An Essay on Man: Epistle I

by Alexander Pope

To Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke 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.

Summary of An Essay on Man: Epistle I

  • Popularity of “An Essay on Man: Epistle I”: Alexander Pope, one of the greatest English poets, wrote ‘An Essay on Man’ It is a superb literary piece about God and creation, and was first published in 1733. The poem speaks about the mastery of God’s art that everything happens according to His plan, even though we fail to comprehend His work. It also illustrates man’s place in the cosmos. The poet explains God’s grandeur and His rule over the universe.
  • “An Essay on Man: Epistle I” As a Representative of God’s Art: This poem explains God’s ways to men. This is a letter to the poet’s friend, St. John, Lord Bolingbroke. He urges him to quit all his mundane tasks and join the speaker to vindicate the ways of God to men. The speaker argues that God may have other worlds to observe but man perceives the world with his own limited system. A man’s happiness depends on two basic things; his hopes for the future and unknown future events. While talking about the sinful and impious nature of mankind, the speaker argues that man’s attempt to gain more knowledge and to put himself at God’s place becomes the reason of his discontent and constant misery. In section 1, the poet argues that man knows about the universe with his/her limited knowledge and cannot understand the systems and constructions of God. Humans are unaware of the grander relationships between God and His creations. In section 2, he states that humans are not perfect. However, God designed humans perfectly to suit his plan, in the order of the creation of things. Humans are after angelic beings but above every creature on the planet. In section 3 the poet tells that human happiness depends on both his lack of knowledge as they don’t know the future and also on his hope for the future. In section 4 the poet talks about the pride of humans, which is a sin. Because of pride, humans try to gain more knowledge and pretend that is a perfect creation. This pride is the root of man’s mistakes and sorrow. If humans put themselves in God’s place, then humans are sinners. In section 5, the poet explains the meaninglessness of human beliefs. He thinks that it is extremely ridiculous to believe that humans are the sole cause of creation. God expecting perfection and morality from people on this earth does not happen in the natural world. In section 6, the poet criticizes human nature because of the unreasonable demands and complaints against God and His providence. He argues that God is always good; He loves giving and taking. We also learn that if man possesses the knowledge of God, he would be miserable. In section 7, he shows that the natural world we see, including the universal order and degree, is observable by humans as per their perspective . The hierarchy of humans over earthly creatures and their subordination to man is one of the examples. The poet also mentions sensory issues like physical sense, instinct, thought, reflection, and reason. There’s also a reason which is above everything. In section 8, the poet reclaims that if humans break God’s rules of order and fail to obey are broken, then the entire God’s creation must also be destroyed. In section 9, he talks about human craziness and the desire to overthrow God’s order and break all the rules. In the last section the speaker requests and invites humans to submit to God and His power to follow his order. When humans submit to God’s absolute submission, His will, and ensure to do what’s right, then human remains safe in God’s hand.
  • Major Themes in “An Essay on Man: Epistle I”: Acceptance, God’s superiority, and man’s nature are the major themes of this poem Throughout the poem, the speaker tries to justify the working of God, believing there is a reason behind all things. According to the speaker, a man should not try to examine the perfection and imperfection of any creature. Rather, he should understand the purpose of his own existence in the world. He should acknowledge that God has created everything according to his plan and that man’s narrow intellectual ability can never be able to comprehend the greater logic of God’s order.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “An Essay on Man: Epistle I”

literary devices are modes that represent writers’ ideas, feelings, and emotions. It is through these devices the writers make their few words appealing to the readers. Alexander Pope has also used some literary devices in this poem to make it appealing. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been listed below.

  • Assonance : Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /o/ in “To him no high, no low, no great, no small” and the sound of /i/ in “The whisp’ring zephyr, and the purling rill?”
  • Anaphora : It refers to the repetition of a word or expression in the first part of some verses. For example, “As full, as perfect,” in the second last stanza of the poem to emphasize the point of perfection.
  • Alliteration : Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession. For example, the sound of /m/ in “A mighty maze! but not without a plan”, the sound of /b/ “And now a bubble burst, and now a world” and the sound of /th/ in “Subjected, these to those, or all to thee.”
  • Enjambment : It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break ; instead, it rolls over to the next line. For example.
“Lo! the poor Indian, whose untutor’d mind Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind.”
  • Imagery : Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “All chance, direction, which thou canst not see”, “Planets and suns run lawless through the sky” and “Where, one step broken, the great scale’s destroy’d”
  • Rhetorical Question : Rhetorical question is a question that is not asked in order to receive an answer; it is just posed to make the point clear and to put emphasis on the speaker’s point. For example, “Why has not man a microscopic eye?”, “And what created perfect?”—Why then man?” and “What matter, soon or late, or here or there?”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “An Essay on Man: Epistle I”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  • Heroic Couplet : There are two constructive lines in heroic couplet joined by end rhyme in iambic pentameter . For example,
“And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite, One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.”
  • Rhyme Scheme : The poem follows the ABAB rhyme scheme and this pattern continues till the end.
  • Stanza : A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. This is a long poem divided into ten sections and each section contains different numbers of stanzas in it.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful to put in a speech delivered on the topic of God’s grandeur. These are also useful for children to make them understand that we constitute just a part of the 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.”

