An Essay On Man Know Then Thyself Analysis

Free Essays - An Impression of An Essay on Man

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An Impression of An Essay on Man  

The beautiful poetry of Alexander Pope in "An Essay on Man," has many deep meanings in it, but they are almost always hard to find if you only read through it once. Only by reading it several times and taking it apart, line by line, can you truly understand everything that pope is trying to get you to understand. Separated into ten stanzas, each one stating a clear part of his argument, and all relating to his main purpose of showing mankind that God is superior to all, and everything is for reason.
I have paraphrased the first stanza as follows:

First of all, we can only understand what we already know about God and man. For man, we see only his place on earth, and that isn’t much to reason with or refer to when compared to God’s knowledge. While God knows of infinite amounts of worlds, he is the only God that we know of. God, who can see everything, who can create a universe with many other worlds, who knows how our solar system works, who knows what other suns with planets there are, who knows what types of people live on those planets around every sun, He knows why we are made the way we are. But in this frame of mind, with all of the ways we are connected to God, or ties, strong connections, dependencies and gradations, have you really looked through your soul, or is only part of the truth enough for you?

Is the Great Chain of Being, which everybody agrees on and many people support, something that God planned, or was it created by man? This first stanza is showing mankind that, while we claim to know the way everything works, we really don’t know anything in comparison to God.
The first line in the second epistle, "On the Nature and State of Man With Respect to Himself, as an Individual," is, "Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is Man." This line is saying that we have to know ourselves, we can’t just assume that God will tell us, and that the only way we can know about mankind is to first know about ourselves.

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Each stanza of the first epistle helps lead up to the second epistle. Stanza one is showing the reader his limitations to complete knowledge, and limits what mankind can know. Men can only know what is there for them to learn, which is of mankind, but, as the second epistle points out, we can only have this knowledge of mankind if we truly know ourselves first.

The surface meaning of the poem concerns an exploration about what defines humanity.  Pope uses the rhyme scheme of alternating lines to explore the idea that humans are a work in progress, in between the heavens and hell.  The speaker alternates and vacillates between the idea of human beings being somewhere in between the elements of greatness and failure.  The speaker supports this idea with suggesting that in order to know who or what human beings are, one should study human behavior:  “The proper study of mankind is Man.”  Throughout the poem, the speaker posits human beings in between extremes:  “darkly wise or rudely great,” “In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast,” “He hangs in between; in doubt to act or rest.”  The defining aspect of humanity, according to the speaker, is the “riddle of the world.”  The symbolic meaning of the poem is that human beings are a mass of contradictory behaviors and identities.  Human beings can represent both “ignorance” and “reason,” in who they are and what they do.  The actions of human beings reveal that it is difficult to determine who they are.  The speaker denies an original essence to human beings imparted by God (“presume not God to scan”), but rather by the actions of human beings.  The tone of the poem is analytic and reflective, but its deeper sense of meaning is belied by its “nursery rhyme scheme.”  The theme of the poem is that human actions define human beings.  The poet’s overall intent is to explain the nature of human beings with a mood of pensive thought.  As with most poetry, what one thinks of the poem is dependent on if they believe that human beings define their own identity of if it is imparted within them by other elements.

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