(Poem #331) from An Essay on Man
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 topp'd 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,
Pope is one of those poets I enjoyed a lot more when I was younger - now I find his poetry a trifle brittle, albeit beautifully polished. However, at his best he has a highly memorable turn of phrase and an unmistakeable elegance that set his work apart. If Pope is chiefly a stylist, he is at least a brilliant one. An excellent Pope site (from which I have quoted extensively, and which I urge you to read in its entirely) may be found at http://landow.stg.brown.edu/c32/pope/popeov.html To begin with, here's a nice overview of the Essay on Man... Pope intended it as the centerpiece of a proposed system of ethics to be put forth in poetic form: it is in fact a fragment of a larger work which Pope planned but did not live to complete [a familiar occurrence - m]. It is an attempt to justify, as Milton had attempted to vindicate, the ways of God to Man, and a warning that man himself is not, as, in his pride, he seems to believe, the center of all things. Though not explicitly Christian, the Essay makes the implicit assumption that man is fallen and unregenerate, and that he must seek his own salvation. ... Considered as a whole, the Essay on Man is an affirmative poem of faith: life seems chaotic and patternless to man when he is in the midst of it, but is in fact a coherent portion of a divinely ordered plan. In Pope's world God exists, and he is benificent: his universe is an ordered place. The limited intellect of man can perceive only a tiny portion of this order, and can experience only partial truths, and hence must rely on hope, which leads to faith. Man must be cognizant of his rather insignificant position in the grand scheme of things: those things which he covets most -- riches, power, fame -- prove to be worthless in the greater context of which he is only dimly aware. In his place, it is man's duty to strive to be good, even if he is doomed, because of his inherent frailty, to fail in his attempt. -- http://landow.stg.brown.edu/c32/pope/man.html Pope was the leading poet of the Augustan Age, that portion of the Neoclassicist period extending from roughly 1700 to 1750. The above site has this to say about Neoclassicism... To a certain extent Neoclassicism represented a reaction against the optimistic, exuberant, and enthusiastic Renaissance view of man as a being fundamentally good and possessed of an infinite potential for spiritual and intellectual growth. Neoclassical theorists, by contrast, saw man as an imperfect being, inherently sinful, whose potential was limited. They replaced the Renaissance emphasis on the imagination, on invention and experimentation, and on mysticism with an emphasis on order and reason, on restraint, on common sense, and on religious, political, economic and philosophical conservatism. They maintained that man himself was the most appropriate subject of art, and saw art itself as essentially pragmatic--as valuable because it was somehow useful--and as something which was properly intellectual rather than emotional. (It is probably this attitude, rather than any inherent flaw in Pope's work, that I react negatively to.) Illustrative is the look at Augustan poetic diction... Poetic diction can also mean the sum of the favorite words used by a particular poet. Tillotson points out that various periods have favored different sets of words, which then become characteristic of one group or age of poets (and also a way that later ones can allude to them). Augustan (or neoclassical), 1650-1750: sad, pensive, anxious, purple (usually in the snese it has in Latin poetry of 'very bright'), various, refulgent, . . . num'rous, glitte'ring, beauteous, promiscuous, trembling, plae, British (a glorious word in the eighteenth century), harmonious, easy, opening, emulate, yielding, conscious (usually with some taint of its Latin sense of guiltily conscious). -- http://landow.stg.brown.edu/c32/tech/diction.html Pope's brand of Neoclassicism was apparently unpalatable to later poets... Pope had few poetical heirs of any consequence. His popularity gradually declined after his death in 1744, as his themes and his style went gradually out of fashion. In a sense his true heirs were those who reacted against him most strongly. Samuel Johnson noted in his Life of Pope that it would be useless to attempt to write better couplets than Pope had produced, but he suggested, too, that new poets would emphasize new images and new sentiments, and by the early nineteenth century the English Romantics, reacting against Neoclassicism and exalting Nature, had, with a few notable exceptions -- Byron, for example, proclaimed his admiration of Pope's accomplishments -- come to look upon him as a decorous and perhaps a brilliant artist who was also a Roman Catholic and a crabbed dwarf; as an artist whose work, unfortunately, not only reflected but examplified the deadening artificiality of his age. -- http://landow.stg.brown.edu/c32/pope/litrel2.html though on the other hand He was never without adherents -- Isaac D'Israeli defended The Rape of the Lock by insisting that the best poetry reflected the spirit of the age that had produced it, and that, judged by that standard, the poem was a work of genius -- Ibid. Formwise, Pope's verse consisted mainly of heroic couplets... this verse form consists of iambic pentameter lines with rhymed couplets. in the eighteenth century, when this verse form was most popular, poets tended also to write in closed couplets, which is to say that the end of each couplet, and even each line, tended to coincide with the end of a sentence or a self-sufficient unit of syntax. the form is in some ways reflective of eighteenth-century ideals of order, balance, and closure -- http://icdweb.cc.purdue.edu/~felluga/guide.html#heroic a form first introduced by Chaucer (see Minstrels poem #327) and perfected by Pope. More on the Augustans... 18th century: the Augustan age alexander pope developed the poetic technique of dryden; in prose richard steele and joseph addison evolved the polite essay, jonathan swift used satire, and daniel defoe exploited his journalistic ability. this century saw the development of the novel, through the epistolary style of samuel richardson to the robust narrative of henry fielding and tobias smollett, the comic genius of laurence sterne, and the gothic 'horror' of horace walpole. the neo-classical standards established by the augustans were maintained by samuel johnson and his circle - oliver goldsmith, edmund burke, joshua reynolds, richard sheridan, and others - but the romantic element present in the poetry of james thomson, thomas gray, edward young, and william collins was soon to overturn them. -- [broken link] http://ukdb.web.aol.com/hutchinson/encyclopedia/71/m0001171.htm inaugurating a new poetics, john dryden (1668) derides his predecessors, the metaphysical poets, in a telling manner: these "have debauched the true old poetry so far, that nature, which is the soul of it, is not in any of your writing" -- http://www.zbi.ee/~kalevi/construc.htm And for an essay on the 'Purpose and Method of Satire' : http://www.sccu.edu/Faculty/R_Harris/satire.htm See also the previous poem by Pope run on Minstrels... poem #39 which includes a biography and some nice notes on Pope's use of satire. m.