An Essay On Man: Epistle I. Poem Rhyme Scheme and Analysis


Having proposed to write some pieces on human life and manners such as to use my Lord Bacon's expression come home to men's business and bosoms I thought it more satisfactory to begin with considering man in the abstract his nature and his state since to prove any moral duty to enforce any moral precept or to examine the perfection or imperfection of any creature whatsoever it is necessary first to know what condition and relation it is placed in and what is the proper end and purpose of its beingB
The science of human nature is like all other sciences reduced to a few clear points there are not many certain truths in this world It is therefore in the anatomy of the mind as in that of the body more good will accrue to mankind by attending to the large open and perceptible parts than by studying too much such finer nerves and vessels the conformations and uses of which will for ever escape our observation The disputes are all upon these last and I will venture to say they have less sharpened the wits than the hearts of men against each other and have diminished the practice more than advanced the theory of morality If I could flatter myself that this essay has any merit it is in steering betwixt the extremes of doctrines seemingly opposite in passing over terms utterly unintelligible and in forming a temperate yet not inconsistent and a short yet not imperfect system of ethicsC
This I might have done in prose but I chose verse and even rhyme for two reasons The one will appear obvious that principles maxims or precepts so written both strike the reader more strongly at first and are more easily retained by him afterwards the other may seem odd but is true I found I could express them more shortly this way than in prose itself and nothing is more certain than that much of the force as well as grace of arguments or instructions depends on their conciseness I was unable to treat this part of my subject more in detail without becoming dry and tedious or more poetically without sacrificing perspicuity to ornament without wandering from the precision or breaking the chain of reasoning If any man can unite all these without diminution of any of them I freely confess he will compass a thing above my capacityD
What is now published is only to be considered as a general map of Man marking out no more than the greater parts their extent their limits and their connexion but leaving the particular to be more fully delineated in the charts which are to follow Consequently these epistles in their progress if I have health and leisure to make any progress will be less dry and more susceptible of poetical ornament I am here only opening the fountains and clearing the passage To deduce the rivers to follow them in their course and to observe their effects may be a task more agreeableE
An Essay On Man Epistle IF
Of man in the abstractI
I That we can judge only with regard to our own system being ignorant of the relations of systems and things ver c II That Man is not to be deemed imperfect but a being suited to his place and rank in the creation agreeable to the general order of things and conformable to ends and relations to him unknown ver c III That it is partly upon his ignorance of future events and partly upon the hope of a future state that all his happiness in the present depends ver c IV The pride of aiming at more knowledge and pretending to more perfection the cause of Man's error and misery The impiety of putting himself in the place of God and judging of the fitness or unfitness perfection or imperfection justice or injustice of his dispensations ver c V The absurdity of conceiting himself the final cause of the creation or expecting that perfection in the moral world which is not in the natural ver c VI The unreasonableness of his complaints against Providence while on the one hand he demands the perfections of the angels and on the other the bodily qualifications of the brutes though to possess any of the sensitive faculties in a higher degree would render him miserable ver c VII That throughout the whole visible world an universal order and gradation in the sensual and mental faculties is observed which causes a subordination of creature to creature and of all creatures to Man The gradations of sense instinct thought reflection reason that reason alone countervails all the other faculties ver VIII How much further this order and subordination of living creatures may extend above and below us were any part of which broken not that part only but the whole connected creation must be destroyed ver IX The extravagance madness and pride of such a desire ver X The consequence of all the absolute submission due to Providence both as to our present and future state ver c to the endJ
Awake my St John leave all meaner thingsK
To low ambition and the pride of kingsK
Let us since life can little more supplyF
Than just to look about us and to dieF
Expatiate free o'er all this scene of ManL
A mighty maze but not without a planL
A wild where weeds and flowers promiscuous shootM
Or garden tempting with forbidden fruitM
Together let us beat this ample fieldN
Try what the open what the covert yieldN
The latent tracts the giddy heights exploreO
Of all who blindly creep or sightless soarO
Eye Nature's walks shoot folly as it fliesP
And catch the manners living as they riseP
Laugh where we must be candid where we canL
But vindicate the ways of God to ManL
I Say first of God above or Man belowQ
What can we reason but from what we knowQ
Of Man what see we but his station hereR
From which to reason or to which referS
Through worlds unnumber'd though the God be knownT
'Tis ours to trace him only in our ownT
He who through vast immensity can pierceU
See worlds on worlds compose one universeH
Observe how system into system runsV
What other planets circle other sunsV
What varied being peoples every starW
May tell why Heaven has made us as we areW
But of this frame the bearings and the tiesP
The strong connexions nice dependenciesX
Gradations just has thy pervading soulY
Look'd through or can a part contain the wholeY
Is the great chain that draws all to agreeD
And drawn supports upheld by God or theeD
II Presumptuous Man the reason wouldst thou findZ
Why form'd so weak so little and so blindZ
First if thou canst the harder reason guessA2
Why form'd no weaker blinder and no lessA2
Ask of thy mother earth why oaks are madeB2
Taller or stronger than the weeds they shadeB2
Or ask of yonder argent fields aboveC2
Why Jove's satellites are less than JoveC2
Of systems possible if 'tis confess'dD2
That Wisdom infinite must form the bestD2
Where all must full or not coherent beD
And all that rises rise in due degreeD
Then in the scale of reasoning life 'tis plainE2
There must be somewhere such a rank as ManL
And all the question wrangle e'er so longF2
Is only this if God has placed him wrongF2
Respecting Man whatever wrong we callG2
May must be right as relative to allG2
In human works though labour'd on with painE2
A thousand movements scarce one purpose gainE2
In God's one single can its end produceH2
Yet serves to second too some other useH2
So Man who here seems principal aloneT
Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknownT
Touches some wheel or verges to some goalY
'Tis but a part we see and not a wholeY
When the proud steed shall know why Man restrainsI2
His fiery course or drives him o'er the plainsI2
When the dull ox why now he breaks the clodD2
Is now a victim and now Egypt's godD2
Then shall man's pride and dulness comprehendD2
His actions' passions' being's use and endD2
Why doing suffering check'd impell'd and whyF
This hour a slave the next a deityD2
Then say not Man's imperfect Heaven in faultD2
Say rather Man's as perfect as he oughtD2
His knowledge measured to his state and placeJ2
His time a moment and a point his spaceJ2
If to be perfect in a certain sphereK2
What matter soon or late or here or thereL2
The blest to day is as completely soQ
As who began a thousand years agoQ
III Heaven from all creatures hides the book of FateD2
All but the page prescribed their present stateD2
From brutes what men from men what spirits knowQ
Or who could suffer being here belowQ
The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to dayD2
Had he thy reason would he skip and playD2
Pleased to the last he crops the flowery foodD2
And licks the hand just raised to shed his bloodD2
Oh blindness to the future kindly givenM2
That each may fill the circle mark'd by HeavenM2
Who sees with equal eye as God of allG2
A hero perish or a sparrow fallG2
Atoms or systems into ruin hurl'dD2
And now a bubble burst and now a worldD2
Hope humbly then with trembling pinions soarO
Wait the great teacher Death and God adoreO
What future bliss He gives not thee to knowQ
But gives that hope to be thy blessing nowN2
Hope springs eternal in the human breastD2
Man never Is but always To be blestD2
The soul uneasy and confined from homeO2
Rests and expatiates in a life to comeP2
Lo the poor Indian whose untutor'd mindD2
Sees God in clouds or hears him in the windD2
His soul proud science never taught to strayD2
Far as the solar walk or milky wayD2
