An Essay on Criticism–The Sequel


Normally I would save a link like this for my Poetic Lives Online column later tonight, but this deserves a story all its own. Geoff Nunberg of Language Log is talking about an odd book project: “The text of the book will consist of submissions from the Elementspublic of the first sentence of a yet-to-be published sequel of some well known book — A Tale of Three Cities, To Fricassee a Mockingbird; you get the picture.” Nunberg’s own submission, though, is a thing unto itself.

Nunberg has decided to go with a sequel to Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Criticism” with a bit of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style thrown in. Here’s an excerpt.

The Language Critick must console himself
With Dreams of lasting Life upon the Shelf;
For Fame, tho’ most inconstant in her Favor
To USAGE BOOKS, routinely grants a Waiver.
Few Men the slightest Memory retain
Of Edna Ferber, Thomas B. Costain,
Ernest K. Gann, or others once the Rage
With Readers in the Eisenhower Age.
Yet Fortune even now bestows her Smile,
On Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style,
Still teaching to new Dogs its antique Tricks,
At Rank 206.

Such beauty. It is to weep.

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →