An Essay On Man Alexander Pope Hope Springs Eternal

An Essay on Man is a poem written by Alexander Pope in 1733–1734. It is a rationalistic effort to use philosophy in order to, as John Milton attempted, justify the ways of God to man. It is concerned with the part evil plays in the world and with the social order God has decreed for man. Because man cannot know God's purposes, he cannot complain about the existence of evil and must accept that Whatever is, is right. More than any other work, it popularized optimistic philosophy throughout England and the rest of Europe.

Epistle I[edit]

  • Awake, my St John! 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 free o'er all this scene of man;
    A mighty maze! But not without a plan.
  • Together let us beat this ample field,
    Try what the open, what the covert yield.
  • 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 the ways of God to man.
  • Say first, of God above or man below,
    What can we reason but from what we know?
  • 'T is but a part we see, and not a whole.
  • Heaven from all creatures hides the book of Fate,
    All but the page prescrib'd, their present state.
  • Pleased to the last, he crops the flowery food,
    And licks the hand just raised to shed his blood.
  • Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
    A hero perish or a sparrow fall,
    Atoms or systems into ruin hurled,
    And now a bubble burst, and now a world.
  • Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
    Man never is, but always to be blest.

    The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
    Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
  • Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutored mind
    Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;
    His soul proud Science never taught to stray
    Far as the solar walk or milky way;
    Yet simple nature to his hope has giv'n,
    Behind the cloud-topped hill, an humbler heav'n.
  • But thinks, admitted to that equal sky,
    His faithful dog shall bear him company.
  • In pride, in reas'ning pride, our error lies;
    All quit their spere, and rush into the skies!
    Pride still is aiming at the blessed abodes,
    Men would be Angels, Angels would be Gods.
    Aspiring to be Gods if Angels fell,
    Aspiring to be Angels men rebel.
  • Seas roll to waft me, suns to light me rise;
    My footstool earth, my canopy the skies.
    • Line 139. Compare: "All the parts of the universe I have an interest in: the earth serves me to walk upon; the sun to light me; the stars have their influence upon me", Montaigne, Apology for Raimond Sebond.
  • Why has not man a microscopic eye?
    For this plain reason,—man is not a fly.
  • Die of a rose in aromatic pain.
  • The spider's touch, how exquisitely fine!
    Feels at each thread, and lives along the line.
    • Line 217. Compare: "Much like a subtle spider which doth sit / In middle of her web, which spreadeth wide; / If aught do touch the utmost thread of it, / She feels it instantly on every side", John Davies, The Immortality of the Soul.
  • Remembrance and reflection how allied!
    What thin partitions sense from thought divide!
    • Line 225. Compare: "Great wits are sure to madness near allied, / And thin partitions do their bounds divide", John Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel, part I, line 163.
  • All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
    Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.
  • Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,
    Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees.
  • As full, as perfect, in vile man that mourns
    As the rapt seraph that adores and burns.
    To Him no high, no low, no great, no small;
    He fills, he bounds, connects, and equals all!
  • Our proper bliss depends on what we blame.
  • All nature is but art unknown to thee,
    All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
    All discord, harmony not understood;
    All partial evil, universal good;
    And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
    One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.
    • Line 289. Compare: "Whatever is, is in its causes just", John Dryden, Œdipus, Act III, scene 1.

Epistle II[edit]

  • Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
    The proper study of mankind is man.
    • Line 1. Compare: "La vray science et le vray étude de l'homme c'est l'homme" (Translated: "The true science and the true study of man is man"), Pierre Charron, De la Sagesse, lib. i. chap. 1; "Trees and fields tell me nothing: men are my teachers", Plato, Phædrus.
  • Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
    A being darkly wise and rudely great:
    With too much knowledge for the skeptic side,
    With too much weakness for the stoic's pride,
    He hangs between; in doubt to act or rest;
    In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
    In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
    Born but to die, and reasn'ing but to err;
    Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
    Whether he thinks too little or too much.
  • Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
    Still by himself abused, or disabused;
    Created half to rise, and half to fall;
    Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
    Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled;
    The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
    • Line 13. Compare: "What a chimera, then, is man! what a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a prodigy! A judge of all things, feeble worm of the earth, depositary of the truth, cloaca of uncertainty and error, the glory and the shame of the universe", Blaise Pascal, Thoughts, chap. x.
  • Fix'd like a plant on his peculiar spot,
    To draw nutrition, propagate, and rot.
  • In lazy apathy let stoics boast
    Their virtue fix'd: 'tis fix'd as in a frost;
    Contracted all, retiring to the breast;
    But strength of mind is exercise, not rest.
  • On life's vast ocean diversely we sail,
    Reason the card, but passion is the gale.
  • And hence one master passion in the breast,
    Like Aaron's serpent, swallows up the rest.
  • The young disease, that must subdue at length,
    Grows with his growth, and strengthens with his strength.
  • Extremes in nature equal ends produce;
    In man they join to some mysterious use.
  • Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
    As to be hated needs but to be seen;
    Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
    We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
    • Line 217. Compare: " For truth has such a face and such a mien, As to be lov’d needs only to be seen", John Dryden, The Hind and the Panther, Part I, line 33.
  • Ask where's the North? At York 'tis on the Tweed;
    In Scotland at the Orcades; and there,
    At Greenland, Zembla, or the Lord knows where.
  • Virtuous and vicious every man must be,—
    Few in the extreme, but all in the degree.
  • The learned is happy Nature to explore,
    The fool is happy that he knows no more;
    The rich is happy in the plenty giv'n,
    The poor contents him with the care of Heav'n.
  • Hope travels thro', nor quits us when we die.
  • Behold the child, by Nature's kindly law,
    Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw:
    Some livelier plaything gives his youth delight,
    A little louder, but as empty quite:
    Scarfs, garters, gold, amuse his riper stage,
    And beads and prayer books are the toys of age!
    Pleased with this bauble still, as that before;
    Till tired he sleeps, and life's poor play is o'er.

Epistle III[edit]

  • While man exclaims, “See all things for my use!”
    “See man for mine!” replies a pamper'd goose.
    • Line 45; comparable with: "Why may not a goose say thus?… there is nothing that yon heavenly roof looks upon so favourably as me; I am the darling of Nature. Is it not man that keeps and serves me? ", Michel de Montaigne, "Apology for Raimond Lebond".
  • Learn of the little nautilus to sail,
    Spread the thin oar, and catch the driving gale.
  • In vain thy Reason finer webs shall draw,
    Entangle justice in her net of law,
    And right, too rigid, harden into wrong,
    Still for the strong too weak, the weak too strong.
  • The enormous faith of many made for one.
  • Force first made Conquest, and that conquest, Law.
  • For forms of government let fools contest;
    Whate'er is best administered is best
    :
    For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight;
    His can't be wrong whose life is in the right.
    In faith and hope the world will disagree,
    But allmankind's concern is charity.
    • Line 303, this relates to the biblical "Faith, Hope and Charity" of Paul of Tarsus, in I Corinthians, Ch. 13, v. 13. "And now abideth And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." It is also comparable with Abraham Cowley, On the Death of Crashaw: "His faith, perhaps, in some nice tenets might / Be wrong; his life, I'm sure, was in the right."
  • Thus God and Nature linked the general frame,
    And bade self-love and social be the same.

