Epistle 4.5 – Essay on Man

by ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)

That Virtue only constitutes a Happiness, whose object is universal, and whose prospect eternal.

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 blest in what it takes, and what it gives;
The joy unequalled, 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:
The broadest mirth unfeeling folly wears,
Less pleasing far than virtue’s very tears:
Good, from each object, from each place acquired
For ever exercised, yet never tired;
Never elated, while one man’s oppressed;
Never dejected while another’s blessed;
And where no wants, no wishes can remain,
Since but to wish more virtue, is to gain.

See the sole bliss Heaven could on all bestow!
Which who but feels can taste, but thinks can know:
Yet poor with fortune, and with learning blind,
The bad must miss; the good, untaught, will find;
Slave to no sect, who takes no private road,
But looks through Nature up to Nature’s God;
Pursues that chain which links the immense design,
Joins heaven and earth, and mortal and divine;
Sees, that no being any bliss can know,
But touches some above, and some below;
Learns, from this union of the rising whole,
The first, last purpose of the human soul;
And knows, where faith, law, morals, all began,
All end, in love of God, and love of man.

For Him alone, hope leads from goal to goal,
And opens still, and opens on his soul!
Till lengthened on to faith, and unconfined,
It pours the bliss that fills up all the mind
He sees, why Nature plants in man alone
Hope of known bliss, and faith in bliss unknown:
(Nature, whose dictates to no other kind
Are given in vain, but what they seek they find)
Wise is her present; she connects in this
His greatest virtue with his greatest bliss;
At once his own bright prospect to be blest,
And strongest motive to assist the rest.

Essay on Man: Index to first lines

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