Epistle 1.8 – Essay on Man

by ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)

How much further this order and subordination of living creatures may extend above and below us; were any part of which broken, not that part only, but the whole connected creation must be destroyed.

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 stars run lawless through the sky;
Let ruling angels from their spheres be hurl’d,
Being on being wreck’d, and world on world;
Heav’n’s whole foundation to their centre nod,
And Nature trembles to the throne of God!
All this dread order break— for whom? for thee?
Vile worm!— O madness! pride! impiety!

Essay on Man: Index to first lines

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

Alexander Pope

In his last years and in declining health Pope fell under the influence of William Warburton, who prevailed upon him to make changes in some of his text and whom Pope made his literary executor. After the poet’s death, Warburton published an influential edition of [Pope’s] Works in 1751. The influence of Warburton on the text of Pope has only recently been unscrambled by the editors of the Twickenham edition … from Alexander Pope: Selected Poetry and Prose by Alexander Pope, Robin Sowerby (1988).