1 Daisho

An Essay On Man Epistle 1 Analysis Definition

It is essential, while trying to understand Pope's meaning in An Essay on Man, to understand what Pope is not talking about as much as it is to understand what he is talking about. First, using the one issue of war as an illustration of what he is not talking about, if you do a quick document search of Epistle 1 of An Essay on Man, you'll find that not once does Pope mention war. In other words, Pope is not addressing the atrocities of man's injustice to man or man's brutality to man, nor is he discussing a philosophical perspective on nature's horrific modes of robbing life from vital people. Pope is talking about a philosophical perspective on being a human being alive in a relationship with God and with nature; in other word, a philosophy of living.

Pope orients readers to his discussion on his philosophy of being alive by introducing two of the three main points:

What can we reason, but from what we know? / Of Man what see we, / ... / Thro' worlds unnumber'd tho' the God be known, / 'Tis ours to trace him only in our own.

In this, Pope lays out the scope for two-thirds of his discussion: man and man's relationship to God. The third point, man's relationship to nature, is presented by Pope's lines: "Ask of thy mother earth, why oaks are made / Taller or stronger than the weeds they shade?" Through questioning "mother earth," Pope explores the relationship between man and nature. This he paints as a changeable and unpredictable one, with levels of chaotic arrangement in how man and nature relate:

When the proud steed shall know why Man restrains / His fiery course, or drives him o'er the plains; / ... / Then shall Man's pride and dullness comprehend / ... / Why doing, suff'ring, check'd, impell'd; and why / This hour a slave, the next a deity.

Elsewhere, Pope brings up natural calamities ("earthquakes swallow, ... tempests sweep"). Pope deepens his questioning of nature by asking if nature errs when death descends from the "livid sun" or when "towns" are taken to "the grave." The answer Pope presents is that the "first Almighty Cause" acts by "gener'l" not specific precepts, therefore calamities are not aimed at humankind, they are purely vagaries of "mother earth," and "mother earth" is not perfect: "And what [is] created perfect?" Pope's focus here is present a philosophical perspective of how to live with nature that is not perfect. In other words, the meaning in his final statement, "One truth is clear, "Whatever IS, is RIGHT," pertains to a philosophic perspective on how to live with God and nature, not to one explaining destruction and death.

Pope's major points admonish comprehension of the majesty of God and the imperfect and impartial grandeur of nature, which he suggests will counter a tendency to complain and rail against Fortune:

If nature ... / ... stunn'd him with the music of the spheres,
How would he wish that Heav'n had left him still [alone].

He suggests that such an experience gives new understanding of being alive:

Just as absurd, to mourn the tasks or pains ... / All are but parts of one stupendous whole, / Whose body, Nature is, and God the soul;

Pope strives to persuade the reader: "say not Man's imperfect, Heav'n in fault; / Say rather, Man [is] as perfect as he ought." Pope's philosophical concern with life and living is summarized as:

All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see; / ... / All Discord, Harmony, not understood; / ... / One truth is clear, "Whatever IS, is RIGHT."

by Christoph Champ, 1-Apr-1999

I liked the structure of this work. The verse was easy to read (I'm not speaking of the understanding of it). The work clearly brought out some of the different positions the intellectuals of the day supported. For an example: "What modes of sight betwixt each wide extreme / The mole's dim curtain, and the lynx's beam." (280) They believed back then that "Sight was . . . an emission of rays from the eye." (280)

Pope’s statement "WHATEVER IS, IS RIGHT" (282) has some merit to it. No matter what someone may say, if I hold an apple in my hand and feel it (and it feels as one), then taste it (and it tastes as one), then finally rely on past experience (and it matches the criteria as one), I will come to know that What Is (the apple), Is Right (it is, in fact, an apple). However, Pope’s statement cannot always be right because our senses are not perfect. As Pope himself wrote, "Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind?" (276), we, humans, don't have the greatest strength among creatures, nor the greatest size or sight. What we do have (which no other animal can match) is our mental power and this has been known to be wrong time and time again. Therefore, Whatever Is can only be that "Whatever" with our brain using one (or more) of the five sense to come to understand. If, as seen throughout history, our mental powers are capable of mistakes, then that "Whatever" we hope to understand cannot be relied upon to accurately, every time, reveal what Is Right.

I agree that Pope was the "wasp of Twicknham". I believe this because of what the metaphor "wasp", to me, for this situation is accusing Pope of being. A wasp is similar to a bee but with one main difference. Both a wasp and a bee produce venom. However, a bee produces his venom to protect the load he carries and the queen he serves. The load the bee carries contributes to constructive substances (honey). Unlike the bee, the wasp only attacks its victims to establish itself as one to be left alone or not to enrage. Pope was somewhat like this: He stayed cooped up in his villa of Twicknham and produced great criticisms of Man, Society, and those of a different belief. He wrote great masterpieces yet they remain cynical in my view.

I believe Pope's purpose in writing An Essay on Man began as an ambitious project to outline the "moral precept" of man's purposes in life. In the end his work seemed, to me, more concerned in making his words rhythm than convict the reader to change their wrong ways. If Pope did indeed want to convince his audience to repent of their wicked ways, he should have used essay form.

To conclude, this work was extremely cumbersome to read and forced me, unwillingly, to read it over and over again to grasp even the greater intent of his purpose. A nice read for the poetical value, however.

This article is copyrighted © 1999 by Christoph Champ. All rights reserved.

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