Yet simple nature to his hope has givenM2
Behind the cloud topp'd hill an humbler heavenM2
Some safer world in depth of woods embracedD2
Some happier island in the watery wasteD2
Where slaves once more their native land beholdD2
No fiends torment no Christians thirst for goldD2
To be contents his natural desireS
He asks no angel's wing no seraph's fireS
But thinks admitted to that equal skyF
His faithful dog shall bear him companyD2
IV Go wiser thou and in thy scale of senseQ2
Weigh thy opinion against ProvidenceR2
Call imperfection what thou fanciest suchS2
Say here he gives too little there too muchS2
Destroy all creatures for thy sport or gustD2
Yet cry If Man's unhappy God's unjustD2
If Man alone engross not Heaven's high careL2
Alone made perfect here immortal thereL2
Snatch from his hand the balance and the rodD2
Re judge his justice be the God of GodD2
In pride in reasoning pride our error liesP
All quit their sphere and rush into the skiesP
Pride still is aiming at the blest abodesP
Men would be angels angels would be godsP
Aspiring to be gods if angels fellT2
Aspiring to be angels men rebelE
And who but wishes to invert the lawsP
Of ORDER sins against the Eternal CauseP
V Ask for what end the heavenly bodies shineA
Earth for whose use Pride answers ''Tis for mineA
For me kind Nature wakes her genial powerS
Suckles each herb and spreads out every flowerS
Annual for me the grape the rose renewU2
The juice nectareous and the balmy dewU2
For me the mine a thousand treasures bringsP
For me health gushes from a thousand springsP
Seas roll to waft me suns to light me riseP
My footstool earth my canopy the skies '-
But errs not Nature from this gracious endD2
From burning suns when livid deaths descendD2
When earthquakes swallow or when tempests sweepV2
Towns to one grave whole nations to the deepV2
'No' 'tis replied 'the first Almighty CauseP
Acts not by partial but by general lawsP
Th' exceptions few some change since all beganL
And what created perfect ' Why then ManL
If the great end be human happinessP
Then Nature deviates and can Man do lessP
As much that end a constant course requiresP
Of showers and sunshine as of Man's desiresP
As much eternal springs and cloudless skiesP
As men for ever temperate calm and wiseP
If plagues or earthquakes break not Heaven's designA
Why then a Borgia or a CatilineA
Who knows but He whose hand the lightning formsP
Who heaves old Ocean and who wings the stormsP
Pours fierce ambition in a Caesar's mindD2
Or turns young Ammon loose to scourge mankindD2
From pride from pride our very reasoning springsP
Account for moral as for natural thingsP
Why charge we Heaven in those in these acquitD2
In both to reason right is to submitD2
Better for us perhaps it might appearK2
Were there all harmony all virtue hereR
That never air or ocean felt the windD2
That never passion discomposed the mindD2
But all subsists by elemental strifeC2
And passions are the elements of lifeC2
The general order since the whole beganA
Is kept in Nature and is kept in ManA
VI What would this Man Now upward will he soarO
And little less than angel would be moreO
Now looking downwards just as grieved appearsP
To want the strength of bulls the fur of bearsP
Made for his use all creatures if he callG2
Say what their use had he the powers of allG2
Nature to these without profusion kindD2
The proper organs proper powers assign'dD2
Each seeming want compensated of courseP
Here with degrees of swiftness there of forceP
All in exact proportion to the stateD2
Nothing to add and nothing to abateD2
Each beast each insect happy in its ownA
Is Heaven unkind to Man and Man aloneA
Shall he alone whom rational we callG2
Be pleased with nothing if not bless'd with allG2
The bliss of Man could pride that blessing findD2
Is not to act or think beyond mankindD2
No powers of body or of soul to shareL2
But what his nature and his state can bearL2
Why has not Man a microscopic eyeF
For this plain reason Man is not a flyF
Say what the use were finer optics givenA
T'inspect a mite not comprehend the heavenA
Or touch if tremblingly alive all o'erS
To smart and agonise at every poreO
Or quick effluvia darting through the brainA
Die of a rose in aromatic painA
If nature thunder'd in his opening earsP
And stunn'd him with the music of the spheresP
How would he wish that Heaven had left him stillW2
The whispering zephyr and the purling rillW2
Who finds not Providence all good and wiseP
Alike in what it gives and what deniesP
VII Far as Creation's ample range extendsP
The scale of sensual mental powers ascendsP
Mark how it mounts to Man's imperial raceP
