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Pope springs eternal

By Janet Harron | May 26, 2011

What do British new wave band Bow Wow Wow, Tin Pan Alley songwriter Johnny Mercer and the king of rock and roll have in common?

Would you believe 16th century literary superstar Alexander Pope?

In his third feature in the prestigious Times Literary Supplement (TLS), Dr. Don Nichol of the Faculty of Arts’ Department of English looks at the widespread use of Pope’s work in popular culture.

“Fifteen years ago, I made it on the cover just below Elvis, so this time I was happy to tie the King's Can't Help Falling in Love with Alexander Pope's Fools rush in,” laughed Dr. Nichol, who found 779 entries in iTunes under the famous line, which first appeared in An Essay on Criticism in 1711. 

Dr. Nicol, who admits to Pope-spotting for 30-plus years, includes the use of Pope’s language in cinema, podcasts and video games in the article, which appears in the May 13 edition and is titled To Err Is Popean.

Among what Dr. Nichol refers to as the “verbal nuggets” that have embedded in our collective subconscious are “a little learning is a dangerous thing,” “to err is human” and “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

“It’s always an honour to be in the same august columns as T.S. Eliot, Seamus Heaney and Virginia Woolf," said Dr. Nichol, who confesses that he missed a Pope reference in the work of British band Scritti Politti which was later brought to his attention by an editor at the TLS.

“It was too late to squeeze it in but it just goes to show that Pope springs eternal!”


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