“ESSAY ON MAN”
By Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
A Few Choice Morsels From A Fruitful Batch By Mr Pope.
He, who thro` vast immensity can pierce,
See worlds on worlds compose one universe,,
Observe how system into systems runs,
What other planets circle other suns.
Look`d thro`? or can a part contain the whole?
Is the great chain that draws all to agree,–
And, drawn, supports–upheld by God or thee?
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.
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall,
Atoms or systems into ruins hurl`d,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul uneasy and confin`d from home,
Rest and expatiates in a life to come.
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!
“For me kind nature wakes her genial pow`r,
Suckles each herb and spreads out ev`ry flower;”…….
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast” writes Alexander Pope in one of the most influential works ever put to paper. Epistle 1, from which the above extract is taken, is concerned with the overweening vanity of humanity in thinking that nature is there to be conquered, to serve and to be pliable to exploitation and plunder of it`s resources for the benefit of humanity. Other considerations are not an option: if other living creatures suffer and wither on the vine, or environmental damage occurs, this is all in furtherance of a just and Godly course. Did God not give humanity control over the land and all living creatures upon it? Pope questions the right of humanity to destroy for it`s own advantage because it has been appointed through nature to it`s rightful place as C.E.O of Planet Earth P.L.C. Ltd.
Pope offers up a breathtakingly impressive and innovative juggling of poetic forms and unrivaled, insightful wisdom of the calamity that human avarice was wreaking upon the world. Insightful wisdom pervades much of Pope`s work, and is one ample reason why his work is still so quotable and relevant today.
We are all products of our age: social and moral attitudes such as right and wrong are variable over time, so what was unimportant to one generation finds itself at the forefront of concern to another.
Pope`s ideals were a reflection of the Enlightenment, which emphasized the glorious reason and ideals of science, which were used to measure and understand the world around us without the intellectual shackles of religious dogma throwing it`s hefty spanner into the works.
Essay on Man is written in four epistles (an historical term for letters) and which were always written to a specific person. The most famous epistles in history are probably those of Paul the Apostle from the New Testament.
All four epistles offer a different relationship of humanity to itself, this world and to the universe, and ends with how we can live a happy, balanced, non-judgemental, virtuous and harmonious life with ourselves and nature.
Of course, it`s never going to happen: the selfish gene kicks in whenever humanity is faced with a stark choice of “us or them.” If the cost of sustaining our creature comforts is the ultimate destruction of wild life and the environment, well then, bring it on–global warming and Uncle Tom Cobley and all. There are those of us who may think that modern consumerism will ultimately bring us all down unless it`s reigned in and controlled, but Alexander Pope didn`t have a time machine to travel into the future, his writings were concerned about his here and now, and he still saw the divine spark in us all which had the potential to enable a better future and life for humanity.
It`s all there, laid out carefully in his essay; the options are on the table to follow or ignore. We may still believe that we can have our cake and eat it, because as the great man once said………..“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”