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an essay on man poem analysis

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An Essay on Man

“Is the great chain, that draws all to agree, And drawn supports, upheld by God, or Thee?” – Alexander Pope (From “An Essay on Man”)

“Then say not Man’s imperfect, Heav’n in fault; Say rather, Man’s as perfect as he ought.” – Alexander Pope (From “An Essay on Man”)

“All are but parts of one stupendous whole, Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.” – Alexander Pope (From “An Essay on Man”)

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 die), expatiate free o’er all this scene of man;, a mighty maze but not without a plan;, a wild, where weed 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. (pope 1-16), background on alexander pope.

pope pic 2.jpg

Alexander Pope is a British poet who was born in London, England in 1688 (World Biography 1). Growing up during the Augustan Age, his poetry is heavily influenced by common literary qualities of that time, which include classical influence, the importance of human reason and the rules of nature. These qualities are widely represented in Pope’s poetry. Some of Pope’s most notable works are “The Rape of the Lock,” “An Essay on Criticism,” and “An Essay on Man.”

Overview of “An Essay on Man”

“An Essay on Man” was published in 1734 and contained very deep and well thought out philosophical ideas. It is said that these ideas were partially influenced by his friend, Henry St. John Bolingbroke, who Pope addresses in the first line of Epistle I when he says, “Awake, my St. John!”(Pope 1)(World Biography 1) The purpose of the poem is to address the role of humans as part of the “Great Chain of Being.” In other words, it speaks of man as just one small part of an unfathomably complex universe. Pope urges us to learn from what is around us, what we can observe ourselves in nature, and to not pry into God’s business or question his ways; For everything that happens, both good and bad, happens for a reason. This idea is summed up in the very last lines of the poem when he says, “And, Spite of pride in erring reason’s spite, / One truth is clear, Whatever IS, is RIGHT.”(Pope 293-294) The poem is broken up into four epistles each of which is labeled as its own subcategory of the overall work. They are as follows:

  • Epistle I – Of the Nature and State of Man, with Respect to the Universe
  • Epistle II – Of the Nature and State of Man, with Respect to Himself, as an Individual
  • Epistle III – Of the Nature and State of Man, with Respect to Society
  • Epistle IV – Of the Nature and State of Man with Respect to Happiness

Epistle 1 Intro In the introduction to Pope’s first Epistle, he summarizes the central thesis of his essay in the last line. The purpose of “An Essay on Man” is then to shift or enhance the reader’s perception of what is natural or correct. By doing this, one would justify the happenings of life, and the workings of God, for there is a reason behind all things that is beyond human understanding. Pope’s endeavor to highlight the infallibility of nature is a key aspect of the Augustan period in literature; a poet’s goal was to convey truth by creating a mirror image of nature. This is envisaged in line 13 when, keeping with the hunting motif, Pope advises his reader to study the behaviors of Nature (as hunter would watch his prey), and to rid of all follies, which we can assume includes all that is unnatural. He also encourages the exploration of one’s surroundings, which provides for a gateway to new discoveries and understandings of our purpose here on Earth. Furthermore, in line 12, Pope hints towards vital middle ground on which we are above beats and below a higher power(s). Those who “blindly creep” are consumed by laziness and a willful ignorance, and just as bad are those who “sightless soar” and believe that they understand more than they can possibly know. Thus, it is imperative that we can strive to gain knowledge while maintaining an acceptance of our mental limits.

1. Pope writes the first section to put the reader into the perspective that he believes to yield the correct view of the universe. He stresses the fact that we can only understand things based on what is around us, embodying the relationship with empiricism that characterizes the Augustan era. He encourages the discovery of new things while remaining within the bounds one has been given. These bounds, or the Chain of Being, designate each living thing’s place in the universe, and only God can see the system in full. Pope is adamant in God’s omniscience, and uses that as a sure sign that we can never reach a level of knowledge comparable to His. In the last line however, he questions whether God or man plays a bigger role in maintaining the chain once it is established.

2. The overarching message in section two is envisaged in one of the last couplets: “Then say not Man’s imperfect, Heav’n in fault; Say rather, Man’s as perfect as he ought.” Pope utilizes this section to explain the folly of “Presumptuous Man,” for the fact that we tend to dwell on our limitations rather than capitalize on our abilities. He emphasizes the rightness of our place in the chain of being, for just as we steer the lives of lesser creatures, God has the ability to pilot our fate. Furthermore, he asserts that because we can only analyze what is around us, we cannot be sure that there is not a greater being or sphere beyond our level of comprehension; it is most logical to perceive the universe as functioning through a hierarchal system.

