John Dennis on Pope’s Eloisa to Abelard

Words: 350
Pages: 2
Subject: Essays

a) John Dennis, writing in The Grounds of Criticism in Poetry (1704), asserts in Chapter III that poetry is an art “by which a Poet excites Passion (and for that very Cause entertains Sense) in order to satisfy and improve, to delight and reform the Mind, and so to make Mankind happier and better: from which it appears that Poetry has two Ends, a subordinate, and a final one; the subordinate one is Pleasure, and the final one is Instruction” (336). Poetry, to his mind, should elicit intense or overpowering emotion, of which there are two kinds, as he elaborates in Chapter IV: “Vulgar Passion, or that which we commonly call Passion, is that which is moved by the Objects themselves, or by the Ideas in the ordinary Course of Life,” such as “Anger” (338); “Enthusiastick Passion, or Enthusiasm, is a Passion which is moved by the Ideas in Contemplation, or the Meditation of things that belong not to common life,” including “Admiration, Terror, Horror, Joy, Sadness, [and] Desire” (338). In emphasizing contemplation or meditation, Dennis marks his interest in the psychology of reading. While poetry may inspire passion and/or enthusiasm, Dennis focuses on the latter, declaring that “that the strongest Enthusiastick Passions, that are justly and reasonably rais’d, must be rais’d by religious Ideas; that is, by Ideas which either shew the Attributes of the Divinity, or relate to his Worship” (339), which of course would not be common or ordinary aspects of life. While such a perspective may preclude a poem such as Alexander Pope’s Eloisa to Abelard, or any of the individual seasons that comprise James Thomson’s Seasons, it should not stop us from making the case for their religious or sacred import. Given this context, respond to this section of Dennis’s essay and make the case for the religious or sacred import of the Pope poem (or the Thomson poem). The ideal thesis for this question will express a relationship of ideas, one that strives to characterize the religious or sacred significance of the poem in relation to Dennis’s remarks in Chapters III—IV.