Epistle 1.6 – Essay on Man

by ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)

The unreasonableness of his complaints against Providence, while, on the one hand, he demands the perfections of the angels, and, on the other, the bodily qualifications of the brutes; though to possess any of the sensitive faculties in a higher degree would render him miserable.

What would this Man? Now upward will he soar,
And, little less than angel, would be more;
Now looking downwards, just as grieved appears
To want the strength of bulls, the fur of bears.
Made for his use all creatures if he call,
Say, what their use, had he the powers of all?
Nature to these, without profusion, kind,
The proper organs, proper powers assigned;
Each seeming want compensated of course,
Here with degrees of swiftness, there of force;
All in exact proportion to the state;
Nothing to add, and nothing to abate;
Each beast, each insect, happy in its own:
Is Heaven unkind to Man, and Man alone?
Shall he alone, whom rational we call,
Be pleased with nothing if not bless’d with all?

The bliss of man, could pride that blessing find,
Is not to act or think beyond mankind;
No powers of body or of soul to share,
But what his nature and his state can bear.
Why has not man a microscopic eye?
For this plain reason,— man is not a fly.
Say, what the use, were finer optics given,
To inspect a mite, not comprehend the heaven?
Or touch, if tremblingly alive all o’er,
To smart and agonize at every pore?
Or quick effluvia darting through the brain,
Die of a rose in aromatic pain?
If nature thunder’d in his opening ears,
And stunn’d him with the music of the spheres,
How would he wish that Heaven had left him still
The whispering zephyr and the purling rill!
Who finds not Providence all good and wise,
Alike in what it gives and what denies?

Essay on Man: Index to first lines

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

Alexander Pope

“Shakespeare was one of the authors who presided over Alexander Pope’s apprenticeship as a writer, and remained a lifelong favorite. In youth, Pope had enjoyed the friendship of Thomas Betterton, a great Shakespearean actor, who had worked in a company led by Sir William Davenant, allegedly a godson (natural son, some even said) of the bard. A few years later, Pope kept a picture of Shakespeare as one of those watching over his labors in his writing room….” from The Alexander Pope Encyclopedia (2004) by Pat Rogers

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