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Essay on Man

Alexander Pope 1688 (London) – 1744 (Twickenham)

The First Epistle

  Awake, my ST. JOHN!(1) leave all meaner things
  To low ambition, and the pride of Kings.
  Let us (since Life can little more supply
  Than just to look about us and to die)
  Expatiate(2) free o'er all this scene of Man;
  A mighty maze! but not without a plan;
  A Wild, where weeds and flow'rs promiscuous shoot,
  Or Garden, tempting with forbidden fruit.
  Together let us beat this ample field,
  Try what the open, what the covert yield;
  The latent tracts(3), the giddy heights explore
  Of all who blindly creep, or sightless soar;
  Eye Nature's walks, shoot Folly as it flies,
  And catch the Manners living as they rise;
  Laugh where we must, be candid where we can;
  But vindicate(4) the ways of God to Man.
  1. Say first, of God above, or Man below,
  What can we reason, but from what we know?
  Of Man what see we, but his station here,
  From which to reason, or to which refer?
  Thro' worlds unnumber'd tho' the God be known,
  'Tis ours to trace him only in our own.
  He, who thro' vast immensity can pierce,
  See worlds on worlds compose one universe,
  Observe how system into system runs,
  What other planets circle other suns,
  What vary'd being peoples ev'ry star,
  May tell why Heav'n has made us as we are.
  But of this frame the bearings, and the ties,
  The strong connections, nice dependencies,
  Gradations just, has thy pervading soul
  Look'd thro'? or can a part contain the whole?
  Is the great chain, that draws all to agree,
  And drawn supports, upheld by God, or thee?

  II. Presumptuous Man! the reason wouldst thou find,
  Why form'd so weak, so little, and so blind!
  First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,
  Why form'd no weaker, blinder, and no less!
  Ask of thy mother earth, why oaks are made
  Taller or stronger than the weeds they shade?
  Or ask of yonder argent fields(5) above,
  Why JOVE'S Satellites are less than JOVE?(6)
  Of Systems possible, if 'tis confest
  That Wisdom infinite must form the best,
  Where all must full or not coherent be,
  And all that rises, rise in due degree;
  Then, in the scale of reas'ning life, 'tis plain
  There must be, somewhere, such rank as Man;
  And all the question (wrangle e'er so long)
  Is only this, if God has plac'd him wrong?
  Respecting Man, whatever wrong we call,
  Nay, must be right, as relative to all.
  In human works, tho' labour'd on with pain,
  A thousand movements scarce one purpose gain;
  In God's, one single can its end produce;
  Yet serves to second too some other use.
  So Man, who here seems principal alone,
  Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown,
  Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal;
  'Tis but a part we see, and not a whole.
  When the proud steed shall know why Man restrains
  His fiery course, or drives him o'er the plains;
  When the dull Ox, why now he breaks the clod,
  Is now a victim, and now Egypt's God:(7)
  Then shall Man's pride and dullness comprehend
  His actions', passions', being's, use and end;
  Why doing, suff'ring, check'd, impell'd; and why
  This hour a slave, the next a deity.
  Then say not Man's imperfect, Heav'n in fault;
  Say rather, Man's as perfect as he ought;
  His knowledge measur'd to his state and place,
  His time a moment, and a point his space.
  If to be perfect in a certain sphere,
  What matter, soon or late, or here or there?
  The blest today is as completely so,
  As who began a thousand years ago.

  III. Heav'n from all creatures hides the book of Fate,
  All but the page prescrib'd, their present state;
  From brutes what men, from men what spirits know:
  Or who could suffer Being here below?
  The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to-day,
  Had he thy Reason, would he skip and play?
  Pleas'd to the last, he crops the flow'ry food,
  And licks the hand just rais'd to shed his blood.
  Oh blindness to the future! kindly giv'n,
  That each may fill the circle mark'd by Heav'n;
  Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
  A hero perish, or a sparrow fall,
  Atoms or systems into ruin hurl'd,
  And now a bubble burst, and now a world.
  Hope humbly then; with trembling pinion
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:49 min read
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Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) is regarded as one of the greatest English poets, and the foremost poet of the early eighteenth century. He is best known for his satirical and discursive poetry, including The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, and An Essay on Criticism, as well as for his translation of Homer. more…

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