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Writings on the Chain of Being:

Alexander Pope


Several medieval and Renaissance poets wrote extensively about the Chain of Being, but the idea remained influential through the early 1700s. One late example from the Enlightenment is Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man, in which he raises the idea under the designation of "The Chain of Being."

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 powers
Were we to press, inferior might on ours:
Or in the full creation leave a void,
Where, one step broken, the great scale's destroyed:
From Nature's chain whatever link you strike.
Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike. (I.8.233-46)

He also emphasizes the interconnection between all life and all inanimate objects in the cosmos. For poetry students, note the metrical regularity of his blank verse:

Look round our world; behold the Chain of Love.
Confirming all below and all above.
See plastic nature working to his end
The single atoms each to other tend,
Attract, attracted to, the next in place
Form'd and impell'd its neighbor to embrace
See matter next, with various life endu'd
Press to one center still, the gen'ral good.
See dying vegetables life sustain,
See life dissolving vegetate again;
All forms that perish other forms supply,
(By turns we catch the vital breath and die)
Like bubbles on the sea of matter born,
They rise, they break, and to that sea return.
Nothing is foreign; parts relate to whole;
One all-extending all preserving soul
Connects each being, greatest with the least;
Made beast in aid of man and man of beast;
All serv'd, all serving! nothing stands alone;
The Chain holds on, and where it ends, unknown.

 

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