Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
Extracts from the Essay on Man: Book I
By Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
 
(See full text.)

  HEAVEN from all creatures hides the book of fate,
All but the page prescrib’d, their present state:
From brutes what men, from men what spirits know:
Or who could suffer being here below?
The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to-day,        5
Had he thy reason, would he skip and play?
Pleas’d to the last, he crops the flow’ry food,
And licks the hand just rais’d to shed his blood.
Oh blindness to the future! kindly giv’n,
That each may fill the circle mark’d by Heav’n:        10
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall.
Atoms or systems into ruin hurl’d,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world.
  Hope humbly then; with trembling pinions soar;        15
Wait the great teacher death, and God adore.
What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,
But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest.        20
The soul (uneasy, and confin’d) from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
  Lo the poor Indian! whose untutor’d mind
Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;
His soul, proud science never taught to stray        25
Far as the solar walk, or milky way;
Yet simple nature to his hope has giv’n,
Behind the cloud-topt hill, an humbler heav’n;
Some safer world in depth of woods embrac’d,
Some happier island in the wat’ry waste,        30
Where slaves once more their native land behold,
No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold.
To be, contents his natural desire,
He asks no angel’s wing, no seraph’s fire;
But thinks, admitted to that equal sky,        35
His faithful dog shall bear him company.
  Go, wiser thou! and, in thy scale of sense,
Weigh thy opinion against Providence;
Call imperfection what thou fanciest such,
Say, Here he gives too little, there too much:        40
Destroy all creatures for thy sport or gust,
Yet cry, if man ’s unhappy, God ’s unjust;
If man alone ingross not Heav’n’s high care,
Alone made perfect here, immortal there:
Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod,        45
Rejudge his justice, be the God of God.
In pride, in reas’ning pride, our error lies;
All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies.
Pride still is aiming at the blest abodes,
Men would be angels, angels would be Gods.        50
Aspiring to be Gods, if angels fell,
Aspiring to be angels, men rebel:
And who but wishes to invert the laws
Of order, sins against th’ Eternal Cause.
  Ask for what end the heav’nly bodies shine,        55
Earth for whose use? Pride answers ‘’Tis for mine:
For me kind Nature wakes her genial pow’r,
Suckles each herb, and spreads out ev’ry flow’r;
Annual for me, the grape, the rose renew,
The juice nectareous, and the balmy dew;        60
For me, the mine a thousand treasures brings;
For me, health gushes from a thousand springs;
Seas roll to waft me, suns to light me rise;
My foot-stool earth, my canopy the skies.’
  But errs not Nature from this gracious end,        65
From burning suns when livid deaths descend,
When earthquakes swallow, or when tempests sweep
Towns to one grave, whole nations to the deep?
‘No (’tis replied) the first Almighty Cause
Acts not by partial, but by gen’ral laws;        70
Th’ exceptions few; some change since all began:
And what created perfect?—Why then Man?’
If the great end be human happiness,
Then nature deviates; and can man do less?
As much that end a constant course requires        75
Of show’rs and sun-shine, as of man’s desires;
As much eternal springs and cloudless skies,
As men for ever temp’rate, calm, and wise.
If plagues or earthquakes break not Heaven’s design,
Why then a Borgia, or a Catiline?        80
Who knows but He, whose hand the light’ning forms,
Who heaves old ocean, and who wings the storms;
Pours fierce ambition in a Cæsar’s mind,
Or turns young Ammon loose to scourge mankind?
From pride, from pride, our very reas’ning springs;        85
Account for moral, as for nat’ral things:
Why charge we heav’n in those, in these acquit?
In both, to reason right is to submit.
  Better for us, perhaps, it might appear,
Were there all harmony, all virtue here;        90
That never air or ocean felt the wind;
That never passion discompos’d the mind.
But all subsists by elemental strife;
And passions are the elements of life.
The gen’ral order, since the whole began,        95
Is kept in nature, and is kept in man.
  What would this man? Now upward will he soar.
And little less than angels, would be more;
Now looking downwards, just as griev’d appears
To want the strength of bulls, the fur of bears.        100
