A Poem About Man

Today, I’d like to share a poem that I like very much. I read it when I was in 10th Grade. The Principal of the school I was going gave me a book of poetry. I remember reading that book fascinated by the words in it. There is where I found this excerpt of Essay on Man from Alexander Pope (1688-1744).

I really didn’t understand it the first time I read it. So I ask advice from a teacher. He gave me some literature to read. I thought: ‘why don’t just tell me!”. Oh, fool of me! I think that it gives us an insight into reflection about our inner self. Who we are and what is our goal in life. A very personal interpretation and self-discovery.

To understand Alexander Pope’s philosophical work, we need to understand that he lived in the 18th century:  he was a Catholic living in London, he had a physical disability and was self-taught (homeschooled). All of these could have been seen as obstacles, but instead, helped him build his character. The Essay is a philosophical work divided in four sections, that talks about the order in the world, God and creation, and man and the strive for good.

He was a controversial figure back then, and still is in this modern times. However you may perceive him, his talent is undeniable and the contributions made to the art of writing. He was the first full-time professional English writer, as he supported himself by subscriptions fee for the translation of Homer’s work and his edition of Shakespeare’s works.


Excerpt from Epistle II of An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope

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!
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  1. […] you haven’t read about Alexander Pope, read this post where I talk about […]

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