Epistle 1.2 – Essay on Man

Respecting Man, whatever wrong we call,
May, must be right, as relative to all.
In human works, though laboured on with pain,
A thousand movements scarce one purpose gain;
In God’s, one single can its end produce,
Yet serve to second too some other use:
So Man, who here seems principal alone,
Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown,
Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal:
‘Tis but a part we see, and not a whole.

When the proud steed shall know why Man restrains
His fiery course, or drives him o’er the plains;
When the dull ox, why now he breaks the clod,
Is now a victim, and now Egypt’s God;
Then shall man’s pride and dulness comprehend
His actions’, passions’, being’s, use and end;
Why doing, suff’ring, check’d, impell’d; and why
This hour a slave, the next a deity.

Then say not Man’s imperfect, Heaven in fault;
Say rather Man’s as perfect as he ought;
His knowledge measured to his state and place;
His time a moment, and a point his space:
If to be perfect in a certain sphere,
What matter, soon or late, or here or there?
The bless’d to-day is as completely so
As who began a thousand years ago.

Essay on Man: Index to first lines

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

Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope was the son of a respectable draper, and was born in the city of London, on the 22nd of May, 1688. Being, from his infancy, of a very delicate frame, he was taught to read at home, by a maiden aunt, and he learned to write by imitating the letters of the little school manual from which he had learned them, and the other primary works that the studies of his childhood placed in his hands. His father, having acquired an independent fortune, retired to Binfield, in Windsor Forest, and as he belonged to the Roman Church, the future poet was placed under the care of one Taverner, the family priest, by whom he was taught the rudiments of the Latin and Greek languages, at the same time.
From The Literature and the Literary Men of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 2, by Abraham Mills