We are “Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state” . . .

Alexander Pope by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1719 © Private Collection, via the British Library

By JoeAm

One of my sources, those spread across the globe like a spider’s web, each node a listening post, today entrusted me with the wisdom of Alexander Pope, which I shall reproduce in a moment.

Do you read poetry? Not many do, I think. Anyone who reads poetry has undoubtedly tried, and maybe succeeded, at penning his own rhythms of insight. Like Popoy, or even me. I once penned a 20 page piece, quite rich with humor and meaning, that started with the village priest running off with the farmer’s daughter. My mother turned quite stern when reading it and I recognized immediately that perhaps I should have been more circumspect before allowing her that opportunity.

I present the following particular bit of verse for the people who attach teary eyed emoticons to their reactions, for sadness is not an emotion we should allow to attach to the political acts of man. It would be better to attach acts that correct the errors. Perhaps they will find comfort in recognizing that we are not alone, this has been done before. We are simply actors on a grand stage, and someone has just tossed us an ad-lib line.

Now, make no mistake, this bit of verse is no easy read. It requires patience and a little imaginative interpretation of olde Englishe. I take it one line at a time, for each line is a gem of insight, on its own, but requires those before and after for richer context.

Plac’d 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

Essay on Man, Alexander Pope.

 

Comments
56 Responses to “We are “Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state” . . .”
  1. NHerrera says:

    Thanks Joe for this — poetry, a balm for our difficult times, considering, as you noted, that what we are experiencing in politics is nothing new. I am still digesting this part of Alexander Pope’s Essay of Man, Epistle II.

    • Yes, occasionally we need to remind ourselves that people are not ganging up on us, it is the nature of man to be so confused, ignorant, or ill-intended.

      ps, nice statistics!

      • NHerrera says:

        I read the quoted verse several times and, from one who is not at all a writer of poetry, I believe translating that to prose would lose its impact and “turn of phrase” beauty. Of course, one beautiful aspect is the varied interpretation details one gives to the reading.

        Hooray for poets!

  2. chemrock says:

    Just as Pope’s bottom line conlusion in his Essay on Man is men are learned fools, so too Joe views Philippines a land of happy fools.

    Pope says with all philosophical and scientific knowledge, man will still never know God’s designs. So perhaps there is a reason for Philippines to fall deeper into the dark abyss that beckons in this election.

    I too do not know God’s designs. But I know God has shown us the path for man to thread. If Filipinos chose to deviate and uphold a murderous regime and vote in candidates of ill repute, as the latest surveys seem to indicate, then woe unto the people.

    • As I read up on Pope, after receiving a copy of the poem, I found myself rather liking the guy. Similarly driven, similarly striving to figure out the reasons, similarly finding satire as a good way to express criticisms.

  3. karlgarcia says:

    I reckon and methinks I need to brush up on me oldé enhilshé.
    I am now reading some Mighty Thor comics.

    J/k

    “I am just updating a line to our times of guttery septic discourse.

    A Being darkly wise, and rudely great:
    With too much knowledge for the Septic side….”

    • Septic is in a tank, or sceptic as in wondering what the hell is going on? haha

      • NHerrera says:

        Meaning sceptic is the ‘Old English’ of skeptic? I wonder what the ‘Old English’ is of septic? Septik? 🙂

        [I know, I know. Corny it is.]

      • sonny says:

        O, sh-t! It’s the tail end of 20 Mar 2019, I’m 75.33 yrs old and I find out the difference between prose & poetry! I’m royally screwed. 😦 Heck, I also find out what “shill” means. C’est la vie, you win some, you lose some. Thanks, Joe, Mr Pope & TSoH! Hello, poetry …

        • Ahahahaha, no, you are now saved!!!

          • sonny says:

            This is why I have to check on what TSoH is checking on. 🙂 (Do call me Doutreval, Joe)

            • Sonny, your comment reminds me of one of my favorite writers who writes what is termed “prose poetry”. I think I have mentioned him here, long ago. He just goes to show that we ought not let our writing be defined by form, but by meaning:

              Football
              BY LOUIS JENKINS

              I take the snap from the center, fake to the right, fade back…
              I’ve got protection. I’ve got a receiver open downfield…
              What the hell is this? This isn’t a football, it’s a shoe, a man’s
              brown leather oxford. A cousin to a football maybe, the same
              skin, but not the same, a thing made for the earth, not the air.
              I realize that this is a world where anything is possible and I
              understand, also, that one often has to make do with what one
              has. I have eaten pancakes, for instance, with that clear corn
              syrup on them because there was no maple syrup and they
              weren’t very good. Well, anyway, this is different. (My man
              downfield is waving his arms.) One has certain responsibilities,
              one has to make choices. This isn’t right and I’m not going
              to throw it.

