An Essay on Man

Alexander Pope, (1688-1744)

  • Epistle II, (1733)
  • 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 or Body to prefer;
  • Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
  • Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
  • Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
  • Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
  • Still by himself abused, or disabused;
  • 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 hurled:
  • The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
  • 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.
  • Love, hope, and joy, fair pleasure's smiling train,
  • Hate, fear, and grief, the family of pain,
  • These mixed with art, and to due bounds confined,
  • Make and maintain the balance of the mind;
  • The lights and shades, whose well-accorded strife
  • Gives all the strength and colour of our life.
  • Epistle IV, (1734).
  • Come, then, my friend! my genius! come along;
  • Oh, master of the poet, and the song!
  • And while the muse now stoops, or now ascends,
  • To man's low passions, or their glorious ends,
  • Teach me, like thee, in various nature wise,
  • To fall with dignity, with temper rise;
  • Formed by thy converse, happily to steer
  • From grave to gay, from lively to severe;
  • Correct with spirit, eloquent with ease,
  • Intent to reason, or polite to please.
  • Oh! while along the stream of time thy name
  • Expanded flies, and gathers all its fame,
  • Say, shall my little bark attendant sail,
  • Pursue the triumph, and partake the gale?
  • When statesmen, heroes, kings, in dust repose,
  • Whose sons shall blush their fathers were thy foes,
  • Shall then this verse to future age pretend
  • Thou wert my guide, philosopher, and friend?
  • That urged by thee, I turned the tuneful art
  • From sounds to things, from fancy to the heart;
  • From wit's false mirror held up Nature's light;
  • Showed erring pride, WHATEVER IS IS RIGHT;
  • That reason, passion, answer one great aim;
  • That true self-love and social are the same;
  • That virtue only makes our bliss below;
  • And all our knowledge is, OURSELVES TO KNOW.
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