Epistle 2.2 – Essay on Man

by ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)

The two principles of Man: Self-love and Reason, both necessary. Self-love the stronger, and why. Their end the same.

Two principles in human nature reign,
Self-love to urge and reason to restrain;
Nor this a good, nor that a bad we call;
Each works its end, to move or govern all:
And to their proper operation still
Ascribe all good, to their improper, ill.

Self-love, the spring of motion, acts the soul;
Reason’s comparing balance rules the whole.
Man, but for that, no action could attend;
And, but for this, were active to no end:
Fix’d like a plant on his peculiar spot,
To draw nutrition, propagate, and rot;
Or, meteor-like, flame lawless through the void,
Destroying others, by himself destroy’d.

Most strength the moving principle requires;
Active its task, it prompts, impels, inspires:
Sedate and quiet the comparing lies,
Form’d but to check, deliberate, and advise.
Self-love still stronger, as its object’s nigh;
Reason’s at distance and in prospect lie:
That sees immediate good by present sense;
Reason, the future and the consequence.
Thicker than arguments, temptations throng;
At best more watchful this, but that more strong.
The action of the stronger to suspend,
Reason still use, to reason still attend.
Attention habit and experience gains;
Each strengthens reason, and self-love restrains.

Let subtle schoolmen teach these friends to fight,
More studious to divide than to unite;
And grace and virtue, sense and reason split,
With all the rash dexterity of wit.
Wits, just like fools, at war about a name,
Have full as oft no meaning, or the same.
Self-love and reason to one end aspire,
Pain their aversion, pleasure their desire;
But greedy That, its object would devour;
This taste the honey, and not wound the flower:
Pleasure, or wrong or rightly understood,
Our greatest evil or our greatest good.

Essay on Man: Index to first lines

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

Alexander Pope

It has been said that Alexander Pope is the most quoted but least read poet in the English language. in the prefix to The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, one detail mentioned about Pope’s habits is that he often demanded and drank coffee in the middle of the night. Perhaps the caffeine he ingested contributed to the copious amount of couplets that he produced.

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