3. Pope utilizes the beginning of section three to elaborate on the functions of the chain of being. He claims that each creatures’ ignorance, including our own, allows for a full and happy life without the possible burden of understanding our fates. Instead of consuming ourselves with what we cannot know, we instead should place hope in a peaceful “life to come.” Pope connects this after-life to the soul, and colors it with a new focus on a more primitive people, “the Indian,” whose souls have not been distracted by power or greed. As humble and level headed beings, Indian’s, and those who have similar beliefs, see life as the ultimate gift and have no vain desires of becoming greater than Man ought to be.

4. In the fourth stanza, Pope warns against the negative effects of excessive pride. He places his primary examples in those who audaciously judge the work of God and declare one person to be too fortunate and another not fortunate enough. He also satirizes Man’s selfish content in destroying other creatures for his own benefit, while complaining when they believe God to be unjust to Man. Pope capitalizes on his point with the final and resonating couplet: “who but wishes to invert the laws of order, sins against th’ Eternal Cause.” This connects to the previous stanza in which the soul is explored; those who wrestle with their place in the universe will disturb the chain of being and warrant punishment instead of gain rewards in the after-life.

5. In the beginning of the fifth stanza, Pope personifies Pride and provides selfish answers to questions regarding the state of the universe. He depicts Pride as a hoarder of all gifts that Nature yields. The image of Nature as a benefactor and Man as her avaricious recipient is countered in the next set of lines: Pope instead entertains the possible faults of Nature in natural disasters such as earthquakes and storms. However, he denies this possibility on the grounds that there is a larger purpose behind all happenings and that God acts by “general laws.” Finally, Pope considers the emergence of evil in human nature and concludes that we are not in a place that allows us to explain such things–blaming God for human misdeeds is again an act of pride.

6. Stanza six connects the different inhabitants of the earth to their rightful place and shows why things are the way they should be. After highlighting the happiness in which most creatures live, Pope facetiously questions if God is unkind to man alone. He asks this because man consistently yearns for the abilities specific to those outside of his sphere, and in that way can never be content in his existence. Pope counters the notorious greed of Man by illustrating the pointless emptiness that would accompany a world in which Man was omnipotent. Furthermore, he describes a blissful lifestyle as one centered around one’s own sphere, without the distraction of seeking unattainable heights.

7. The seventh stanza explores the vastness of the sensory and cognitive spectrums in relation to all earthly creatures. Pope uses an example related to each of the five senses to conjure an image that emphasizes the intricacies with which all things are tailored. For instance, he references a bee’s sensitivity, which allows it to collect only that which is beneficial amid dangerous substances. Pope then moves to the differences in mental abilities along the chain of being. These mental functions are broken down into instinct, reflection, memory, and reason. Pope believes reason to trump all, which of course is the one function specific to Man. Reason thus allows man to synthesize the means to function in ways that are unnatural to himself.

8. In section 8 Pope emphasizes the depths to which the universe extends in all aspects of life. This includes the literal depths of the ocean and the reversed extent of the sky, as well as the vastness that lies between God and Man and Man and the simpler creatures of the earth. Regardless of one’s place in the chain of being however, the removal of one link creates just as much of an impact as any other. Pope stresses the maintenance of order so as to prevent the breaking down of the universe.

9. In the ninth stanza, Pope once again puts the pride and greed of man into perspective. He compares man’s complaints of being subordinate to God to an eye or an ear rejecting its service to the mind. This image drives home the point that all things are specifically designed to ensure that the universe functions properly. Pope ends this stanza with the Augustan belief that Nature permeates all things, and thus constitutes the body of the world, where God characterizes the soul.

10. In the tenth stanza, Pope secures the end of Epistle 1 by advising the reader on how to secure as many blessings as possible, whether that be on earth or in the after life. He highlights the impudence in viewing God’s order as imperfect and emphasizes the fact that true bliss can only be experienced through an acceptance of one’s necessary weaknesses. Pope exemplifies this acceptance of weakness in the last lines of Epistle 1 in which he considers the incomprehensible, whether seemingly miraculous or disastrous, to at least be correct, if nothing else.

1. Epistle II is broken up into six smaller sections, each of which has a specific focus. The first section explains that man must not look to God for answers to the great questions of life, for he will never find the answers. As was explained in the first epistle, man is incapable of truly knowing anything about the things that are higher than he is on the “Great Chain of Being.” For this reason, the way to achieve the greatest knowledge possible is to study man, the greatest thing we have the ability to comprehend. Pope emphasizes the complexity of man in an effort to show that understanding of anything greater than that would simply be too much for any person to fully comprehend. He explains this complexity with lines such as, “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!”(15-18) These lines say that we are created for two purposes, to live and die. We are the most intellectual creatures on Earth, and while we have control over most things, we are still set up to die in some way by the end. We are a great gift of God to the Earth with enormous capabilities, yet in the end we really amount to nothing. Pope describes this contrast between our intellectual capabilities and our inevitable fate as a “riddle” of the world. The first section of Epistle II closes by saying that man is to go out and study what is around him. He is to study science to understand all that he can about his existence and the universe in which he lives, but to fully achieve this knowledge he must rid himself of all vices that may slow down this process.

