When I first started reading this collection, I thought that eighteenth century poetry was dry and inferior to later forms of literature, especially when compared with the innovations of the twentieth century. After delving deeply into some of Pope's major poems, I realized how wrong I was. Pope's wit was astounding, and he was a true poetic genius in his ability to capture concepts and arguments in beautifully rendered images and metaphors. His abilities are best summarized in these famous lines from his "Essay on Criticism": "True wit is nature to advantage dressed, / What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed."
I was often surprised by Pope's ability to articulate ideas that had occurred to me, but I was never able to articulate myself. It is a testament to Pope's insight into the human condition that his lines still ring true three hundred years since their first appearance. The subtle, complex ideas found in his poetry will expand your thoughts in ways you never though possible, especially if you have never experienced poetry from this period before.
For me, some of the highlights from this collection are "The Rape of the Lock", a beautifully detailed mock-epic steeped in the material culture of the eighteenth century; "Windsor Forest", a topographical poem that encodes and critiques the history of England in a description of its landscape; "Epistle to Burlington", a stinging criticism of "false taste"; and "Eloisa to Abelard", an emotionally wrenching letter of tragic medieval romance. For those interested in the writing and critiquing of literature (admittedly, not everyone), the brilliant "Essay on Criticism" will be the standout piece here, with its vast complexities and beautiful imagery. Furthermore, the detailed notes in the back of this edition should fill you in on any historical or literary references that will assist in your interpretation of the poems.
This edition is an amazing introduction to the poetry of one of the greatest writers in the English language, and a good first step into a fascinating period of literature. Don't be afraid! Read this book!