Epistle IV[edit]

  • O happiness! our being's end and aim!
    Good, pleasure, ease, content! whate'er thy name:
    That something still which prompts the eternal sigh,
    For which we bear to live, or dare to die.
  • Order is Heaven's first law.
  • Reason's whole pleasure, all the joys of Sense,
    Lie in three words, Health, Peace, and Competence.
    But Health consists with Temperance alone,
    And Peace, oh Virtue! Peace is all thy own.
  • The soul's calm sunshine and the heartfelt joy.
  • Honour and shame from no condition rise;
    Act well your part, there all the honour lies.
  • Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow;
    The rest is all but leather or prunella.
  • What can ennoble sots or slaves or cowards?
    Alas! not all the blood of all the Howards.
  • What's Fame? a fancied life in others' breath,
    A thing beyond us, ev'n before our death.
  • A wit's a feather, and a chief a rod;
    An honest man's the noblest work of God.
    • Line 247. Compare: "Man is his own star; and that soul that can / Be honest is the only perfect man", John Fletcher , Upon an "Honest Man’s Fortune".
  • Plays round the head, but comes not to the heart.
    One self-approving hour whole years outweighs
    Of stupid starers and of loud huzzas;
    And more true joy Marcellus exil'd feels
    Than Cæsar with a senate at his heels.
    In parts superior what advantage lies?
    Tell (for you can) what is it to be wise?
    'T is but to know how little can be known;
    To see all others' faults, and feel our own.
  • Truths would you teach, or save a sinking land?
    All fear, none aid you, and few understand.
  • If parts allure thee, think how Bacon shin'd,
    The wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind!
    Or ravish'd with the whistling of a name,
    See Cromwell, damn'd to everlasting fame!
    • Line 281. Compare: "Charm'd with the foolish whistling of a name", Abraham Cowley, Virgil, Georgics, Book ii, Line 72; "May see thee now, though late, redeem thy name, And glorify what else is damn'd to fame", Richard Savage, Character of Foster.
  • Know then this truth (enough for man to know), —
    Virtue alone is happiness below.
  • Never elated when one man 's oppress'd;
    Never dejected while another 's bless'd.
  • Slave to no sect, who takes no private road,
    But looks through Nature up to Nature's God.
    • Line 331. Compare: "One follows Nature and Nature’s God; that is, he follows God in his works and in his word", Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke St. John, Letter to Alexander Pope. Later used by Thomas Jefferson in the language of the Declaration of Independence, asserting that a people may "assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them".
  • Form'd by thy converse, happily to steer
    From grave to gay, from lively to severe.
    • Line 379. Compare: "D'une voix légère / Passer du grave au doux, du plaisant au sévère", Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, The Art of Poetry, Canto I, line 75 (translated by John Dryden as "Happy who in his verse can gently steer / From grave to light, from pleasant to severe").
  • Say, shall my little bark attendant sail,
    Pursue the triumph and partake the gale?
  • Thou wert my guide, philosopher, and friend.
  • That virtue only makes our bliss below,
    And all our knowledge is ourselves to know.
    • Line 397. Compare: "'Tis virtue makes the bliss where'er we dwell", William CollinsOriental Eclogues, i, line 5.

About[edit]

  • The Essay on Man was a work of great labour and long consideration, but certainly not the happiest of Pope's performances. The subject is perhaps not very proper for poetry, and the poet was not sufficiently master of his subject; metaphysical morality was to him a new study, he was proud of his acquisitions, and, supposing himself master of great secrets, was in haste to teach what he had not learned.
  • Never were penury of knowledge and vulgarity of sentiment so happily disguised.

External links[edit]

  • Full text at Project Gutenberg
  • An introduction to the poem from a Hartwicke College professor: [1]

Awake, my St. John! 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 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, 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 the ways of God to man.

I.

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?

Through worlds unnumber'd though the God be known,

'Tis ours to trace him only in our own.

He, who through vast immensity can pierce,

See worlds on worlds compose one universe,

Observe how system into system runs,

What other planets circle other suns,

What varied 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 through? 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 above,

Why Jove's satellites are less than Jove?

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 a 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,

May, must be right, as relative to all.

In human works, though 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:

Then shall man's pride and dulness 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 today,

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 pinions soar;

Wait the great teacher Death; and God adore!