2. The second section of Epistle II tells of the two principles of human nature and how they are to perfectly balance each other out in order for man to achieve all that he is capable of achieving. These two principles are self-love and reason. He explains that all good things can be attributed to the proper use of these two principles and that all bad things stem from their improper use. Pope further discusses the two principles by claiming that self-love is what causes man to do what he desires, but reason is what allows him to know how to stay in line. He follows that with an interesting comparison of man to a flower by saying man is “Fix’d like a plant on his peculiar spot, / To draw nutrition, propagate and rot,” (Pope 62-63) and also of man to a meteor by saying, “Or, meteor-like, flame lawless thro’ the void, / Destroying others, by himself destroy’d.” (Pope 64-65) These comparisons show that man, according to Pope, is born, takes his toll on the Earth, and then dies, and it is all part of a larger plan. The rest of section two continues to talk about the relationship between self-love and reason and closes with a strong argument. Humans all seek pleasure, but only with a good sense of reason can they restrain themselves from becoming greedy. His final remarks are strong, stating that, “Pleasure, or wrong or rightly understood, / Our greatest evil, or our greatest good,”(Pope 90-91) which means that pleasure in moderation can be a great thing for man, but without the balance that reason produces, a pursuit of pleasure can have terrible consequences.

3. Part III of Epistle II also pertains to the idea of self-love and reason working together. It starts out talking about passions and how they are inherently selfish, but if the means to which these passions are sought out are fair, then there has been a proper balance of self-love and reason. Pope describes love, hope and joy as being “Fair treasure’s smiling train,”(Pope 117) while hate, fear and grief are “The family of pain.”(Pope 118) Too much of any of these things, whether they be from the negative or positive side, is a bad thing. There is a ratio of good to bad that man must reach to have a well balanced mind. We learn, grow, and gain character and perspective through the elements of this “Family of pain,”(Pope 118) while we get great rewards from love, hope and joy. While our goal as humans is to seek our pleasure and follow certain desires, there is always one overall passion that lives deep within us that guides us throughout life. The main points to take away from Section III of this Epistle is that there are many aspects to the life of man, and these aspects, both positive and negative, need to coexist harmoniously to achieve that balance for which man should strive.

4. The fourth section of Epistle II is very short. It starts off by asking what allows us to determine the difference between good and bad. The next line answers this question by saying that it is the God within our minds that allows us to make such judgements. This section finishes up by discussing virtue and vice. The relationship between these two qualities are interesting, for they can exist on their own but most often mix, and there is a fine line between something being a virtue and becoming a vice.

5. Section V is even shorter than section IV with just fourteen lines. It speaks only of the quality of vice. Vices are temptations that man must face on a consistent basis. A line that stands out from this says that when it comes to vices, “We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”(Pope 218) This means that vices start off as something we know is wrong, but over time they become an instinctive part of us if reason is not there to push them away.

6. Section VI, the final section of Epistle II, relates many of the ideas from Sections I-V back to ideas from Epistle I. It works as a conclusion that ties in the main theme of Epistle II, which mainly speaks of the different components of man that balance each other out to form an infinitely complex creature, into the idea from Epistle I that man is created as part of a larger plan with all of his qualities given to him for a specific purpose. It is a way of looking at both negative and positive aspects of life and being content with them both, for they are all part of God’s purpose of creating the universe. This idea is well concluded in the third to last line of this Epistle when Pope says, “Ev’n mean self-love becomes, by force divine.”(Pope 288) This shows that even a negative quality in a man, such as excessive self-love without the stability of reason, is technically divine, for it is what God intended as part of the balance of the universe.

Contributors

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“Alexander Pope.” : The Poetry Foundation . N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2013. < http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/alexander-pope >.

“Alexander Pope Photos.” Rugu RSS . N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2013. < http://www.rugusavay.com/alexander-pope-photos/ >.

“An Essay on Man: Epistle 1 by Alexander Pope • 81 Poems by Alexander PopeEdit.” An Essay on Man: Epistle 1 by Alexander Pope Classic Famous Poet . N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2013. < http://allpoetry.com/poem/8448567-An_Essay_on_Man_Epistle_1-by-Alexander_Pope >.

“An Essay on Man: Epistle II.” By Alexander Pope : The Poetry Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2013. < http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174166 >.

