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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From the ‘Essay on Man’

By Alexander Pope (1688–1744)

(See full text.)

HEAVEN from all creatures hides the book of Fate,

All but the page prescribed, 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 to-day,

Had he thy reason, would he skip and play?

Pleased to the last, he crops the flowery food,

And licks the hand just raised to shed his blood.

Oh, blindness to the future! kindly given,

That each may fill the circle marked by Heaven:

Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,

A hero perish or a sparrow fall,

Atoms or systems into ruin hurled,

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 confined from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutored 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 given,

Behind the cloud-topt hill, an humbler heaven;

Some safer world in depth of woods embraced,

Some happier island in the watery 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.

Go, wiser thou! and in thy scale of sense,

Weigh thy opinion against Providence:

Call imperfection what thou fancy’st 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 Heaven’s high care,

Alone made perfect here, immortal there;

Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod,

Re-judge his justice, be the God of God.

In pride, in reasoning 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.

Ask for what end the heavenly bodies shine,

Earth for whose use? Pride answers, “’Tis for mine:

For me kind Nature wakes her genial power,

Suckles each herb, and spreads out every flower;

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 footstool 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 general 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 showers and sunshine, as of man’s desires;

As much eternal springs and cloudless skies,

As men for ever temperate, calm, and wise.

If plagues or earthquakes break not Heaven’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 reasoning springs;

Account for moral as for natural things:

Why charge we Heaven 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 discomposed the mind.

But all subsists by elemental strife;

And passions are the elements of life.

The general order, since the whole began,

Is kept in nature, and is kept in man.

What would this man? Now upward will he soar,

And little less than angel, would be more;

Now looking downwards, just as grieved 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 powers of all?

Nature, to these without profusion kind,

The proper organs, proper powers assigned:

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 Heaven unkind to man, and man alone?

Shall he alone, whom rational we call,

Be pleased with nothing, if not blessed with all?

The bliss of man (could pride that blessing find)

Is not to act or think beyond mankind;

No powers 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 given,

T’ inspect a mite, not comprehend the heaven?

Or touch, if tremblingly alive all o’er,

To smart and agonize at every pore?

Or, quick effluvia darting through the brain,

Die of a rose in aromatic pain?

If nature thundered in his opening ears,

And stunned him with the music of the spheres,

How would he wish that Heaven had left him still

The whispering zephyr and the purling rill!

Who finds not Providence all good and wise,

Alike in what it gives and what denies?

Far as creation’s ample range extends,

The scale of sensual, mental powers 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 poisonous herbs extracts the healing dew?

How instinct varies in the groveling swine,

Compared, half-reasoning elephant, with thine!

’Twixt that and reason, what a nice barrier,

Forever separate, yet forever 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 powers of all subdued by thee alone,

Is not thy reason all these powers in one?

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 powers

Were we to press, inferior might on ours;

Or in the full creation leave a void,

Where, one step broken, the great scale’s destroyed:

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 the amazing whole:

The least confusion but in one,—not all

That system only, but the whole, must fall.

Let earth unbalanced from her orbit fly,

Planets and suns run lawless through the sky;

Let ruling angels from their spheres be hurled,

Being on being wrecked, and world on world;

Heaven’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!

What if the foot ordained the dust to tread,

Or hand to toil, aspired to be the head?

What if the head, the eye, or ear repined

To serve mere engines to the ruling mind?

Just as absurd for any part to claim

To be another, in this general 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, changed 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.

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, Heaven 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 Power,

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….

Order is Heaven’s first law: and, this confest,

Some are and must be greater than the rest,

More rich, more wise; but who infers from hence

That such are happier, shocks all common-sense.

Heaven to mankind impartial we confess,

If all are equal in their happiness:

But mutual wants this happiness increase;

All nature’s difference keeps all nature’s peace.

Condition, circumstance, is not the thing:

Bliss is the same in subject or in king,

In who obtain defense or who defend,

In him who is or him who finds a friend;

Heaven breathes through every member of the whole

One common blessing, as one common soul.

But fortune’s gifts, if each alike possest

And each were equal, must not all contest?

If then to all men happiness was meant,

God in externals could not place content.

Fortune her gifts may variously dispose,

And these be happy called, unhappy those;

But Heaven’s just balance equal will appear,

While those are placed in hope and these in fear:

Not present good or ill the joy or curse,

But future views of better or of worse….

