Like kings we lose the conquests gain'd before, By vain ambition still to make them more; Each might his sev'ral province well command, Would all but stoop to what they understand.
First follow NATURE, and your judgment frame By her just standard, which is still the same: Unerring Nature, still divinely bright, One clear, unchang'd, and universal light, Life, force, and beauty, must to all impart, At once the source, and end, and test of art.
It is a verse essay written in the Horatian mode and is primarily concerned with how writers and critics behave in the new literary commerce of Pope's contemporary age.
The poem covers a range of good criticism and advice.
It also represents many of the chief literary ideals of Pope's age.
Alexander Pope, a translator, poet, wit, amateur landscape gardener, and satirist, was born in London in 1688.
A reading of the poem makes it clear that he is addressing not so much the ingenuous reader as the intending writer.
It is written in a type of rhyming verse called heroic couplets.
Those half-learn'd witlings, num'rous in our isle As half-form'd insects on the banks of Nile; Unfinish'd things, one knows not what to call, Their generation's so equivocal: To tell 'em, would a hundred tongues require, Or one vain wit's, that might a hundred tire.
But you who seek to give and merit fame, And justly bear a critic's noble name, Be sure your self and your own reach to know, How far your genius, taste, and learning go; Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.