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Sound and Sense

Sound and Sense


by Alexander Pope

Sound and Sense Theme of Ambition and Imitation

This speaker, who is both a critic and poet, just oozes with ambition. With "Sound and Sense," he happily jumps into a major critical debate about the role of nature (think "natural talent") and the role of art (think "practice makes perfect") in writing great poetry. He also attempts to be the poet that can employ these rules with ease. He name-drops great classical (a.k.a. ancient Greek and Roman) poets like Homer and Virgil and implies that he has these guys' skills. Neoclassical poets like Pope imitated classical poets as both a way to honor them, as well as a way to declare their own ambition to enter the literary world.

Questions About Ambition and Imitation

  1. Pope uses some phrases from other poets, like the way he paraphrases Virgil's description of Camilla (see the "Line-by-Line Summary" for more on that). How does the idea of multiple voices brought up in "Themes: Literature and Writing" relate to imitation and the gray area of plagiarism? (Check out the article "Pope and plagiarism" if you're interested in the changing understanding of plagiarism in the eighteenth century.)
  2. There are several references to great ancient poems and poets in "Sound and Sense." How do these references help get across the point that sound is essential to poetry?
  3. How is the speaker commenting on the nature of language by utilizing imitation?
  4. Is sound an imitation of the content; or is the content the imitation of the sound? Does it matter? Why?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The speaker's voice may seem distinctly original at first, but the echo of the ancient poets, as well as that of the contemporary poets the speaker seeks to teach, creates a poly-voiced speaker who revels in imitation.

The couplet form structures the poem according to the logic of an echo, which shows that imitation can be the basis for good poetry.

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