Top 30 Alexander Pope Quotes: Straight From the Author's Mind

By , Staff Editor
Portrait Of Alexander Pope With Quote
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English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) often wrote satirical poems to present commentary on society and human nature. His contributions to the Neoclassical movement of the early 18th century serve as a masterclass in heroic couplets and narrative poetry.

Quotes From An Essay on Criticism

In An Essay on Criticism (1711), Pope explores what makes a critic a good critic. His use of the heroic couplet (10-syllable, iambic pentameter, rhyming couplets) throughout showcases his favor for the rhyme scheme.

  • “A little learning is a dangerous thing.”

  • “To Err is humane; to Forgive, Divine.”

  • “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

  • “Let such teach others who themselves excel, / And censure freely who have written well.”

  • “Be sure your self and your own reach to know, / How far your genius, taste, and learning go; / Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, / And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.”

  • “So vast is art, so narrow human wit”

  • “Great wits sometimes may gloriously offend, / And rise to faults true critics dare not mend”

  • “All seems infected that th' infected spy, / As all looks yellow to the jaundic'd eye.”

  • “Men must be taught as if you taught them not; / And things unknown proposed as things forgot.”

  • “The learn'd reflect on what before they knew: / Careless of censure, nor too fond of fame, / Still pleas'd to praise, yet not afraid to blame, / Averse alike to flatter, or offend, / Not free from faults, nor yet too vain to mend.”

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Quotes From The Rape of the Lock

Written as a mock-heroic narrative poem based on a true event, The Rape of the Lock (1714) shares a witty story of a woman’s lock of hair being stolen by a man. This humorous look at high society provides nuggets of wisdom for people of all standings.

  • “Now lap-dogs give themselves the rousing shake, / And sleepless lovers, just at twelve, awake”

  • “Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike, / And, like the sun, they shine on all alike.”

  • “This to disclose is all thy guardian can: / Beware of all, but most beware of Man!”

  • “If to her share some female errors fall, / Look on her face, and you'll forget 'em all.”

  • “Oh thoughtless mortals! ever blind to fate, / Too soon dejected, and too soon elate.”

  • “But when to mischief mortals bend their will, / How soon they find fit instruments of ill!”

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Quotes From The Dunciad

Initially published anonymously in 1728, The Dunciad is another mock-heroic poem written in iambic pentameter. The poem was meant as a response to Lewis Theobald’s attack on him in Shakespeare Restored, which might be why Pope didn’t lay claim to the work until 1735.

  • “How parts relate to parts, or they to whole, / The Body’s harmony, the beaming Soul”

  • “Lo! thy dread empire, Chaos! is restor’d; / Light dies before thy uncreating word”

  • “In cold December fragrant chaplets blow, / And heavy harvests nod beneath the snow.”

  • “How random thoughts now meaning chance to find, / Now leave all memory of sense behind”

  • “Then raptures high the seat of Sense o’erflow, / Which only heads refin’d from Reason know.”

  • “In vain, in vain—the all-composing hour / Resistless falls; the Muse obeys the power.”

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Quotes From An Essay on Man

The four Epistles in An Essay on Man (1733-1734) were originally meant to be part of a much larger work Pope was unable to finish. They explore the relationships between people and themselves, people and other people, and humanity and the divine.

  • “Judges and senates have been bought for gold, / Esteem and love were never to be sold”

  • “Awake, my St. John! leave all meaner things / To low ambition, and the pride of kings. / Let us (since life can little more supply / Than just to look about us and to die) / Expatiate free o’er all this scene of man; / A mighty maze! but not without a plan”

  • “In faith and hope the world will disagree, / But all mankind’s concern is charity: / All must be false that thwart this one great end; / And all of God, that bless mankind or mend.”

  • “So man, who here seems principal alone, / Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown”

  • “Then say not man’s imperfect, Heaven in fault; / Say rather man’s as perfect as he ought: / His knowledge measured to his state and place; / His time a moment, and a point his space.”

  • “Two principles in human nature reign; / Self-love to urge, and reason, to restrain”

  • “Look round our world; behold the chain of love / Combining all below and all above.”

  • “That reason, passion, answer one great aim; / That true self-love and social are the same; / That virtue only makes our bliss below; / And all our knowledge is, ourselves to know.”

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