The essay on man summary

Any deviation from this order would result in cosmic destruction. Because the universe is so highly ordered, chance, as man understands it, does not exist. Introduction : The introduction begins with an address to Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke, a friend of the poet from whose fragmentary philosophical writings Pope likely drew inspiration for An Essay on Man. Section II : Section II states that man is imperfect but perfectly suited to his place within the hierarchy of creation according to the general order of things.

Section III : Section III demonstrates that man's happiness depends on both his ignorance of future events and on his hope for the future.

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By putting himself in the place of God, judging perfection and justice, man acts impiously. This is particularly apparent in the hierarchy of earthly creatures and their subordination to man. Pope refers specifically to the gradations of sense, instinct, thought, reflection, and reason.


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Reason is superior to all. These arguments certainly support a fatalistic world view. God thus has a specific intention for every element of His creation, which suggests that all things are fated. Pope, however, was always greatly distressed by charges of fatalism. The first epistle of An Essay on Man is its most ambitious. His own philosophical conclusions make this impossible. Indeed, eighteenth-century critics saw An Essay on Man as a primarily poetic work despite its philosophical themes. Pope wrote his "Essay on Man" in rhyming verse.

Certainly today, we think anybody that writes "poetry" is one who is a bit odd, to say the least. Back in the eighteenth century, it was not so strange. Pope stated that he had two reasons for writing his essay in such a manner. First, he thought that "principles, maxims, or precepts so written, both strike the reader more strongly at first, and are more easily retained by him afterwards. My copy of Pope's "Essay on Man" runs approximately 30 pages, 30 pages of a smaller poetry book. It is broken down into four epistles. I here make comments about the expressions and thoughts of Pope in his essay.

I have quoted at length from his essay. Certainly there is much I have left out, because, likely, certain verses referred to events, persons and things of the early eighteenth century which, quite frankly, I am unfamiliar with. Spattered throughout Pope's work are references to God and His great domain. Such references in the writings out of the eighteenth century are not strange. The livelihood of writers, by and large -- as was with the case of all artists back then -- depended almost entirely on the generosity of church and state, so it was necessary in those days that writers give due regard to religious authority.

Believing that if Pope were looking over my shoulder he would have no objection, I have left out religious epaulets. Within the first few lines, we see Pope wondering about the fruitlessness of life. We have no choice: we come to it, look out and then die. What we see as we look out on "the scene of man" is a "mighty maze! Look'd thro'? Is the great chain that draws all to agree, - And, drawn, supports - upheld by God or thee? In his next stanza, Pope makes reference to presumptuous man! Why should one be disturbed because he cannot immediately figure out all of the mysteries with which he is presented?

It cannot be expected that one part of existence man should understand all the other parts, he then continues: As of thy mother Earth, why oaks are made Taller or stronger than the weeds they shade. And all that rises, rise in due degree; Then, in the sale of reas'ning life, 'tis plain There must be, somewhere, such a rank as Man.

When the dull ox, why now he breaks the clod, Is now a victim, and now Egypt's god, -. 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. Pope continues with this theme into his third stanza, in saying "Heav'n from all creatures hides the book of fate," and continues: 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. 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. Then giving way to his religious bent, makes reference to the "great teacher Death" and continues with his most famous lines: Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blest: The soul uneasy and confin'd from home, Rest and expatiates in a life to come. Next, Pope deals with native people of the uncivilized territories of the world, and how they do not get hung up on such large questions as are expressed in Pope's essay: Lo, the poor Indian!

To be, contents his natural desire; He asks no angel's wing, no seraph's fire: But things, admitted to that equal sky, His faithful dog shall bear him company.

Pope, Essay on Man, Epistle 1

Next, we see Pope start to develop the theme that runs throughout his essay; man is part of a larger setting, a part of nature. Man depends on nature for his very substance, and yet, treats her roughly. Destroy all creatures for thy sport or gust, Yet cry, if Man's unhappy, God's unjust;. Ask for what end the heav'nly bodies shine, Earth for whose use, Pride answers, "'Tis for mine!

Better for us, perhaps, it might appear, Were there are 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. Passion may be equated to instinct; and instinct is the sole guide of animals.

