Poems & Poets, Random Thoughts

Introspection in America – Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man

In today’s world where we are bombarded by mind-numbing reality shows, more online interactions than real-world, and an overall increase in social awkwardness, it is becoming more and more obvious that we’re too concerned with the lives of others instead of our own.  I’m going to assume that anyone reading this may at least be a little more introspective than the general population, so it will be interesting to hear your thoughts.

I grew up in a somewhat sheltered world – class of 151, same group of friends throughout high school, captain of this, involved in that… yada yada yada.  I never really paid attention to current events. I definitely didn’t know what was going on outside of my town and most times not what was going on within. Thank goodness it was before the Facebook phenomenon or who knows how I would have turned out.

Several life events, marked by some emotional scarring, were monumental in changing my view of the world. However, outside of that, I fully think there’s one element that helped me the most and tends to separate people; I took more than just an entry-level English Lit class.

What other classes involve such in-depth character analysis and require a person to ask the ultimate question – Why?  You don’t see many business classes reviewing the lifestyle of or reasons why Rod Blagojevich thought he could get away with selling a Senate seat.  Analysis into a character’s motivations can become habitual is easily transferred into real life situations.

During my two years of various Literature classes, all elective and not even enough to qualify as a minor, I learned to ask myself ‘why’ which in turn allowed me to have a better understanding, not only why others may do what they do, but eventually to turn it internal and ask why I do some of the things I do.  Getting to know myself has been more enlightening than you can imagine.

To be fair, it hasn’t been easy.  I found myself making excuses, both for myself and for those who influenced me early in life.  And many of the truths were hard to absorb.  But I’m very happy to have started down that path of discovery, a path that will likely take me on a lifelong journey.

I challenge you to do the same


An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope (a snippet)

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Placed 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;
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much;
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus’d;
Still by himself, abus’d or disabus’d;
Created half to rise and half to fall;
Great Lord of all things, yet a prey to all,
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d;
The glory, jest and riddle of the world.

Go, wondrous creature! mount where science guides,
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides;
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old time, and regulate the sun;
Go, soar with Plato to th’ empyreal sphere,
To the first good, first perfect, and first fair;
Or tread the mazy round his followers trod,
And quitting sense call imitating God;
As Eastern priests in giddy circles run,
And turn their heads to imitate the sun.
Go, teach Eternal Wisdom how to rule—
Then drop into thyself, and be a fool!

About The Mad Hatter

A little random, oftentimes heady, totally looking for purpose. I'm moved by topics across the board, sometimes focusing on reading classic literature or more recent philosophy; sometimes given to less productive impulses. In order to stay active, I've also just joined the Yahoo Contributor Network.


9 thoughts on “Introspection in America – Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man

  1. Learning to you knowself is vital to life, but so many don’t bother (or worse, think they do) Although I do not possess a psot secondary degree, I feel I am well educated through books. I am still learning things about myself.

    Posted by Darlene | January 22, 2012, 9:03 pm
  2. While Alexander Pope’s literary ability is not something I feel qualified to critique, his philosophy, that we should, “Then know [ourselves, and] presume not God to scan. [and that] The proper study of Mankind is Man.”, is to me a simply abhorrent view.
    If mankind, realizing that we are not alone in the universe, realizing that we have a creator who is vastly more knowledgeable than ourselves, simply focus on studying ourselves, then how can we ever aspire to true greatness. If we do not seek the purpose for which this omniscient creator plied his hand to our own Genesis, how can we ever truly be fulfilled in living out that purpose? Mr. Pope acknowledges the presence of such a creator and yet deems himself worthy of discounting the purposes of that creator. Worse yet, he actually presumes to lead others to share in his folly.
    I know there are people in this world who proclaim themselves to be atheists. They say they don’t believe in a higher power. Simply put, I don’t believe in atheists.

    “19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
    20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” ~Romans 1:19-20

    Having said that… I like your blog-post. Your honesty about who you are and what you’re doing to try and build upon that is refreshing. I’ll be following you on your blog.
    I would also like to invite you to visit my blog, about the struggles of self-publishing my new series of short stories, Misadventures in La Mosquitia. This series begins with my new short story, The Lost Flip Flop: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0071I3JN4. Feel free to visit my author page: http://www.amazon.com/Roger-Engle/e/B0071LIJ5Y/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0, if you wish to know more about me.


    Roger Engle

    Posted by rogerdengle | January 28, 2012, 12:13 pm
    • Roger, thanks very much for the comment. As an early disclaimer, I really don’t presume to know Pope’s motivations and really have never studied him, which I should in order to better grasp his writing. That being said, I’ve always taken this passage as being very religious and sarcastic toward man’s reach for scientific explanation while at the same time becoming increasing indifferent toward religion. “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,” to me has meant that we must live our lives in a manner whereby we are worthy of God’s consideration rather than almost expecting that it is preordained.

      Thanks again Roger and I do plan to keep up with your struggles and successes in self-publishing.

      Posted by The Mad Hatter | January 28, 2012, 4:55 pm
      • Well, I guess the last line of the poem says it all. I was so riled up by the first line that I failed to see the last line. Please excuse my prior foolishness and forgive me for being so distracted. It actually has all the elements of a great piece of poetry and that twist in the last line is the kind of effect I have always tried to achieve in writing. I think I’ll have to reread more of the works of Alexander Pope. I haven’t read much classical poetry since high school and had forgotten how satirical these fellows could be at times.
        I think I’ll stop typing now because I’d rather not be seen as what Mr. Pope might refer to as, “…a dunce with wits.”
        Thanks for the graceful correction. Keep up the good work.

        Posted by rogerdengle | January 29, 2012, 2:37 am
  3. Hey thanks for your take on that. Like I said, I love your blog and am following it. I will have to look at Mr. Pope’s poem again and see if I can see the sarcasm you refer to.

    Posted by rogerdengle | January 28, 2012, 10:28 pm


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