"Sound and Sense" takes on writing as its main subject. The speaker, who is both a poet and a literary critic, proposes that great writing is a cultivated art and that sound must fit the content. The majority of the poem gives examples of these two claims, using the ancient writers to support his cause while also giving an example through his own verse. The poem teaches us how to read poetry: to look for the way the sound helps create the meaning.
Writing is an art, but an art grounded in nature.
This poem argues that individual poems take precedence over general rules about poetry; for example, sound is so important to the meaning of a poem that regular meter must sometimes be broken.
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.
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.
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.
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.