Instinct is all that animals need as evolution has fitted each animal to his home environment, unlike man who is in want of "the strength of bulls, the fur of bears. 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? Again, Pope emphasizes how nature "all good and wise. 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? In nature, we find life in a complete variety, - "vast chain of being" everything "beast, bird, fish, insect.

The point, I think, is that there is a fearful balance of nature in all its variety, and we dare not destroy one aspect of nature for fear of destroying the whole. All this dread order break - for whom? Vile worm! In the last line of Pope's first epistle, he bangs home the importance of the "ruling mind" of nature, that while some parts might seem to us to be absurd, it is part of the "general frame" that all of nature, including ourselves, are but "parts of one stupendous whole. 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.

Pope opens his second Epistle much the same as he opened his first. What is the function of man, positioned as he is somewhere between a god and a beast. Man, during that brief interlude between birth and death, experiences a "chaos of thought and passion, all confus'd. What man will come to know is that he is ruled by passion; passion is the ruler and reason it's counsellor. Alas what wonder! Man's superior part Uncheck'd may rise and climb from art to art; But when his own great work is but begun, What Reason weaves, by Passion is undone.

It is in the nature of man to first serve himself; but, on account of reason, to do so with the long range in view. Two Principles in human nature reign; Self-love, to urge, and Reason, to restrain;. Self-love still stronger, as its objects nigh; Reason's at distance, and in prospect lie: A person is driven by passion, driven by his desire for pleasure; temptation is strong and passion is "thicker than arguments.

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Attention, habit and experience gains; Each strengthens Reason, and Self-love restrains. Self-love and Reason to one end aspire, Pain their aversion, Pleasure their desire,. Pleasure, or wrong or rightly understood, Our greatest evil, or our greatest good. Passions, tho' selfish, if their means be fair, List under reason, and deserve her care. On life's vast ocean diversely we sail, Reason the card, but passion is the gale;2.

Love, Hope, and Joy, fair Pleasure's smiling train, Hate, Fear, and Grief, the family of Pain, These mix'd with art, and to due bounds confin'd, Make and maintain the balance of the mind: Pope's theme is again repeated: the two driving forces of man are his reason and his passion. However, passion is the king and reason but a "weak queen.

Teach us to mourn our nature, not to mend. A sharp accuser but a helpless friend! Reason "th' Eternal Art, educing good from ill" is not a guide but a guard. Passion is the "mightier pow'r. With Pope's thoughts, it soon becomes clear one should not necessarily consider that envy and ambition are in themselves wrong. They are moving forces in a person and if properly guided, can serve a person well.

As, in some well-wrought picture, light and shade And oft so mix, the diff'rence is too nice, Where ends the virtue, or begins the vice. And virtuous and vicious ev'ry man must be, Few in the extreme, but all in the degree; Each person is driven by self-love, but on the same occasion "each on the other to depend, a master, or a servant, or a friend, bids each on other for assistance call. Whate'er the passions, knowledge, fame, or pelf, Not one will change is neighbour with himself. The learn'd is happy nature to explore, The fool is happy that he knows no more; The rich is happy in the plenty given, The poor contents him with the care of Heaven, See the blind beggar dance, the cripple sing The sot a hero, lunatic a king; The starving chemist in his golden views Supremely bless'd, the poet in his Muse.

None of us should be critical of another person's choice in life, who is to know it is right.


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  5. Behold the child, by nature's kindly law, Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw: Some livelier plaything give 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. Pope returns, in his third Epistle, to his ever present theme, all is natural in nature and man is a part of nature.

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    He first observes how "plastic" nature is, how everything is dependant on one and the other, is attracted to one and the other, down even to "single atoms. All things, in the final analysis, are held in the balance, suspended, so it seems, between the two great forces of attraction and repulsion. All forms that perish other forms supply, By turns we catch the vital breath, and die Like bubbles on the sea a matter borne, They rise, they break, and to that sea return Nothing is foreign; parts relate to whole: Then, Pope picks up once again his theme of the ruling principles, reason and passion.

    Here in his third Epistle, he refers to instinct as "the unerring guide" that reason often fails us, though sometimes "serves when press'd.

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