He presents a
number of sapiential reflections that if judged systematically, contradict
each other, but if seen as a series of limited claims from humanity's
partial perspective, each serve to deliver a truth in certain situations.
The poem, also like the wisdom tradition, moves back and forth between
reflections that inspire awe, that reflect on order, and that decry
Invitation to Lord Bolingbroke
Pope's invocation to Henry St. John invokes a world of order and chaos, of
mystery and certainty, one that requires a modicum of c'est
la vie. He invokes John Mitlon's famous argument for Paradise Lost: "That to the highth
of this great Argument/ I may assert Eternal Providence,/
And justifie the
wayes of God to men." But he does so by substituting the early modern
legal term "vindicate" (to show that the evidence is not
sufficient to convict) for the term "justify" (to clear of all
charges and find innocent).
Human beings can
only understanding their own sphere of life, while God has the full
perspective of the organization and plan of the universe.
It is presumptuous of human beings to challenge the state of their
existence since they are foolish compared to the eternal Wisdom of God's
design. It is better to claim that humans are as perfect as they should
be; this is the path of blessing.
is foolish pride to judge God as if we had God's understanding. To do so
is to leave our place in the chain of being and violate God's order of
the question of natural and moral evil, comparing the disasters of plague
and earthquake with the evil deeds of dictators and corrupt popes. Again,
we are charged to submit to God's design and wisdom.
gives an awe-inspiring description of the great chain of being before
again decrying those who would seek to break this order by leaving their
place in the chain.
of Epistle I's explorations, encouraging a wise attitude and wise living
from birth to death by trusting in the hidden design of God in a seemingly
with a detailed and paradoxical reflection on the nature of humanity as
both great and poor, Pope cautions against not letting the successes of
natural science (as exemplified by Isaac Newton) lead to arrogant claims
that outstrip human limitations in understanding. Instead, science should
be pursued with a measure of humility.
reflects on both the nature of vice becoming acceptable and the lack of
human consensus on assessing the good.
person is a mixture of virtue and vice and is motivated often by
self-love. No one really wants to change stations with another for each
station in life has its own strange hope and comfort. The human state if
one of hope and vanity, self-love and folly, all ordered finally by God's
hymn on the great chain of being that praises God's design as one that is
ultimately benevolent in its mutual service and connectedness. Pope
stresses that the universe is not just for human happiness, but that each
species receives some consideration and pleasure, though paradoxically
humans also have the burden of being aware of death.
desire above all happiness, yet fixing the location happiness is almost
principle of general laws does not make exceptions for particular
suffering, such as the passing on of STDs from father to son or volcanic
eruptions, a friend's asthma, or a criminal's demise.
world does not content us, and those truly good are impossible to
identify. Yet virtue is the purpose of life, even if it is not rewarded
consistently by physical prosperity, health, and power. Humans cannot know
why God gives what he does. The purpose of humanity is finally love of God
and neighbor, ground in hope and faith.
concludes the poem by recommending the flexibility of response that his
friend has modeled. He wonders if the poem will outlast political rulers
and others will reflect on its adages, summed up in the last five lines.