Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lines on Pride from Alexander Pope's An Essay On Man

Often times cataclysmic events leave us at a loss. We have feelings and thoughts but struggle to put them into words. Some have been blessed with the gift of the poetic art. These painters of images with words, serve to bring the ineffable into focus in our minds.

Their art is subtle and yet as effective to our mind's eye as the rendering of portraits by pointillists. Alexander Pope is a master of this form of art. I've shared some his work in this space before. Today, I stumbled across a few of his lines on the sin of pride in a most unlikely place

As pride often goes before the fall, I feel compelled to share them with you today. 

Here, but for the grace of God, go we.

From the First Epistle of An Essay On Man, Cantos IV and V

Go, wiser thou! and in thy scale of sense
Weigh thy opinion against Providence;
Call imperfection what thou fancy'st such,
Say, here he gives too little, there too much;
Destroy all creatures for thy sport or gust;
Yet cry, if man's unhappy, God's unjust;
If man alone engross not Heaven's high care,
Alone made perfect here, immortal there;
Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod,
Re-judge 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.
Aspiring to be gods, if angels fell,
And who but wishes to invert the laws
Of order, sins against th' Eternal Cause.

Ask for what end the heavenly bodies shine,
Earth for whose use? Pride answers, "Tis for mine:
"For me kind Nature wakes her genial power,
"Suckles each herb, and spreads out every flower;
"Annual for me, the grape, the rose renew
"The juice nectareous, and the balmy dew;
"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 footstool earth, my canopy the skies."

But errs not nature from this gracious end,
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 reply'd) the first Almighty Cause
" Acts not by partial, but by general laws;
" 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
Of showers and sunshine, 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 ?
Who knows but he, whose hand the lightning forms,
Who heaves old ocean, and who wings the storms,
Pours fierce ambition in a Cesar's mind,
Or turns young Ammon loose to scourge mankind?
From pride, from pride, our very reas'ning springs;
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;
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,
Is kept in nature, and is kept in man.