From Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism, lines 130-157. I’d started to post an earlier couplet – “Be Homer’s Works your Study, and Delight, / Read them by Day, and meditate by Night” (borrowed from Horace Ars Poetica) – in celebration of my pure chance finding of the rare two volumes of Pope’s Iliad in the Twickenham edition but I ended up preferring a lengthier thought that followed it.
When first young Maro in his boundless Mind
A Work t’outlast Immortal Rome design’d,
Perhaps he seem’d above the Critick’s Law,
And but from Nature’s Fountains scorn’d to draw:
But when t’examine ev’ry Part he came,
Nature and Homer were, he found, the same.
Convinc’d, amaz’d, he checks the bold Design,
And Rules as strict his labour’d Work confine,
As if the Stagyrite o’erlook’d each Line.
Learn hence for Ancient Rules a just Esteem;
To copy Nature is to copy Them.
Some Beauties yet, no Precepts can declare,
For there’s a Happiness as well as Care.
Musick resembles Poetry, in each
Are nameless Graces which no Methods teach,
And which a Master-Hand alone can reach.
If, where the Rules not far enough extend,
(Since Rules were made but to promote their End)
Some Lucky LICENCE answers to the full
Th’ Intent propos’d, that Licence is a Rule.
Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take,
May boldly deviate from the common Track.
Great Wits sometimes may gloriously offend,
And rise to Faults true Criticks dare not mend;
From vulgar Bounds with brave Disorder part,
And snatch a Grace beyond the Reach of Art,
Which, without passing thro’ the Judgment, gains
The Heart, and all its End at once attains.