"Between th'extremes to move": Antithesis in Alexander Pope's Art


Kyra Marken

Publication Date

January 2010

Document Type



English Language and Literature


Dr. Prior was the committee chair for this thesis.


Alexander Pope places antithetical terms in heroic couplets, emphasizing the relationship between opposing terms and holding them in a productive tension that prevents a misuse or perversion of each term. Such tension is made possible by the framework within which an antithesis exists: Nature serves as a whole that encompasses both parts, reinforcing the proper boundaries of each term but insisting on a relationship between them. Pope's view of antithesis determined his stance on several key eighteenth century debates and was reflected in his taste in both poetry and gardening. The external antitheses he recognized and affirmed in nature were mirrored by internal antitheses in man's being, particularly his reason and imagination. Pope affirmed the proper, tempered use of each half of an antithesis, and recognized that a harmony, rather than a synthesis, is cultivated by a perpetual antithetical relationship between them. His acceptance of paradoxical truths is reflected in his affirmation of antithetical ideas. The productive coexistence of such ideas, the harmony that results, and man's inability to fully understand either through reason, all indicate the existence of mystery.