What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,

But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast:

Man never is, but always to be blest:

The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

Lo! the poor Indian, whose untutor'd mind

Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;

His soul, proud science never taught to stray

Far as the solar walk, or milky way;

Yet simple nature to his hope has giv'n,

Behind the cloud-topt hill, an humbler heav'n;

Some safer world in depth of woods embrac'd,

Some happier island in the wat'ry waste,

Where slaves once more their native land behold,

No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold.

To be, contents his natural desire,

He asks no angel's wing, no seraph's fire;

But thinks, admitted to that equal sky,

His faithful dog shall bear him company.

IV.

Go, wiser thou! and, in thy scale of sense

Weigh thy opinion against Providence;

Call imperfection what thou fanciest such,

Say, here he gives too little, there too much:

Destroy all creatures for thy sport or gust,

Yet cry, if man's unhappy, God's unjust;

If man alone engross not Heav'n's high care,

Alone made perfect here, immortal there:

Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod,

Rejudge his justice, be the God of God.

In pride, in reas'ning pride, our error lies;

All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies.

Pride still is aiming at the blest abodes,

Men would be angels, angels would be gods.

Aspiring to be gods, if angels fell,

Aspiring to be angels, men rebel:

And who but wishes to invert the laws

Of order, sins against th' Eternal Cause.

V.

Ask for what end the heav'nly bodies shine,

Earth for whose use? Pride answers, " 'Tis for mine:

For me kind Nature wakes her genial pow'r,

Suckles each herb, and spreads out ev'ry flow'r;

Annual for me, the grape, the rose renew,

The juice nectareous, and the balmy dew;

For me, the mine a thousand treasures brings;

For me, health gushes from a thousand springs;

Seas roll to waft me, suns to light me rise;

My foot-stool earth, my canopy the skies."

But errs not Nature from this gracious end,

From burning suns when livid deaths descend,

When earthquakes swallow, or when tempests sweep

Towns to one grave, whole nations to the deep?

"No, ('tis replied) the first Almighty Cause

Acts not by partial, but by gen'ral laws;

Th' exceptions few; some change since all began:

And what created perfect?"—Why then man?

If the great end be human happiness,

Then Nature deviates; and can man do less?

As much that end a constant course requires

Of show'rs and sunshine, as of man's desires;

As much eternal springs and cloudless skies,

As men for ever temp'rate, calm, and wise.

If plagues or earthquakes break not Heav'n's design,

Why then a Borgia, or a Catiline?

Who knows but he, whose hand the lightning forms,

Who heaves old ocean, and who wings the storms,

Pours fierce ambition in a Cæsar's mind,

Or turns young Ammon loose to scourge mankind?

From pride, from pride, our very reas'ning springs;

Account for moral, as for nat'ral things:

Why charge we Heav'n in those, in these acquit?

In both, to reason right is to submit.

Better for us, perhaps, it might appear,

Were there all harmony, all virtue here;

That never air or ocean felt the wind;

That never passion discompos'd the mind.

But ALL subsists by elemental strife;

And passions are the elements of life.

The gen'ral order, since the whole began,

Is kept in nature, and is kept in man.

VI.

What would this man? Now upward will he soar,

And little less than angel, would be more;

Now looking downwards, just as griev'd appears

To want the strength of bulls, the fur of bears.

Made for his use all creatures if he call,

Say what their use, had he the pow'rs of all?

Nature to these, without profusion, kind,

The proper organs, proper pow'rs assign'd;

Each seeming want compensated of course,

Here with degrees of swiftness, there of force;

All in exact proportion to the state;

Nothing to add, and nothing to abate.

Each beast, each insect, happy in its own:

Is Heav'n unkind to man, and man alone?

Shall he alone, whom rational we call,

Be pleas'd with nothing, if not bless'd with all?

The bliss of man (could pride that blessing find)

Is not to act or think beyond mankind;

No pow'rs of body or of soul to share,

But what his nature and his state can bear.

Why has not man a microscopic eye?

For this plain reason, man is not a fly.

Say what the use, were finer optics giv'n,

T' inspect a mite, not comprehend the heav'n?