Count all th’ advantage prosperous vice attains,

’Tis but what virtue flies from and disdains;

And grant the bad what happiness they would,

One they must want, which is, to pass for good….

The good must merit God’s peculiar care;

But who but God can tell us who they are?

One thinks on Calvin heaven’s own spirit fell;

Another deems him instrument of hell:

If Calvin feel heaven’s blessing or its rod,

This cries there is, and that there is no God.

What shocks one part will edify the rest;

Nor with one system can they all be blest.

The very best will variously incline,

And what rewards your virtue punish mine.

Whatever is, is right.—This world, ’tis true,

Was made for Cæsar—but for Titus too;

And which more blessed? who chained his country, say,

Or he whose virtue sighed to lose a day?

“But sometimes virtue starves while vice is fed.”

What then? is the reward of virtue bread?

That, vice may merit: ’tis the price of toil;

The knave deserves it when he tills the soil,

The knave deserves it when he tempts the main,

Where folly fights for kings or dives for gain.

The good man may be weak, be indolent;

Nor is his claim to plenty, but content.

But grant him riches, your demand is o’er?

“No—shall the good want health, the good want power?”

Add health and power, and every earthly thing.

“Why bounded power? why private? why no king?

Nay, why external for internal given?

Why is not man a god, and earth a heaven?”…

Honor and shame from no condition rise:

Act well your part,—there all the honor lies.

Fortune in men has some small difference made,—

One flaunts in rags, one flutters in brocade;

The cobbler aproned, and the parson gowned,

The friar hooded, and the monarch crowned.

“What differ more” (you cry) “than crown and cowl?”

I’ll tell you, friend,—a wise man and a fool.

You’ll find, if once the monarch acts the monk,

Or, cobbler-like, the parson will be drunk,

Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow:

The rest is all but leather or prunello.

Stuck o’er with titles, and hung round with strings,

That thou mayst be by kings, or whores of kings;

Boast the pure blood of an illustrious race,

In quiet flow from Lucrece to Lucrece:

But by your fathers’ worth if yours you rate,

Count me those only who were good and great.

Go! if your ancient but ignoble blood

Has crept through scoundrels ever since the Flood,

Go! and pretend your family is young,

Nor own your fathers have been fools so long.

What can ennoble sots, or slaves, or cowards?

Alas! not all the blood of all the Howards.

Look next on greatness; say where greatness lies?

“Where but among the heroes and the wise?”

Heroes are much the same, the point’s agreed,

From Macedonia’s madman to the Swede;

The whole strange purpose of their lives to find

Or make an enemy of all mankind!

Not one looks backward, onward still he goes;

Yet ne’er looks forward further than his nose.

No less alike the politic and wise;

All sly slow things with circumspective eyes:

Men in their loose unguarded hours they take,—

Not that themselves are wise, but others weak.

But grant that those can conquer, these can cheat:

’Tis phrase absurd to call a villain great.

Who wickedly is wise, or madly brave,

Is but the more a fool, the more a knave.

Who noble ends by noble means obtains,

Or failing, smiles in exile or in chains,

Like good Aurelius let him reign, or bleed

Like Socrates,—that man is great indeed.

What’s fame? a fancied life in others’ breath;

A thing beyond us, e’en before our death;

Just what you hear you have; and what’s unknown

The same (my lord) if Tully’s or your own.

All that we feel of it begins and ends

In the small circle of our foes or friends:

To all beside as much an empty shade,

A Eugene living as a Cæsar dead;

Alike or when or where they shone or shine,

Or on the Rubicon or on the Rhine.

A wit’s a feather, and a chief a rod;

An honest man’s the noblest work of God.

Fame but from death a villain’s name can save,

As justice tears his body from the grave;

When what t’ oblivion better were resigned

Is hung on high, to poison half mankind.

All fame is foreign but of true desert,

Plays round the head, but comes not to the heart:

One self-approving hour whole years outweighs

Of stupid starers and of loud huzzas;

And more true joy Marcellus exiled feels,

Than Cæsar with a senate at his heels….

Know then this truth (enough for man to know),

“Virtue alone is happiness below;”

The only point where human bliss stands still,

And tastes the good without the fall to ill;

Where only merit constant pay receives,

Is blessed in what it takes and what it gives;

The joy unequaled if its end it gain,

And, if it lose, attended with no pain;

Without satiety, though e’er so blessed,

And but more relished as the more distressed.