“Benjamin Franklin’s Mastodon Tooth.” About.com Archaeology . N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2013. < http://archaeology.about.com/od/artandartifacts/ss/franklin_4.htm >.

“First Edition of An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope Offered by The Manhattan Rare Book Company.” First Edition of An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope Offered by The Manhattan Rare Book Company. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2013. < http://www.manhattanrarebooks- literature.com/pope_essay.htm>.

Alexander Pope's Essay on Man: An Introduction

David cody , associate professor of english, hartwick college.

Victorian Web Home —> Some Pre-Victorian Authors —> Neoclassicism —> Alexander Pope ]

The Essay on Man is a philosophical poem, written, characteristically, in heroic couplets , and published between 1732 and 1734. 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. 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.

The "Essay" consists of four epistles, addressed to Lord Bolingbroke, and derived, to some extent, from some of Bolingbroke's own fragmentary philosophical writings, as well as from ideas expressed by the deistic third Earl of Shaftesbury. Pope sets out to demonstrate that no matter how imperfect, complex, inscrutable, and disturbingly full of evil the Universe may appear to be, it does function in a rational fashion, according to natural laws; and is, in fact, considered as a whole, a perfect work of God. It appears imperfect to us only because our perceptions are limited by our feeble moral and intellectual capacity. His conclusion is that we must learn to accept our position in the Great Chain of Being — a "middle state," below that of the angels but above that of the beasts — in which we can, at least potentially, lead happy and virtuous lives.

Epistle I concerns itself with the nature of man and with his place in the universe; Epistle II, with man as an individual; Epistle III, with man in relation to human society, to the political and social hierarchies; and Epistle IV, with man's pursuit of happiness in this world. An Essay on Man was a controversial work in Pope's day, praised by some and criticized by others, primarily because it appeared to contemporary critics that its emphasis, in spite of its themes, was primarily poetic and not, strictly speaking, philosophical in any really coherent sense: Dr. Johnson , never one to mince words, and possessed, in any case, of views upon the subject which differed materially from those which Pope had set forth, noted dryly (in what is surely one of the most back-handed literary compliments of all time) that "Never were penury of knowledge and vulgarity of sentiment so happily disguised." It is a subtler work, however, than perhaps Johnson realized: G. Wilson Knight has made the perceptive comment that the poem is not a "static scheme" but a "living organism," (like Twickenham ) and that it must be understood as such.

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. Do you find Pope's argument convincing? In what ways can we relate the Essay on Man to works like Swift's Gulliver's Travels , Johnson's "The Vanity of Human Wishes" ( text ), Tennyson's In Memoriam and Eliot's The Wasteland ?

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An Essay on Man

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Summary and Study Guide

Alexander Pope is the author of “An Essay on Man,” published in 1734. Pope was an English poet of the Augustan Age, the literary era in the first half of the 18th century in England (1700-1740s). Neoclassicism, a literary movement in which writers and poets sought inspiration from the works of Virgil, Ovid, and Horace, influenced the poem. Writing in heroic couplets, Pope explores the connection between God, human nature , and society. The poem is philosophical and discusses order, reason, and balance, themes that dominated the era. Pope dedicated the poem to Henry St. John, one of his close friends and a famous Tory politician.

This is Pope’s final long poem. It was intended to be the first part of a book-length poem on his philosophy of the world, but Pope did not live to complete the book. Pope initially published “An Essay on Man” anonymously, as he had a fractious relationship with critics and wanted to see how people would respond to the work if unaware that he had written it. The work was praised highly when it was published, and is still esteemed as one of the most elegant didactic poems ever composed.

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Poet Biography

Alexander Pope was born in 1688 in London, England. His father was a wealthy merchant, but because he was Catholic and the Church of England was extremely anti-Catholic, his family could not live within ten miles of London, and Pope could not receive a formal education. As a result, Pope grew up near Windsor Forest and was self-taught. At the age of 12, he contracted spinal tuberculosis, which resulted in lifelong debilitating pain. He grew to be four and a half feet tall and was dependent on others.

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Despite these early challenges, Pope’s poetic talent enabled him to attain a higher social status. He began publishing poetry at the age of 16. He translated Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey , as well as the works of Shakespeare, and sold the translations for a subscription fee. From the profits of these translations, Pope purchased a grand mansion and large plot of land in Twickenham in 1719. Pope is famous for being the first poet able to support himself entirely on his writing. He valued his friendships, which were with some of the greatest minds of his time, including Jonathan Swift, the famous satirist and author of A Modest Proposal .  Pope also had many enemies due to his biting wit and talent for mocking the conventions of his era. For this, he was called “The Wasp of Twickenham.” His Essay on Criticism (1711) expressed his views on criticism and poetry. His mock-epic poem, The Rape of the Lock (1714), was one of his most famous satirical poems. His satire , The Dunciad (1728) lambasted the culture and literature of his day.