Or touch, if tremblingly alive all o'er,

To smart and agonize at ev'ry pore?

Or quick effluvia darting through the brain,

Die of a rose in aromatic pain?

If nature thunder'd in his op'ning ears,

And stunn'd him with the music of the spheres,

How would he wish that Heav'n had left him still

The whisp'ring zephyr, and the purling rill?

Who finds not Providence all good and wise,

Alike in what it gives, and what denies?

VII.

Far as creation's ample range extends,

The scale of sensual, mental pow'rs ascends:

Mark how it mounts, to man's imperial race,

From the green myriads in the peopled grass:

What modes of sight betwixt each wide extreme,

The mole's dim curtain, and the lynx's beam:

Of smell, the headlong lioness between,

And hound sagacious on the tainted green:

Of hearing, from the life that fills the flood,

To that which warbles through the vernal wood:

The spider's touch, how exquisitely fine!

Feels at each thread, and lives along the line:

In the nice bee, what sense so subtly true

From pois'nous herbs extracts the healing dew:

How instinct varies in the grov'lling swine,

Compar'd, half-reas'ning elephant, with thine:

'Twixt that, and reason, what a nice barrier;

For ever sep'rate, yet for ever near!

Remembrance and reflection how allied;

What thin partitions sense from thought divide:

And middle natures, how they long to join,

Yet never pass th' insuperable line!

Without this just gradation, could they be

Subjected, these to those, or all to thee?

The pow'rs of all subdu'd by thee alone,

Is not thy reason all these pow'rs in one?

VIII.

See, through this air, this ocean, and this earth,

All matter quick, and bursting into birth.

Above, how high, progressive life may go!

Around, how wide! how deep extend below!

Vast chain of being, which from God began,

Natures ethereal, human, angel, man,

Beast, bird, fish, insect! what no eye can see,

No glass can reach! from infinite to thee,

From thee to nothing!—On superior pow'rs

Were we to press, inferior might on ours:

Or in the full creation leave a void,

Where, one step broken, the great scale's destroy'd:

From nature's chain whatever link you strike,

Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.

And, if each system in gradation roll

Alike essential to th' amazing whole,

The least confusion but in one, not all

That system only, but the whole must fall.

Let earth unbalanc'd from her orbit fly,

Planets and suns run lawless through the sky;

Let ruling angels from their spheres be hurl'd,

Being on being wreck'd, and world on world;

Heav'n's whole foundations to their centre nod,

And nature tremble to the throne of God.

All this dread order break—for whom? for thee?

Vile worm!—Oh madness, pride, impiety!

IX.

What if the foot ordain'd the dust to tread,

Or hand to toil, aspir'd to be the head?

What if the head, the eye, or ear repin'd

To serve mere engines to the ruling mind?

Just as absurd for any part to claim

To be another, in this gen'ral frame:

Just as absurd, to mourn the tasks or pains,

The great directing Mind of All ordains.

All are but parts of one stupendous whole,

Whose body Nature is, and God the soul;

That, chang'd through all, and yet in all the same,

Great in the earth, as in th' ethereal frame,

Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,

Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees,

Lives through all life, extends through all extent,

Spreads undivided, operates unspent,

Breathes in our soul, informs our mortal part,

As full, as perfect, in a hair as heart;

As full, as perfect, in vile man that mourns,

As the rapt seraph that adores and burns;

To him no high, no low, no great, no small;

He fills, he bounds, connects, and equals all.

X.

Cease then, nor order imperfection name:

Our proper bliss depends on what we blame.

Know thy own point: This kind, this due degree

Of blindness, weakness, Heav'n bestows on thee.

Submit.—In this, or any other sphere,

Secure to be as blest as thou canst bear:

Safe in the hand of one disposing pow'r,

Or in the natal, or the mortal hour.

All nature is but art, unknown to thee;

All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;

All discord, harmony, not understood;

All partial evil, universal good:

And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,

One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.

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