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.
They forget that their are many mountains to conquer and in our focus on appreciating the brilliance of the past, we fail to focus on the challenges and opportunities ahead for new achievement and majesty.
This poem is one of the most quoted and it’s not hard to see why. ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing’ is contrary to popular wisdom and suggests that knowledge in itself does not directly represent wisdom or understanding.
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.
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.The rules dictate that they can only have ‘short views’ and not appreciate the ‘new distant… The ‘endless science’ Pope refers to not only links to changes within poetry, but reflects the ideas of the European Enlightenment that took off at the beginning of the 18th century – where science made leaps and bounds, pushing our understanding forward dramatically.Pope encourages critics to avoid the temptation to become self-satisfied with their Classical knowledge and poetic comprehension.Without this fear they try to achieve the heights, which implies those governed by rules are also limited by them.The critics on the other hand are bound by the rules and thus constricted from recognising innovative brilliance and achievement.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.This is a common idea now, that the young lack the knowledge to fear failure and thus are more likely to ‘tempt the heights’ than those who are older and have either seen their efforts fail or who have learned to respect the work of others too much.Again contrary to common sense, the knowledge, rules and respect the critics have learned leaves them ‘bounded’ and imprisoned against change and innovation.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.