Alexander Pope Defined Man : Glorious, Ridiculous, Majestic, Pathetic, Wonder – Evoking and Contempt Provoking

"Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;"

In these lines from Essay on Man, Alexander  Pope continues with the general tenor (main tune) of presenting man as an antonymic existence-comes to a resounding - climatic conclusion. He is at once glorious, ridiculous, majestic, pathetic, wonder – evoking and contempt provoking. At times though his inner nobility makes him advance towards divinity, him interim instinctive leads to bestiality. Caught between though and passion, inaction and action, stoicism and hedonism, he can neither progress nor he can recede


If he advances one step but steps back twice. Although he is the master of all worldly existences – being in control over all other creatures ranging from the feline and the predatory to the timid and the domesticated – he is also a victim of many natural processes. Although he often considers himself to be in command over nature, he also occasionally realizes that nature may concatenate him or annihilate all man’s creation nay mankind itself in a trice (moment) floods , lighting earthquakes , volcanoes , the diseases of the body let loose by nature organisms, can wreak havoc. At times though man considers himself the sole judge of truth, the only yardstick of rationality, his intellect processes are often flawed. He may contemplate for hours or even years and then come to an erroneous conclusion. Even the theories of science achieved after prolonged experimentation, verification and rational validation – have often been proved to be entirely erroneous. As for human judgment about his fellow creatures, one may observe that while guiltless one often incarcerated (imprisoned). The guilty  often go scot-free (immunized).



Observing these innate contradictions in man, Pope comes to the conclusion that instead of the latent glory of man, he often becomes the object of jest and ridicule. The comment is like Hamlets, for Hamlet too had felt that man is at once the ‘Paragon of animals’ and ‘The quintessence of dust’ (Act II Scene II). But Pope adds that it is this coexistence of the contraries, the simultaneity of the opposites which make man such a mysterious being, an unsolvable puzzle a veritable ‘riddle’ . Thus even if the poem be not philosophy, the revealing psychology of mankind in general has been presented with such penetration & persuasive eloquence, enhanced with such brilliance of imagery and concatenation of sparking rhetorical devices, that the poem would continue to be read and the lines to be notable for years to come.

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