From the green myriads in the peopled grassP
What modes of sight betwixt each wide extremeX2
The mole's dim curtain and the lynx's beamX2
Of smell the headlong lioness betweenA
And hound sagacious on the tainted greenA
Of hearing from the life that fills the floodD2
To that which warbles through the vernal woodD2
The spider's touch how exquisitely fineA
Feels at each thread and lives along the lineA
In the nice bee what sense so subtly trueU2
From poisonous herbs extracts the healing dewU2
How instinct varies in the grovelling swineA
Compared half reasoning elephant with thineA
'Twixt that and reason what a nice barrierS
For ever separate yet for ever nearK2
Remembrance and reflection how alliedD2
What thin partitions sense from thought divideD2
And middle natures how they long to joinA
Yet never pass th' insuperable lineA
Without this just gradation could they beD2
Subjected these to those or all to theeD2
The powers of all subdued by thee aloneA
Is not thy reason all these powers in oneA
VIII See through this air this ocean and this earthY2
All matter quick and bursting into birthY2
Above how high progressive life may goQ
Around how wide how deep extend belowQ
Vast chain of being which from God beganA
Natures ethereal human angel manA
Beast bird fish insect what no eye can seeD2
No glass can reach from Infinite to TheeD2
From Thee to Nothing On superior powersP
Were we to press inferior might on oursP
Or in the full creation leave a voidD2
Where one step broken the great scale's destroy'dD2
From Nature's chain whatever link you strikeZ2
Tenth or ten thousandth breaks the chain alikeZ2
And if each system in gradation rollY
Alike essential to th' amazing wholeY
The least confusion but in one not allG2
That system only but the whole must fallG2
Let earth unbalanced from her orbit flyF
Planets and suns run lawless through the skyF
Let ruling angels from their spheres be hurl'dD2
Being on being wreck'd and world on worldD2
Heaven's whole foundations to their centre nodD2
And Nature trembles to the throne of GodD2
All this dread order break for whom for theeD2
Vile worm oh madness pride impietyD2
IX What if the foot ordain'd the dust to treadD2
Or hand to toil aspired to be the headD2
What if the head the eye or ear repinedD2
To serve mere engines to the ruling mindD2
Just as absurd for any part to claimA3
To be another in this general frameA3
Just as absurd to mourn the tasks or painsP
The great directing Mind of All ordainsP
All are but parts of one stupendous wholeY
Whose body Nature is and God the soulY
That changed through all and yet in all the sameA3
Great in the earth as in th' ethereal frameA3
Warms in the sun refreshes in the breezeP
Glows in the stars and blossoms in the treesP
Lives through all life extends through all extentD2
Spreads undivided operates unspentD2
Breathes in our soul informs our mortal partD2
As full as perfect in a hair as heartD2
As full as perfect in vile Man that mournsP
As the rapt Seraph that adores and burnsP
To Him no high no low no great no smallG2
He fills He bounds connects and equals allG2
X Cease then nor Order imperfection nameA3
Our proper bliss depends on what we blameA3
Know thy own point this kind this due degreeD2
Of blindness weakness Heaven bestows on theeD2
Submit in this or any other sphereK2
Secure to be as bless'd as thou canst bearL2
Safe in the hand of one disposing PowerS
Or in the natal or the mortal hourS
All Nature is but Art unknown to theeD2
All chance direction which thou canst not seeD2
All discord harmony not understoodD2
All partial evil universal goodD2
And spite of pride in erring reason's spiteD2
One truth is clear WHATEVER IS IS RIGHTD2
In former editions VERS
Now wears a garland an Egyptian godD2
Altered as above for the reason given in the noteD2
After VER the following lines in first editD2
If to be perfect in a certain sphereK2
What matters soon or late or here or thereL2
The blest to day is as completely soP
As who began ten thousand years agoP
After VER in the MSP
No great no little 'tis as much decreedD2
That Virgil's gnat should die as Caesar bleedD2
In the first folio and quartoP
What bliss above He gives not thee to knowP
But gives that hope to be thy bliss belowP
After VER in the first editionA
But does he say the Maker is not goodD2
Till he's exalted to what state he wouldD2
Himself alone high Heaven's peculiar careL2
Alone made happy when he will and whereL2
VER first editionA
Ethereal essence spirit substance manA
After VER in the MSP
Reason to think of God when she pretendsP
Begins a censor an adorer endsP

Alexander Pope


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