Pope's Poems and Prose

Analysis of "An Essay on Man" College

The assertion of the first epistle of Pope's “An Essay on Man” is that man has too narrow a perspective to truly understand God's plan, and his goal is to “vindicate the ways of God to man” (Pope 16). The ignorance of man befits his place in the order of creation, and his confusion conceals the harmony of that order. The individual lines of this epistle appear to present a fatalistic universe, devoid of free will, where all things are fated to happen. Although if the work is viewed as a whole, Pope's optimism shows through.

Pope begins by explaining that he can only comment on what can be known by man. “Through worlds unnumbered though the God be known,/'Tis ours to trace him only in our own” (1.21-22). Even though the universe my hold many worlds, only Earth can be known to man. It is the only frame of reference that Pope could write about, and his audience be made to understand. He advises his readers to put aside their hubris and consider “Is the great chain, that draws all to agree,/And drawn supports, upheld by God or thee?” (1.33-34). Only after man puts aside his ego and contemplates “the great chain,” will he be able to understand his place in God's plan.


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