301 Study Questions on Pope's
An Essay on Man
Be able to define the following
vocabulary terms and apply them to the literature we read
Apostrophe, Blank Verse, Deism,
epistle, eye rhyme, Enlightenment, Glorious Revolution,
heroic couplet, the Noble Savage, neoclassical,
ontology, restoration, iambic pentameter, Telos,
(1) Describe the poetic structure for An Essay on Man.
What is its meter and what poetic units make up the
What is the rhyme scheme (i.e., ABAB, CDCD, or what?)
(2) Who was the first English poet in history
to have made his living solely by publishing his writings?
(3) What made Pope a religious minority
in England (i.e., in what denominational faith was he raised?)
(4) How is the Enlightenment a reaction
against the earlier religious struggles of the Puritan Interregnum?
- Epistle I, Part I: The poem begins
with an apostrophe, "Awake,
my ST. JOHN." How might this connect with Lord
Bolingbroke, Pope's patron? How might it connect with
- How is line 16 an echo or alteration
of Milton's Paradise Lost?
- When Pope is trying to
decide to start his discussion with God above or
Man below? Which does he choose?
Why? (i.e., from where do we have to start as the
beginning of our reason?)
- What is Pope's stated purpose in An
Essay on Man?
- Why does Pope claim writing in verse
is actually shorter and more concise than writing in
- To whom is An Essay on Man addressed?
opening call to "Awake, my ST. JOHN"
might refer to what two different people?
- In lines 57-60,
Pope compares humanity to "wheels" or cogs
that move in circular motions in a machine too large
to perceive. How is
connected to common Deistic metaphors? How does this
metaphor suggest Enlightenment thinkers saw the universe?
- Epistle I, Part II:
- What is Pope's
response to the question of why man was formed so weak,
so little, and so limited in
- How perfect is man, according to Pope--rather
than being imperfect?
- Pope claims, "The blest today
is as completely so, / As who began a thousand years
does he mean?
at section II. Does the imagery here suggest that Pope
sees the universe as a place of democratic
Or does he think the universe is a place or unequal hierarchy?
- At the end of section II, the final couplet is
suggestive. Does this final couplet suggest that the
that people today have developed further than those of
the past? Is the nature of humanity static or changing
- Epistle I, Part III: What does Pope mean when he
from all creatures hides the book of Fate, /All but
the page prescribed, their present state?"
- In section III, what is the advantage of innocence
or ignorance, according to Pope?
- Who or what, in section
V, tells mankind that God made things in nature exclusively
for man's own benefit?
Pope think it is true that nature has only one purpose?
- Epistle I, Part IV: In what trait does "our
when it comes to human perception?
section VIII, Pope refers to a "Vast chain
of Being." To see what he's talking about, you
can read a summary of E. M. W. Tillyard's discussion here.
Why would this older idea of a logically ordered
universe be especially appealing to Enlightenment thinkers?
conclusion to Epistle I, section X in our book contains
the most famous quotation in all of An
Essay on Man. Why could the idea that "whatever
is, is right" be particularly dangerous or particularly
helpful to people when faced with imperfections
- In Epistle II, section III, what are the "Modes
- In Epistle II, section V, Pope
appears to be worried about the "Extremes of
problem does he find when it comes to identifying
an unhealthy extreme
- In lines 259-60 of Epistle II, section VI,
what two things teach humans to welcome death and
why these things might make good teachers for this final
Be able to identify the source
of the following quotations and explain their significance:
(A) Say first, of God
above, or man below,
What can we reason, but from what we know?
Of man what see we, but his station here,
From which to reason, or to which refer?
Through worlds unnumber'd though the God be known,
'Tis ours to trace him only in our own.
(AA) "Hope springs eternal in the
(B) Why form'd so weak,
so little, and so blind?
First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,
Why form'd no weaker, blinder, and no less?
Ask of thy mother earth, why oaks are made
Taller or stronger than the weeds they shade?
Or ask of yonder argent fields above,
Why Jove's satellites are less than Jove?
Then say not man's imperfect, Heav'n in fault;
Say rather, man's as perfect as he ought:
His knowledge measur'd to his state and place;
His time a moment, and a point his space.
If to be perfect in a certain sphere,
What matter, soon or late, or here or there?
The blest today is as completely so,
As who began a thousand years ago.
(C) Ask for what end the heav'nly bodies
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;
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."
(D) 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 th' ethereal frame,
Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,
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;
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.
(E) Know then thyself, presume not God
The proper study of mankind is man.
Plac'd on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest [...]
(F) And spite of Pride,
in erring Reason's spite, / One truth is clear, WHATEVER
IS, IS RIGHT.
(G) Superior beings, when
of late they saw
A mortal Man unfold all Nature's law
Admired such wisdom in an earthly shape,
And shewed a Newton as we shew an ape.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
Some critics have claimed that Pope's An
Essay on Man is a sort of touchstone for later Enlightenment
writers. Poets after Pope tend to bring up the same ideas
Pope does--sometimes to embrace them, sometimes to refute
them--but his thinking shapes many of the coming writers.
Look for the ideas Pope raises to appear in future writings,
and make a list of which authors agree with Pope and which
ones disagree with him concerning his ideas about God, nature,
human individuals, or society.