He died in 1744 at the age of 56 from edema and asthma. He never married and had no children. Pope is considered one of the greatest English poets of the 18th century and his style defined the Augustan age of poetry. After Shakespeare, he is the second most quoted writer in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations .

Pope, Alexander. “ An Essay on Man .” 2007. Project Gutenberg .

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An Essay on Man: Epistle I

Pope, alexander (1688 - 1744).

An Essay On Man: Epistle Ii by Alexander Pope: poem analysis

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This is an analysis of the poem An Essay On Man: Epistle Ii that begins with:

I. Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; ... full text

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Analysis of An Essay on Man: Epistle II

Alexander pope 1688 (london) – 1744 (twickenham).

I. Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man. Plac'd 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 or body to prefer; Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err; Alike in ignorance, his reason such, Whether he thinks too 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! Go, wondrous creature! mount where science guides, Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides; Instruct the planets in what orbs to run, Correct old time, and regulate the sun; Go, soar with Plato to th' empyreal sphere, To the first good, first perfect, and first fair; Or tread the mazy round his follow'rs trod, And quitting sense call imitating God; As Eastern priests in giddy circles run, And turn their heads to imitate the sun. Go, teach Eternal Wisdom how to rule— Then drop into thyself, and be a fool! Superior beings, when of late they saw A mortal Man unfold all Nature's law, Admir'd such wisdom in an earthly shape, And showed a Newton as we shew an Ape. Could he, whose rules the rapid comet bind, Describe or fix one movement of his mind? Who saw its fires here rise, and there descend, Explain his own beginning, or his end? 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. Trace science then, with modesty thy guide; First strip off all her equipage of pride; Deduct what is but vanity, or dress, Or learning's luxury, or idleness; Or tricks to show the stretch of human brain, Mere curious pleasure, or ingenious pain; Expunge the whole, or lop th' excrescent parts Of all our Vices have created Arts; Then see how little the remaining sum, Which serv'd the past, and must the times to come! II. Two principles in human nature reign; Self-love, to urge, and reason, to restrain; Nor this a good, nor that a bad we call, Each works its end, to move or govern all: And to their proper operation still, Ascribe all good; to their improper, ill. Self-love, the spring of motion, acts the soul; Reason's comparing balance rules the whole. Man, but for that, no action could attend, And but for this, were active to no end: Fix'd like a plant on his peculiar spot, To draw nutrition, propagate, and rot; Or, meteor-like, flame lawless through the void, Destroying others, by himself destroy'd. Most strength the moving principle requires; Active its task, it prompts, impels, inspires. Sedate and quiet the comparing lies, Form'd but to check, delib'rate, and advise. Self-love still stronger, as its objects nigh; Reason's at distance, and in prospect lie: That sees immediate good by present sense; Reason, the future and the consequence. Thicker than arguments, temptations throng, At best more watchful this, but that more strong. The action of the stronger to suspend, Reason still use, to reason still attend. Attention, habit and experience gains; Each strengthens reason, and self-love restrains. Let subtle schoolmen teach these friends to fight, More studious to divide than to unite, And grace and virtue, sense and reason split, With all the rash dexterity of wit: Wits, just like fools, at war about a name, Have full as oft no meaning, or the same. Self-love and reason to one end aspire, Pain their aversion, pleasure their desire; But greedy that its object would devour, This taste the honey, and not wound the flow'r: Pleasure, or wrong or rightly understood, Our greatest evil, or our greatest good. III. Modes of self-love the passions we may call: 'Tis real good, or seeming, moves them all: But since not every good we can divide, And reason bids us for our own provide; Passions, though selfish, if their means be fair, List under reason, and deserve her care; Those, that imparted, court a nobler aim, Exalt their kind, and take some virtue's name. In lazy apathy let Stoics boast

Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on May 03, 2023

an essay on man poem analysis

Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) is regarded as one of the greatest English poets, and the foremost poet of the early eighteenth century. He is best known for his satirical and discursive poetry, including The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, and An Essay on Criticism, as well as for his translation of Homer.  more…

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Pope's Poems and Prose

By alexander pope, pope's poems and prose summary and analysis of an essay on man: epistle ii.

The subtitle of the second epistle is “Of the Nature and State of Man, with Respect to Himself as an Individual” and treats on the relationship between the individual and God’s greater design.

Here is a section-by-section explanation of the second epistle:

Section I (1-52): Section I argues that man should not pry into God’s affairs but rather study himself, especially his nature, powers, limits, and frailties.

Section II (53-92): Section II shows that the two principles of man are self-love and reason. Self-love is the stronger of the two, but their ultimate goal is the same.

Section III (93-202): Section III describes the modes of self-love (i.e., the passions) and their function. Pope then describes the ruling passion and its potency. The ruling passion works to provide man with direction and defines man’s nature and virtue.

Section IV (203-16): Section IV indicates that virtue and vice are combined in man’s nature and that the two, while distinct, often mix.

