As this is addressed to highly respected and learned individuals who become critics it is telling that their knowledge is represented as ‘little’.
This immediately diminishes their education as it does not represent a significant chunk of what there is to be learned and thus they are not fully equipped to be absolute in terms of criticism and adherence to poetic rules. I think it would be fair to say that critics can generally (quite rightly) be labelled as snobs, but to in what way are they dangerous?
This poem was completed in 1709 when Pope was 21 and published two years later.
As this represents the beginning of his poetic career, the focus on telling critics to go a bit easy may have been based on his own personal hopes.
These sips ‘intoxicate’ as they give the illusion of understanding poetry, but in reality they only represent a small part of the whole.
As the spring is classically the font of all knowledge the imperative ‘drink deep’ forcefully instructs them to broaden or ‘sober[s]’ their minds to allow for new techniques and approaches.In it, Pope advises against rash judgement from critics and that they should persevere with poets even if they make mistakes or break the rules from time to time.He argues that without critics being open to new approaches and ideas they will stifle the rise of great poets of their age.Contrast this censure of the critics with the romantic notion of the young poet.They are ‘fired at first sight’, which suggests they are inflamed with passion and the intensity of ‘fearless youth’ that is not yet stymied by knowledge of rules and failure to surpass or equal the greatness of others.Pierian – this refers to a spring in the Pierian mountains in Macedonia which the Ancient Greeks believed was the source of scientific and literary knowledge; Muse – Ancient Greeks’ goddesses of literature, science and the arts; Alps – a mountain range in Western Europe.Pope is one of those rare poets who was actually very successful thanks to his writing.From the eleventh line we examine the state of the critic.Having come to understand and recognise the majesty of Classical poetry, represented by the first mountain of the Alps, they become content and complacent.This could be down to the fact that as a Catholic at the time he was unable to hold public office; he had a hunchback so wasn’t very attractive to the other sex; and he had health problems that stunted his growth meaning he only ever reached 4″6.So with all that he had bugger all else to do, except become a kick ass poet.