Subscribe: by Email | in Reader

The Riddle of the World -- Alexander Pope

Guest poem sent in by Salil Murthy :

[We are running short of guest poems - please do send some in. You needn't
do the biography and criticism - just send in the poem and your personal
comments on it - m.]
(Poem #39) The Riddle of the World
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A Being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic 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 and body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err;
Whether he thinks to little, or too much;
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus'd;
Still by himself, abus'd or disabus'd;
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 hurl'd;
The glory, jest and riddle of the world.
-- Alexander Pope
Pope's satire showcased his sometimes devastating wit but was often used
to good effect in a more sombre vein, as in this poem. You can almost
see his lip curling in line 10. A deep cynicism seems to have permeated
his works and there were many of them, seeing as he started at the age
of 12 (a gentle satire on Ovid, I think). There is also some amount of
melodrama: witness his last few lines from 'Dunciad'

  Lo! thy dread Empire, Chaos! is restor'd;
  Light dies before thy uncreating word:
  Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
  And Universal Darkness buries All.

(Why is the third line so evocative? Have I missed an allusion?)

Satire tending to tragedy was the particular province of Juvenal, of
whom I have heard much and read nothing. His hand apparently trembled
with rage as he penned his literary invective. This was in direct
contrast to Horace, for whom satire was pure comedy. He jested and japed
with society but made his points just as clearly. These two are
considered the 'Fathers of Satire', which has lead to much confusion in
literary circles, since they seem to inhabit opposite ends of the
satirical spectrum.

The nature of Satire was summed up very neatly by Joseph Hall :

  The Satyre should be like the Porcupine,
  That shoots sharpe quils out in each angry line,
  And wounds the blushing cheeke, and fiery eye,
  Of him that heares, and readeth guiltily.

For the etymology buffs, the derivation of 'satire' is from the Latin
'satura' (which meant originally something like"medley" or "miscellany")
but all subsequent verb extensions were taken from the Greek word for
satyr (saturos) and so 'satirize', 'satiric' et al are of Greek origin.
As the man said, 'English is a very phunny language.'

Just a few lines on that most famous of literary clubs, 'The
Scriblerus'. This is what the trusty EB has to say:

18th-century British literary club whose founding members were the
brilliant Tory wits Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, John Gay,
Thomas Parnell, and John Arbuthnot. Its purpose was to ridicule
pretentious erudition and scholarly jargon through the person of a
fictitious literary hack, Martinus Scriblerus (Martin suggesting Swift,
Scriblerus meaning a writer). The collaboration of the five writers on
the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus began as early as 1713 and
led to frequent, spirited meetings when they were all in London.
When they were separated, they pursued their project through
correspondence. The zest, energy, and time that these five highly
individualistic talents put into their joint enterprise may be gauged by
Pope's statement in a letter to Swift, "The top of my own ambition is
to contribute to that great work [the Memoirs], and I shall translate
Homer by the by."

Of the five, only Pope and Swift lived to see the publication of the
Memoirs (1741), although miscellaneous minor pieces written in
collaboration or individually had appeared earlier under the
Scriblerus name. Although Pope is credited with originating the
character of Scriblerus, most of the ideas were Arbuthnot's, and he
was the most industrious of the collaborators. The stimulation the
members derived from each other had far-reaching effects. Gay's
The Beggar's Opera grew out of a suggestion made by Swift to the
Scriblerus Club, and the imprint of Scriblerus on Swift's Gulliver's
Travels, especially Book III, describing the voyage to Laputa, is
unmistakable. Other prominent Tories--such as Robert Harley, 1st
Earl of Oxford, and Henry St. John, 1st Viscount
Bolingbroke--were members of the club, but there is no evidence
that they contributed to the writing.


[salil has asked me to add some biographical notes etc. so... -m]

Biographical Note:

  Pope, Alexander

   b. May 21, 1688, London, Eng. d. May 30, 1744, Twickenham, near London

  poet and satirist of the English Augustan period, best known for his poems
  An Essay on Criticism (1711), The Rape of the Lock (1712-14), The Dunciad
  (1728), and An Essay on Man (1733-34). He is one of the most quotable of all
  English authors.

  Pope's religion [Roman Catholic] procured him some lifelong friends,
  notably the wealthy squire John Caryll (who persuaded him to write The
  Rape of the Lock, on an incident involving Caryll's relatives) and Martha
  Blount, to whom Pope addressed some of the most memorable of his poems and
  to whom he bequeathed most of his property. But his religion also
  precluded him from a formal course of education; he was trained at home by
  Catholic priests for a short time and attended Catholic schools at
  Twyford, near Winchester, and at Hyde Park Corner, London, but he was
  mainly self-educated. He was a precocious boy, eagerly reading Latin,
  Greek, French, and Italian, which he managed to teach himself, and an
  incessant scribbler, turning out verse upon verse in imitation of the
  poets he read. The best of these early writings are the "Ode on Solitude"
  and a paraphrase of St. Thomas `Kempis, both of which he claimed to have
  written at the age of 12.

