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Sound and Sense

Sound and Sense

by Alexander Pope

Rules and Order Theme

The speaker of "Sound and Sense," who seems to be a member of the Poetry Police, plays with the way the meter of a poem can imitate the content of the line. He gets an A+ in prosody, the study of the way verses are put together. In the larger poem, he criticizes the current poets of his day that follow the rules of iambic pentameter too closely and write boring poetry. He proposes a higher rule that he argues the ancients followed – matching sound and sense.

Questions About Rules and Order

  1. The speaker is reacting to established rules that he thinks have led to some pretty bad poetry. Can you reconstruct the rules and ideas against which the speaker is arguing?
  2. If the speaker is breaking the rules of iambic pentameter, and in this sense disordering the poem, why does it still seem so ordered?
  3. How is sound the basic ordering property of poetry? How does it bring order to this poem?
  4. Like most eighteenth-century poetry, this poem was meant to be read aloud. How does the idea of the poem being read aloud contribute to ideas of voice, sound, and prosody?

Chew on This

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

The rule of art (as opposed to chance) enables a varied prosody without verging into disorder.

Because this poem is attempting to teach us about poetry, it creates an atmosphere of authority, which adds a sense of order to its prosody that might be considered disordered by some standards.

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