Made for his use all creatures if he call,
Say, what their use, had he the pow’rs of all;
Nature to these, without profusion, kind,
The proper organs, proper pow’rs assign’d;
Each seeming want compensated of course,        105
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 heav’n unkind to man, and man alone?        110
Shall he alone, whom rational we call,
Be pleas’d 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 pow’rs of body or of soul to share,        115
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 giv’n,
T’ inspect a mite, not comprehend the heav’n?        120
Or touch, if tremblingly alive all o’er,
To smart and agonise at every pore?
Or quick effluvia darting through the brain,
Die of a rose in aromatic pain?
If nature thunder’d in his op’ning ears,        125
And stunn’d him with the music of the spheres,
How would he wish that heav’n had left him still
The whisp’ring Zephyr, and the purling rill?
Who finds not Providence all good and wise,
Alike in what it gives, and what denies?        130
  Far as Creation’s ample range extends,
The scale of sensual, mental pow’rs 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,        135
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?        140
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 pois’nous herbs extracts the healing dew?
How instinct varies in the grov’ling swine,        145
Compar’d, half-reas’ning elephant, with thine!
’Twixt that, and reason, what a nice barrier?
For ever sep’rate, yet for ever near!
Remembrance and reflection, how allied;
What thin partitions sense from thought divide?        150
And middle natures, how they long to join,
Yet never pass th’ insuperable line!
Without this just gradation, could they be
Subjected, these to those, or all to thee?
The pow’rs of all subdu’d by thee alone,        155
Is not thy reason all these pow’rs in one?
  See, through this air, this ocean, and this earth,
All matter quick, and bursting into birth.
Above, how high, progressive life may go!
Around, how wide, how deep extend below!        160
Vast chain of Being! which from God began,
Natures ethereal, human, angel, man,
Beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see,
No glass can reach; from infinite to thee,
From thee to Nothing.—On superior pow’rs        165
Were we to press, inferior might on ours:
Or in the full creation leave a void,
Where, one step broken, the great scale ’s destroy’d:
From Nature’s chain whatever link you strike,
Tenth, or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.        170
  And, if each system in gradation roll
Alike essential to th’ amazing whole,
The least confusion but in one, not all
That system only, but the whole must fall.
Let earth unbalanc’d from her orbit fly,        175
Planets and stars run lawless through the sky;
Let ruling angels from their spheres be hurl’d,
Being on being wreck’d, and world on world;
Heaven’s whole foundations to their centre nod,
And nature trembles to the throne of God.        180
All this dread order break—for whom? for thee?
Vile worm!—oh madness! pride! impiety!
  What if the foot, ordain’d the dust to tread,
Or hand, to toil, aspir’d to be the head?
What if the head, the eye, or ear repin’d        185
To serve mere engines to the ruling mind?
Just as absurd for any part to claim
To be another, in this gen’ral frame:
Just as absurd, to mourn the tasks or pains,
The great directing mind of all ordains.        190
  All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body nature is, and God the soul;
That, chang’d through all, and yet in all the same;
Great in the earth, as in the ethereal frame;
Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,        195
Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees,
Lives through all life, extends through all extent,
Spreads undivided, operates unspent;
Breathes in our soul, informs our mortal part,
As full, as perfect, in a hair as heart;        200
As full, as perfect, in vile man that mourns,
As the rapt seraph, that adores and burns:
To him no high, no low, no great, no small;
He fills, he bounds, connects, and equals all.
  Cease then, nor order imperfection name:        205
Our proper bliss depends on what we blame.
Know thy own point: This kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, heaven bestows on thee.
Submit.—In this, or any other sphere,
Secure to be as blest as thou canst bear:        210
Safe in the hand of one disposing pow’r,
Or in the natal, or the mortal hour.
All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;        215
All partial evil, universal good:
And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.
 
 
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