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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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