Section V (217-30): Section V illustrates the evils of vice and explains how easily man is drawn to it.

Section VI (231-294): Section VI asserts that man’s passions and imperfections are simply designed to suit God’s purposes. The passions and imperfections are distributed to all individuals of each order of men in all societies. They guide man in every state and at every age of life.

The second epistle adds to the interpretive challenges presented in the first epistle. At its outset, Pope commands man to “Know then thyself,” an adage that misdescribes his argument (1). Although he actually intends for man to better understand his place in the universe, the classical meaning of “Know thyself” is that man should look inwards for truth rather than outwards. Having spent most of the first epistle describing man’s relationship to God as well as his fellow creatures, Pope’s true meaning of the phrase is clear. He then confuses the issue by endeavoring to convince man to avoid the presumptuousness of studying God’s creation through natural science. Science has given man the tools to better understand God’s creation, but its intoxicating power has caused man to imitate God. It seems that man must look outwards to gain any understanding of his divine purpose but avoid excessive analysis of what he sees. To do so would be to assume the role of God.

The second epistle abruptly turns to focus on the principles that guide human action. The rest of this section focuses largely on “self-love,” an eighteenth-century term for self-maintenance and fulfillment. It was common during Pope’s lifetime to view the passions as the force determining human action. Typically instinctual, the immediate object of the passions was seen as pleasure. According to Pope’s philosophy, each man has a “ruling passion” that subordinates the others. In contrast with the accepted eighteenth-century views of the passions, Pope’s doctrine of the “ruling passion” is quite original. It seems clear that with this idea, Pope tries to explain why certain individual behave in distinct ways, seemingly governed by a particular desire. He does not, however, make this explicit in the poem.

Pope’s discussion of the passions shows that “self-love” and “reason” are not opposing principles. Reason’s role, it seems, is to regulate human behavior while self-love originates it. In another sense, self-love and the passions dictate the short term while reason shapes the long term.

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Pope’s Poems and Prose Questions and Answers

The Question and Answer section for Pope’s Poems and Prose is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.

The Rape of the Lock

In Canto I, a dream is sent to Belinda by Ariel, “her guardian Sylph” (20). The Sylphs are Belinda’s guardians because they understand her vanity and pride, having been coquettes when they were humans. They are devoted to any woman who “rejects...

Who delivers the moralizing speech on the frailty of beauty? A. Chloe B. Clarissa C. Ariel D. Thalestris

What is the significance of Belinda's petticoat?

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Study Guide for Pope’s Poems and Prose

Pope's Poems and Prose study guide contains a biography of Alexander Pope, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

  • About Pope's Poems and Prose
  • Pope's Poems and Prose Summary
  • Character List

Essays for Pope’s Poems and Prose

Pope's Poems and Prose essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Alexander Pope's Poems and Prose.

  • Of the Characteristics of Pope
  • Breaking Clod: Hierarchical Transformation in Pope's An Essay on Man
  • Fortasse, Pope, Idcirco Nulla Tibi Umquam Nupsit (The Rape of the Lock)
  • An Exploration of 'Dulness' In Pope's Dunciad
  • Belinda: Wronged On Behalf of All Women

Wikipedia Entries for Pope’s Poems and Prose

  • Introduction
  • Translations and editions
  • Spirit, skill and satire

an essay on man poem analysis

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  1. An Essay on Man: Epistle I Analysis

    Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in "An Essay on Man: Epistle I". Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem. Heroic Couplet: There are two constructive lines in heroic couplet joined by end rhyme in iambic pentameter.

  2. An Essay on Man: Epistle I by Alexander Pope

    By Alexander Pope. To Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke. 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;

  3. Essay on Man by Alexander Pope: Exploring Human Nature and Reason

    Introduction. "Essay on Man" is a thought-provoking poem written by Alexander Pope, one of the foremost poets of the 18th century, during the Enlightenment period. This poetic essay forms part of a larger work, often celebrated for its insightful approach to understanding humanity's place in the world. Alexander Pope, known for his sharp ...

  4. Pope's Poems and Prose An Essay on Man: Epistle I Summary and Analysis

    Reconciling Pope's own views with his fatalistic description of the universe represents an impossible task. The first epistle of An Essay on Man is its most ambitious. Pope states that his task is to describe man's place in the "universal system" and to "vindicate the ways of God to man" (16). In the poem's prefatory address, Pope ...

  5. An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope

    One of the pinnacles of neoclassical poetry, Alexander Pope's " An Essay on Man " is a profound investigation of the human spirit. Written in 1734, the poem encapsulates the Enlightenment vision ...

  6. Alexander Pope

    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 ...

