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Satire against reason and mankind Analysis

Author: Poetry of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester Type: Poetry Views: 860

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Were I (who to my cost already am

One of those strange, prodigious creatures, man)

A spirit free to choose, for my own share,

What case of flesh and blood I pleased to wear,

I'd be a dog, a monkey or a bear,

Or anything but that vain animal

Who is so proud of being rational.

The senses are too gross, and he'll contrive

A sixth, to contradict the other five,

And before certain instinct, will prefer

Reason, which fifty times for one does err;

Reason, an ignis fatuus in the mind,

Which, leaving light of nature, sense, behind,

Pathless and dangerous wandering ways it takes

Through error's fenny bogs and thorny brakes;

Whilst the misguided follower climbs with pain

Mountains of whimseys, heaped in his own brain;

Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down

Into doubt's boundless sea, where, like to drown,

Books bear him up a while, and make him try

To swim with bladders of philosophy;

In hopes still to o'ertake th' escaping light,

The vapor dances in his dazzling sight

Till, spent, it leaves him to eternal night.

Then old age and experience, hand in hand,

Lead him to death, and make him understand,

After a search so painful and so long,

That all his life he has been in the wrong.

Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies,

Who was proud, so witty, and so wise.

Pride drew him in, as cheats their bubbles catch,

And made him venture to be made a wretch.

His wisdom did his happiness destroy,

Aiming to know that world he should enjoy.

And wit was his vain, frivolous pretense

Of pleasing others at his own expense,

For wits are treated just like common whores:

First they're enjoyed, and then kicked out of doors.

The pleasure past, a threatening doubt remains

That frights th' enjoyer with succeeding pains.

Women and men of wit are dangerous tools,

And ever fatal to admiring fools:

Pleasure allures, and when the fops escape,

'Tis not that they're belov'd, but fortunate,

And therefore, that they fear at heart, they hate.

But now, methinks, some formal band and beard

Takes me to task. Come on, sir; I'm prepared.

"Then, by your favor, anything that's writ

Against this gibing, jingling knack called wit

Likes me abundantly; but you take care

Upon this point, not to be too severe.

Perhaps my muse were fitter for this part,

For I profess I can be very smart

On wit, which I abhor with all my heart.

I long to lash it in some sharp essay,

But your grand indiscretion bids me stay

And turns my tide of ink another way.

"What rage ferments in your degenerate mind

To make you rail at reason and mankind?

Blest, glorious man! to whom alone kind heaven

An everlasting soul has freely given,

Whom his great Maker took such care to make

That from himself he did the image take

And this fair frame in shining reason dressed

To dignify his nature above beast;

Reason, by whose aspiring influence

We take a flight beyond material sense

Dive into mysteries, then soaring pierce

The flaming limits of the universe,

Search heaven and hell, find out what's acted there,

And give the world true grounds of hope and fear."

Hold, mighty man, I cry, all this we know

From the pathetic pen of Ingelo,

From Patrick's Pilgrim, Sibbes' soliloquies,

And 'tis this very reason I despise:

This supernatural gift, that makes a mite

Think he's the image of the infinite,

Comparing his short life, void of all rest,

To the eternal and the ever blest;

This busy, puzzling stirrer-up of doubt

That frames deep mysteries, then finds 'em out,

Filling with frantic crowds of thinking fools

Those reverend bedlams, colleges and schools;

Borne on whose wings, each heavy sot can pierce

The limits of the boundless universe;

So charming ointments make an old witch fly

And bear a crippled carcass through the sky.

'Tis this exalted power, whose business lies

In nonsense and impossibilities,

This made a whimsical philosopher

Before the spacious world, his tub prefer,

And we have modern cloisterd coxcombs who

Retire to think, 'cause they have nought to do.

But thoughts are given for action's government;

Where action ceases, thought's impertinent.

Our sphere of action is life's happiness,

And he who thinks beyond, thinks like an ass.

