,
Which out of Nature's common order rise,
The shapeless rock or hanging precipice.
Great wits sometimes may gloriously offend,
And rise to faults true critics dare not mend.
But though the ancients thus their rules invade
(As kings dispense with laws themselves have made),
Moderns, beware! or if you must offend
Against the precept, ne'er transgress its end;
Let it be seldom and compelled by need;
And have, at least, their precedent to plead:
The critic else proceeds without remorse,
Seizes your fame, and puts his laws in force.
A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind;
But, more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise.
So, pleased at first, the tow'ring Alps we try,
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky;
Th' eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last:
But, those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthened way;
Th' increasing prospect tires our wand'ring eyes;
Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!
A perfect judge will read each work of wit
With the same spirit that its author writ;
Survey the whole, nor seek slight faults to find
Where nature moves and rapture warms the mind;
Nor lose, for that malignant, dull delight,
The gen'rous pleasure to be charmed with wit.
But in such lays as neither ebb nor flow,
Correctly cold and regularly low,
That, shunning faults, one quiet tenor keep,
We cannot blame indeed—but we may sleep.
In wit, as Nature, what affects our hearts
Is not th' exactness of peculiar parts;
'T is not a lip or eye we beauty call,
But the joint force and full result of all.
Thus when we view some well-proportioned dome
(The world's just wonder, and ev’n thine, O Rome!),
No single parts unequally surprise;
All comes united to th' admiring eyes;
No monstrous height or breadth or length appear;
The whole at once is bold and regular.
Some to conceit alone their taste confine,
And glitt'ring thoughts struck out at ev'ry line;
Pleased with a work where nothing's just or fit,
One glaring chaos and wild heap of wit.
Poets, like painters, thus unskilled to trace
The naked Nature and the living Grace,
With gold and jewels cover ev'ry part,
And hide with ornaments their want of art.
True wit is Nature to advantage dressed:
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed;
Something, whose truth convinced at sight we find,
That gives us back the image of our mind.
As shades more sweetly recommend the light,
So modest plainness sets off sprightly wit;
For works may have more wit than does 'em good,
As bodies perish through excess of blood.
Others for language all their care express,
And value books, as women men, for dress:
Their praise is still, “The style is excellent”;
The sense they humbly take upon content.
Words are like leaves; and where they most abound,
Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.
False eloquence, like the prismatic glass,
Its gaudy colours spreads on ev'ry place;
The face of Nature we no more survey
All glares alike, without distinction gay:
But true expression, like th' unchanging sun,
Clears and improves whate'er it shines upon;
It gilds all objects, but it alters none.
Expression is the dress of thought, and still
Appears more decent as more suitable:
A vile conceit in pompous words expressed
Is like a clown in regal purple dressed;
For diff'rent styles with diff'rent subjects sort,
As sev'ral garbs with country, town, and court.
Some by old words to fame have made pretence,
175 Ancients in phrase, mere moderns in their sense; Such laboured nothings, in so strange a style, Amazed th' unlearn'd, and make the learned smile: Unlucky, as Fungoso in the play, These sparks with awkward vanity display
180 What the fine gentleman wore yesterday, And but so mimic ancient wits, at best, As apes our grandsires, in their doublets dressed. In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold: Alike fantastic if too new or old;
185 Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.
But most by numbers judge a poet's song, And smooth or rough, with them, is right or wrong. In the bright Muse though thousand charms conspire, 190 Her voice is all these tuneful fools admire; Who haunt Parnassus but to please their ear, Not mend their minds, as some to church repair, Not for the doctrine, but the music there. These equal syllables alone require,
195 Though oft the ear the open vowels tire; While expletives their feeble aid do join; 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 :
200 Where'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": Then, at the last and only couplet fraught
205 With some unmeaning thing they call a thought, A needless Alexandrine ends the song, That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along. Leave such to tune their own dull rhymes; and know
What's roundly smooth or languishingly slow,
And praise the easy vigour of a line
Where Denham's strength and Waller's sweetness join.
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance.
'T is not enough no harshness gives offence;
The sound must seem an echo to the sense:
Soft is the strain when zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar;
When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
The line, too, labours, and the words move slow;
Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er th' unbending corn, and skims along the main.
Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprise,
225 And bid alternate passions fall and rise, While, at each change, the son of Libyan Jove Now burns with glory, and then melts with love; Now his fierce eyes with sparkling fury glow, Now sighs steal out and tears begin to flow :
230 Persians and Greeks like turns of nature found, And the world's victor stood subdued by sound ! The pow'r of music all our hearts allow, And what Timotheus was is Dryden now. 1709.
What dire offence from am'rous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things,
I sing. This verse to Caryll, Muse, is due;
This ev'n Belinda may vouchsafe to view.
Slight is the subject; but not so the praise,
If she inspire and he approve my lays.
Say what strange motive, goddess, could compel
A well-bred lord † assault a gentle belle?
O say what stranger cause, yet unexplored,
Could make a gentle belle reject a lord ?
In tasks so bold can little men engage,