This famous line from the 18th-century English poet Alexander Pope’s poem “An Essay on Man” is as captivating today as it was 300 years ago (especially if we mentally substitute ‘man’ with ‘human’). Sometimes, when we fail to express our confused thoughts and feelings, we do what people have done for thousands of years – we turn to poets. In this short post, I have gathered some of Pope’s poetic words that impressed me with their ease, elegance, and thoughtful beauty. I hope they bring a refreshing and reassuring morsel of meaning to your day.
“Presumptuous Man! the reason wouldstA. Pope*
Why form’d so weak, so little, and so blind!
First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,
Why form’d no weaker, blinder, and no less!”
“Why has not Man a microscopic eye?A. Pope*
For this plain reason, Man is not a Fly.
Say what the use, were finer optics giv’n,
T’inspect a mite, not comprehend the heav’n?”
Each beast, each insect, happy in its own;A. Pope*
Is Heav’n unkind to Man, and Man alone?
Shall he alone, whom rational we call,
Be pleas’d with nothing, if not bless’d with all?
Know then thyself, presume not God so scan;A. Pope*
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest,
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer,
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus’d;
Still by himself abus’d, or disabus’d;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of Truth, in endless Error hurl’d:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
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*Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets, Alexander Pope Poems, selected by Claude Rawson, 2018
Image credit: Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash
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