Thus, whilst against false reasoning I inveigh,

I own right reason, which I would obey:

That reason which distinguishes by sense

And gives us rules of good and ill from thence,

That bounds desires with a reforming will

To keep 'em more in vigour, not to kill.

Your reason hinders, mine helps to enjoy,

Renewing appetites yours would destroy.

My reason is my friend, yours is a cheat;

Hunger calls out, my reason bids me eat;

Perversely, yours your appetite does mock:

This asks for food, that answers, 'What's o'clock?'

This plain distinction, sir, your doubt secures:

'Tis not true reason I despise, but yours.

Thus I think reason righted, bur for man,

I'll ne'er recant; defend him if you can.

For all his pride and his philosophy,

'Tis evident beasts are, in their degree,

As wise at least, and better far than he.

Those creatures are the wisest who attain,

By surest means, the ends at which they aim.

If therefore Jowler finds and kills his hares

Better than Meres supplies committee chairs,

Though one's a statesman, th' other but a hound,

Jowler, in justice, would be wiser found.

You see how far man's wisdom here extends;

Look next if human nature makes amends:

Whose principles most generous are, and just,

And to whose morals you would sooner trust.

Be judge yourself, I'll bring it to the test:

Which is the basest creature, man or beast?

Birds feed on birds, beasts on each other prey,

But savage man alone does man betray.

Pressed by necessity, they kill for food;

Man undoes man to do himself no good.

With teeth and claws by nature armed, they hunt

Nature's allowance, to supply their want.

But man, with smiles, embraces, friendship, praise,

Inhumanly his fellow's life betrays;

With voluntary pains works his distress,

Not through necessity, but wantonness.

For hunger or for love they fight or tear,

Whilst wretched man is still in arms for fear.

For fear he arms, and is of arms afraid,

By fear to fear successively betrayed;

Base fear, the source whence his best passions came:

His boasted honor, and his dear-bought fame;

That lust of power, to which he's a slave,

And for the which alone he dares be brave;

To which his various projects are designed;

Which makes him generous, affable, and kind;

For which he takes such pains to be thought wise,

And screws his actions in a forced disguise,

Leading a tedious life in misery

Under laborious, mean hypocrisy.

Look to the bottom of his vast design,

Wherein man's wisdom, power, and glory join:

The good he acts, the ill he does endure,

'Tis all from fear, to make himself secure.

Merely for safety, after fame we thirst,

For all men would be cowards if they durst.

And honesty's against all common sense:

Men must be knaves, 'tis in their own defence.

Mankind's dishonest, if you think it fair

Amongst known cheats to play upon the square,

You'll be undone.

Nor can weak truth your reputation save:

The knaves will all agree to call you knave.

Wronged shall he live, insulted o'er, oppressed,

Who dares be less a villain than the rest.

Thus, sir, you see what human nature craves:

Most men are cowards, all men should be knaves.

The difference lies, as far as I can see,

Not in the thing itself, but the degree,

And all the subject matter of debate is only:

Who's a knave of the first rate?

All this with indignation have I hurled

At the pretending part of the proud world,

Who, swollen with selfish vanity, devise

False freedoms, holy cheats, and formal lies

Over their fellow slaves to tyrannize.

But if in Court so just a man there be

(In Court a just man, yet unknown to me)

Who does his needful flattery direct,

Not to oppress and ruin, but protect

(Since flattery, which way soever laid,

Is still a tax on that unhappy trade);

If so upright a statesman you can find,

Whose passions bend to his unbiased mind,

Who does his arts and policies apply

To raise his country, not his family,

Nor, whilst his pride owned avarice withstands,

Receives close bribes through friends' corrupted hands?

Is there a churchman who on God relies;

Whose life, his faith and doctrine justifies?

