Epistle 1.3 – Essay on Man

by ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)

That it is partly upon his ignorance of future events, and partly upon the hope of a future state, that all his happiness in the present depends.

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.
O blindness to the future! kindly given,
That each may fill the circle marked 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 bless’d:
The soul, uneasy and confined 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 given,
Behind the cloud-topp’d hill, a 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.

Essay on Man: Index to first lines

Reading by Martin Geeson for Librivox.org. Download entire audiobook here.

Alexander Pope

“Pope’s letters are fascinating documents, apart from his importance as a poet. Highly revealing of his remarkable character— ambitious, dangerous, trimming, ridiculous, intelligent, generous yet antagonistic— they also comprise a body of writing of extraordinary interest for an understanding of his times: its personalities, its plots, its tragedies and exiles, its loves, its scandals, the movement of its religious, political and philosophical ideas, its sense of poetry, and its notions of poetic craft and genre. …” from Alexander Pope: Selected Letters by Alexander Pope, Howard Erskine-Hill
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