  7. Alexander Pope's Essay on Man

    The work that more than any other popularized the optimistic philosophy, not only in England but throughout Europe, was Alexander Pope's Essay on Man (1733-34), a rationalistic effort to justify the ways of God to man philosophically.As has been stated in the introduction, Voltaire had become well acquainted with the English poet during his stay of more than two years in England, and the two ...

  8. An Essay on Man

    "An Essay on Man" was published in 1734 and contained very deep and well thought out philosophical ideas. It is said that these ideas were partially influenced by his friend, Henry St. John Bolingbroke, who Pope addresses in the first line of Epistle I when he says, "Awake, my St. John!"(Pope 1)(World Biography 1) The purpose of the poem is to address the role of humans as part of the ...

  9. An Essay on Man

    An Essay on Man, philosophical essay written in heroic couplets of iambic pentameter by Alexander Pope, published in 1733-34. It was conceived as part of a larger work that Pope never completed. ... The poem consists of four epistles. The first epistle surveys relations between humans and the universe; An Essay on Man, philosophical essay ...

  10. Alexander Pope's Essay on Man: An Introduction

    The Essay on Man is a philosophical poem, written, characteristically, in heroic couplets, and published between 1732 and 1734. 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. It is an attempt to justify ...

  11. An Essay on Man Epistle 1 Summary & Analysis

    Summary Epistle 1: "Of the Nature and State of Man with Respect to the Universe". Lines 1-16 are a dedication to Henry St. John, a friend of Pope's. The speaker urges St. John to abandon the "meaner things" (Line 1) in life and turn his attention toward the higher, grander sphere by reflecting on human nature and God.

  12. An Essay on Man

    Alexander Pope published An Essay on Man in 1734. "An Essay on Man" is a poem published by Alexander Pope in 1733-1734.It was dedicated to Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke (pronounced 'Bull-en-brook'), hence the opening line: "Awake, my St John...". It is an effort to rationalize or rather "vindicate the ways of God to man" (l.16), a variation of John Milton's claim in the opening ...

  13. An Essay on Man Summary and Study Guide

    Alexander Pope is the author of "An Essay on Man," published in 1734. Pope was an English poet of the Augustan Age, the literary era in the first half of the 18th century in England (1700-1740s). Neoclassicism, a literary movement in which writers and poets sought inspiration from the works of Virgil, Ovid, and Horace, influenced the poem.

  14. An Essay on Man: Epistle I

    The poem was originally published anonymously, Pope not admitting its authorship until its appearance in The Works, II (April 1735). The Essay on Man was originally conceived as part of a longer philosophical poem (see Pope's introductory statement on the Design). In the larger scheme, the poem would have consisted of four books: the first as ...

  15. An Essay On Man: Epistle Ii by Alexander Pope: poem analysis

    The poet used anaphora at the beginnings of some neighboring lines. The same words with, in, go, or, the, that are repeated. If you write a school or university poetry essay, you should Include in your explanation of the poem: summary of An Essay On Man: Epistle Ii; central theme; idea of the verse; history of its creation; critical appreciation.

  16. The Essay on Man: Explanation and Analysis

    The Essay on Man is a philosophical poem, written in heroic couplets and published between 1732 and 1734. Pope intended this poem to be the centrepiece of a proposed system of ethics that was to be put forth in poetic form. It was a piece of work that Pope intended to make into a larger work; however, he did not live to complete it. The poem is ...

  17. An Essay on Man Themes

    A central theme of the poem is that the universe has an order to it created by God. As part of the order, all God's creatures are put on Earth for a purpose. Man may not always be able to see the order because only God truly understands it. The speaker also suggests that God's hand is apparent in what people have come to view as instinct.

  18. An Essay on Man: Epistle II

    An Essay on Man: Epistle II. By Alexander Pope. I. Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man. Plac'd 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,

  19. An Essay on Man: Epistle II Poem Analysis

    War. I. Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; B. The proper study of mankind is man. Plac'd on this isthmus of a middle state, C. A being darkly wise, and rudely great: C. With too much knowledge for the sceptic side, D. With too much weakness for the stoic's pride, D. He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest; X.

  20. Pope's Poems and Prose An Essay on Man: Epistle II Summary and Analysis

    Pope's discussion of the passions shows that "self-love" and "reason" are not opposing principles. Reason's role, it seems, is to regulate human behavior while self-love originates it. In another sense, self-love and the passions dictate the short term while reason shapes the long term. Next Section An Essay on Man: Epistle III ...

  21. An Essay on Man Plot Summary

    Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man Plot Summary. Learn more about An Essay on Man with a detailed plot summary and plot diagram. ... Analysis Form The text is both an essay, a short piece of nonfiction usually looking at the subject from a personal point of view, and a poem. The essay is a form first perfected by Michel Montaigne (1533-92), who ...

  22. Video: An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope

    This hope for understanding and outlining the human condition is at the heart of An Essay on Man. In the poem, Pope attempts to 'vindicate' God's ways to man, a task that clearly echoes John ...