        -- EB


  Pope's favourite metre was the 10-syllable, iambic pentameter rhyming
  (heroic) couplet. He handled it with increasing skill and adapted it to such
  varied purposes as the epigrammatic summary of the Essay on Criticism, the
  pathos of "Verses to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady," the mock-heroic of
  The Rape of the Lock, the discursive tones of the Essay on Man, the rapid
  narrative of the Homer translation, and the Miltonic sublimity of the
  conclusion of The Dunciad. But his greatest triumphs of versification are
  found in the "Epilogue to the Satires," where he moves easily from witty,
  spirited dialogue to noble and elevated declamation, and in the "Epistle to
  Dr. Arbuthnot," which opens with a scene of domestic irritation suitably
  conveyed in broken rhythm:

        Shut, shut the door, good John! fatigu'd, I said:
        Tie up the knocker, say I'm sick, I'm dead.
        The Dog-star rages! nay 'tis past a doubt,
        All Bedlam, or Parnassus, is let out:
        Fire in each eye, and papers in each hand,
        They rave, recite, and madden round the land;

  and closes with a deliberately chosen contrast of domestic calm, which the
  poet may be said to have deserved and won during the course of the poem:

        Me, let the tender office long engage
        To rock the cradle of reposing age,
        With lenient arts extend a mother's breath,
        Make languor smile, and smooth the bed of death,
        Explore the thought, explain the asking eye,
        And keep a while one parent from the sky!

  Pope's command of diction is no less happily adapted to his theme and to the
  type of poem, and the range of his imagery is remarkably wide. He has been
  thought defective in imaginative power, but this opinion cannot be sustained
  in view of the invention and organizing ability shown notably in The Rape of
  the Lock and The Dunciad. He was the first English poet to enjoy
  contemporary fame in France and Italy and throughout the European continent
  and to see translations of his poems into modern as well as ancient

       -- EB again


24 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

RYLEWES said...

re: Pope, An Essay on Man, "Riddle of the World," Line 9 should read:

"In doubt his mind or body to prefer....."

Gary Balius said...

What fond memories to read again this incredible poetry. For a sophomore
English class in 1953-54 I memorized the last four lines of the poem. Often
of late, I have reason to recall these etched words in my growing-old brain
and ponder the truth of them as I survey the utter pride, ambition, and
hopelessness expounded by the falsely learned "experts" in science and
politics. "Professing themselves to be wise they became fools." A quote from
the apostle Paul in the New Testament.

saim said...

I have read a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style of blogging. I added it to my favorites blog site list and will be checking back soon. Please check out my site as well and let me know what you think.

natural minerals
best naturals
buy curcumin

Jasa Seo said...

Tiket Pesawat Murah | Sari Jahe | Promo | Info Promo Diskon Hari Ini | Diskon | Promo Diskon | Harga Tiket Pesawat | Temulawak | Photo Prewedding | UPVC WINDOW | Kamera CCTV | Jual CCTV | Pasang CCTV | Minuman Suplemen | Tiket Pesawat Murah | Harga Tiket Pesawat | Tiket Pesawat Online

Kim Kardashian Bugil | wallpaper lucu | Ultrabook Notebook Tipis Harga Murah Terbaik | Info Terkini | Harga Notebook | Jasa Seo | Jasa Seo | apa seo | Layanan Seo | Konsultan Seo
I am very enjoyed for this blog. Its an informative topic. It help me very much to solve some problems. Its opportunity are so fantastic and working style so speedy. I think it may be help all of you. Thanks.

Space Matters Real Estates said...

Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I will definitely return. Plots for sale in Hyderabad
Plots for sale in Banjara Hills
Plots for sale in Jubilee Hills
Plots for sale in Manikonda
Plots for sale in Madhapur
Plots for sale in kondapur
Plots for sale in Gachibowli
Plots for sale in Kukatpally

Anonymous said...

Nice response in return of this question with real arguments and explaining everything regarding that.

Also visit my site ... Christian Louboutin

Anonymous said...

Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the images on this blog loading?

I'm trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it's the blog.
Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

my page Wholesale Jerseys ::

Anonymous said...

Hello! I could have sworn I've visited your blog before but after going through many of the articles I realized it's new to me.
Nonetheless, I'm definitely delighted I stumbled upon it and I'll be bookmarking it and checking back often!

My web page :: Air Max Pas Cher

Anonymous said...

Hey there! Quick question that's completely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My weblog looks weird when viewing from my iphone 4. I'm trying to find a
theme or plugin that might be able to resolve this issue.
If you have any recommendations, please share. Thanks!

Feel free to visit my web-site ... Nike Air Jordan

Anonymous said...

I'm extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one nowadays.

my website: Air Jordan

Anonymous said...

Hi there, its nice post regarding media print, we
all be aware of media is a fantastic source of facts.

Take a look at my site; Cheap NFL Jerseys

Judi Bola said...

I think more updates and will be returning. I have filtered for qualified edifying substance of this calibre all through the past various hours. Judi Bola

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy simply reading all of your weblogs. Simply wanted to inform you that you have people like me who appreciate your work. Definitely a great post. Hats off to you ! The information that you have provided is very helpful. comrades marathon race time predictor

Paul Reed said...

This is such a great post, and was thinking much the same myself. Online Hotel Booking | ELECTRONICS PRODUCTS FOR HOME | Another great update.

Anonymous said...


dewi said...

The blog was absolutely fantastic! Lots of great information and inspiration, both of which we all need!b Keep ‘em coming… you all do such a great job at such Concepts… can’t tell you how much I, for one appreciate all you do!

travel guide
industrial vision
Car Modelling Customization
kumpulan info trend baju
update informasi terbaru
kumpulan informasi terkini
kumpulan info terkini
penghargaan itats

Post a Comment