Epistle 1, 7 – Essay on Man
by ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)
That throughout the whole visible world a universal order and gradation in the sensual and mental faculties is observed, which causes a subordination of creature to creature, and of all creatures to man. The gradations of Sense, Instinct, Thought, Reflection, Reason: that Reason alone countervails all the other faculties.
Far as creation’s ample range extends,
The scale of sensual, mental powers ascends.
Mark, how it mounts to Man’s imperial race
From the green myriads in the peopled grass:
What modes of sight betwixt each wide extreme,
The mole’s dim curtain and the lynx’s beam:
Of smell, the headlong lioness between
And hound sagacious on the tainted green:
Of hearing, from the life that fills the flood,
To that which warbles through the vernal wood.
The spider’s touch, how exquisitely fine!
Feels at each thread, and lives along the line:
In the nice bee, what sense so subtly true,
From poisonous herbs extracts the healing dew?
How instinct varies in the grovelling swine,
Compared, half-reasoning elephant, with thine!
‘Twixt that and reason what a nice barrier!
For ever separate, yet for ever near!
Remembrance and reflection how allied!
What thin partitions sense from thought divide!
And middle natures, how they long to join,
Yet never pass the insuperable line!
Without this just gradation could they be
Subjected, these to those, or all to thee!
The powers of all subdued by thee alone,
Is not thy reason all these powers in one?
Reading by Martin Geeson for Librivox.org. Download entire audiobook here.
“The merits of Pope’s poetry are not originality nor sympathy with nature, virtues which distinguish greater poets, but grace, smoothness, correctness, the perfection of poetic taste. Pope pays infinite attention to the form of his verses, making the subject matter a secondary consideration. His lines remind one of the exquisite chiseling of a master-sculptor, and the result of this is that, after Shakespeare, he has contributed more quotations to our everyday language than perhaps any other poet. He belongs to an artificial school, which has been called Classical and has been called French.” From Pope Essay On Man Epistles I.-IV. by E.E. Morris, M.A. (1899), reprinted 2010.