Not one blown up with vain prelatic pride,

Who, for reproof of sins, does man deride;

Whose envious heart makes preaching a pretense,

With his obstreperous, saucy eloquence,

To chide at kings, and rail at men of sense;

None of that sensual tribe whose talents lie

In avarice, pride, sloth, and gluttony;

Who hunt good livings, but abhor good lives;

Whose lust exalted to that height arrives

They act adultery with their own wives,

And ere a score of years completed be,

Can from the lofty pulput proudly see

Half a large parish their own progeny;

Nor doting bishop who would be adored

For domineering at the council board,

A greater fop in business at fourscore,

Fonder of serious toys, affected more,

Than the gay, glittering fool at twenty proves

With all his noise, his tawdry clothes, and loves;

But a meek, humble man of honest sense,

Who, preaching peace, does practice continence;

Whose pious life's a proof he does believe

Mysterious truths, which no man can conceive.

If upon the earth there dwell such God-like men,

I'll here recant my paradox to them,

Adore those shrines of virtue, homage pay,

And, with the rabble world, their laws obey.

If such there be, yet grant me this at least:

Man differs more from man, than man from beast.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

.: :.

When you\'re in not good state and have got no money to move out from that, you will require to take the mortgage loans. Because it would help you unquestionably. I get short term loan every time I need and feel fine just because of this.

| Posted on 2012-09-27 | by a guest

.: :.

Judging and hating on a fellow man for anything is what Wilmot was trying to get people to steer away from. You are Mankind at its finest sir. Picking apart others without any hesitation. Pity

| Posted on 2011-10-02 | by a guest

.: :.

This poem is a Horatian sense of satire, as if is humorizing everyone in order for change to happen.
Wilmot asserts in the first few lines that he is a human, but would prefer to be any other kind of animal. This adds credibility to his thesis, and insists that he is not above his audience. The use of the animals (dog, monkey, bear) made a big statement, as they are all very close to humans.
In the next several lines, Wilmot uses an extended metaphor in order to portray reason (in the age of reason) as being incredibly foolish (\"Ignis Fatuus\"). This sense of reason will lead humans astray, as the ultimate goal of life is suppossed to be happiness. Yet, by following reason and the pursuit of knowledge, one will find at the end of their life that it was all wrong and whimsical. It will lead them astray because the pursuit of knowlege and the employment of reason is painful and denies happiness. He argues that instead of analyzing life, we should just enjoy it in a carpe diem manner.
When the speaker is confronted by the \"Beard\" (a priest), he agrees with most of what the Beard was proclaiming. However, he declares that we are deluded by this sense of reason as it gives us reason to be arrogant and pompous. He uses the example of Universities: they are schools of learning that teach us how to break down arguments and fight what is being taught. Wilmot than goes on to explain (to help defend his argument against the Beard) the difference between Right reason and Wrong reason. Wrong reason was the reason listed above as it denies instinctiveness. However, the Right reason can be related to common sense (the metaphor on Hunger is used to exemplify this).
Finally, we see Wilmot\'s argument against \"reasonable\" humans in their deceit and hypocrtical ways. The portrayal of wild animals is to highlight the comparison between man and beast. Here, it is almost to emphasize how we are even lower than beasts through our arts of manipulation, deceit, destruction and hurt that we employ against each other. Man will kill for greediness and with smiles and flattery. We kill (literally and figuratively) each other because we are scared and insecure rather than for survival (like the beast does in the wilderness). Essentially, we kill each other wastefully, and thus hypocritically.
Wilmot ends by saying that if the ideal man that can be 100% honest about who he/she is, what their intentions are, uses their common sense to decipher what is right and wrong, and acts as they should, he will retract all that he states above. However, the average man, Wilmot declares, is not this way and thus is more like beast than the ideal man that we\'d like to believe we are.

| Posted on 2010-11-24 | by a guest

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I very much hope that it isn\'t you who posts this \'criqique\'.
Mankind at its finest.

| Posted on 2010-10-27 | by a guest

.: :.

I am very sad to see that there are no criqiques for this poem yet. I hope someone will post a thorough criqique soon!

| Posted on 2010-09-17 | by a guest

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