Epistle 1.1 – Essay on Man

by ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)

That we can judge only with regard to our own system, being ignorant of the relations of systems and things

Say, first, of God above, or man below,
What can we reason but from what we know?
Of man, what see we, but his station here,
From which to reason, or to which refer?
Through worlds unnumber’d though the God be known,
‘Tis ours to trace him only in our own.
He, who through vast immensity can pierce,
See worlds on worlds compose one universe,
Observe how system into system runs,
What other planets circle other suns,

What varied Being peoples every star,
May tell why Heaven has made us as we are.
But of this frame, the bearings, and the ties,
The strong connections, nice dependencies,
Gradations just, has thy pervading soul
Look’d through? or can a part contain the whole?

Is the great chain, that draws all to agree,
And drawn supports, upheld by God or thee?

Essay on Man: Index to first lines

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

Alexander Pope

John Watkins relates in “Characteristic Anecdotes of Men of Learning and Genius” that the young Alexander Pope was a huge fan of the poet John Dryden and offers this anecdote: “”At the age of twelve, he was introduced to the veteran bard, at Will’s coffee house, and Dryden gave him a shilling for translating the story of Pyramus and Thisbe.” The only problem with that is John Dryden died on May 12, 1700 and Pope turned 12 on May 21, 1700. Even so, many 19th century books put Dryden’s date of death on May 1, 1701. In any event, a more likely version is that while the young Pope actually never met his idol, he did catch a glimpse of him near Will’s coffee house once. How big of a deal is it whether he was 11 or 12?

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