        • edgar lores says:

          *******
          Sonny, don’t despair.

          This stuff is too deep for me.
          *****

  4. karlgarcia says:

    Popoy
    Anytime now.
    Do your Prose Poetry obra maestra.

    • popoy says:

      There is Pope Alexander I to Pope Alexander VI
      Don’t ask me how they live and ruled
      There is also Alexander Pope probably
      A Cockney? bloke born and died in the months of May
      For the here and now There is also Pope Oy
      born and probably will die also in the month of May
      still a wannabe writing essays to become poetry.
      Pope Oy now enticed by JoeAm to interpret
      Alex Pope the Essayist Poet.

      Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,

      Palawan if connected to Mindoro will be an
      isthmus worthy of a New Zealand. Tayabas Isthmus
      connects parts of Luzon to the Bicol peninsula of
      the Philippines of middle earth.

      A Being darkly wise, and rudely great:

      It is a person now man or woman who is questionably,
      sinisterly wise and offensively excessively rude:

      With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,

      Knowing abrasively lots of things on the cynical side

      With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,

      Proud of being unfeeling, unconcerned

      He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
      He vacillates, to do or not do, or just relax

      In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
      Not even sure he is Almighty, or man eater

      In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
      Not sure thinking what’s for his body

      Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
      To live and die only to be wrong

      Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
      Not knowing why living and dying

      Whether he thinks too little, or too much;
      Even by thinking so few or so many

      Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus’d;
      A problem of clash between mind and emotion

      Still by himself, abus’d or disabus’d;
      Alone exploited or assisted

      Created half to rise and half to fall;
      Made halfway to climb or crash down

      Great Lord of all things, yet a prey to all,
      Boss of all issues but a punching bag

      Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d;
      Decider of what is right yet wrong most times

      The glory, jest and riddle of the world
      Such falsity, corny joke, and puzzle of the world
      Essay on Man, Alexander Pope.
      —————

      • popoy says:

        Who are these men or women leaders –PAST and PRESENT– of the most or lest powerful countries of the world who fit Alex Pope’s essay poetry?

        It is a person long ago or now man or woman
        who is questionably, sinisterly wise and
        offensively excessively rude:

        Knowing abrasively lots of things on the cynical side
        Proud of being unfeeling, unconcerned
        He vacillates, to do or not do, or just relax

        Not even sure he is Almighty, or man eater
        Not sure thinking what’s good for his body
        To live and die only to be wrong

        Not knowing why living and dying
        Even by thinking so few or so many
        There’s a problem of clash and conflict

        between mind and emotion
        Alone exploited or assisted
        Made halfway to climb or crash down

        Boss of all issues but a punching bag
        Decider of what is right yet wrong most times
        Such abomination, human falsity, corny joke,
        and puzzle of the world .

        –Popoy’s interpretation of . . .
        Essay on Man, Alexander Pope.

        THE QUESTION is who in History or the present time could be the
        Guys and dolls being alluded by Sandy Pope or Pope Oy?

        THERE YOU GO KARL.

      • edgar lores says:

        *******
        Clap, clap, clap!
        *****

      • Very nice, Popoy, Pope eye, seeing through

      • chemrock says:

        Poor Alexander. Does he know Duterte hates Popes?. Matters not first or last in name.

        • popoy says:

          Even across long history,
          lahat may bayad.
          Patay na si Alex nangungulekta pa.
          O Captain my Captain
          our fearful trip is done;
          please understand
          the master of my fate,
          the captain of my soul.

          Poor Alexander–feels like–is
          What a sentence of stainless irony;
          his poetry like time traveler to the future,
          castigated and mocked misleaders
          of their people.

          Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios paid homage
          to all those who fell
          and will fall in the night.
          Morir is descansar, but life
          Is most precious loan of patriots
          To be paid in full by tyrants
          Across mankind’s history.

          Honor and lack of it is not
          like assumptions in economics
          because by living life with honor
          there is neither law of supply and demand
          nor affected by rise and fall of inflation
          and eche bucheche of diminishing returns.

          Alex P might be saying there are
          Credit and Debit, saints and scalawags,
          thieves and honorable men but, But
          (it’s I or is it It’s me not you Chemrock)
          it’s really too much putting stretch to this spin

          when this fart is what perhaps
          only one among many interpretation
          on what Alex Pope was trying
          to slay este essay with his poem.

  5. Sup says:

    i did stop reading after the word Poe…. 🙂

  6. edgar lores says:

    *******
    This is my paraphrase with apologies to Pope, NHerrera, and Popoy.

    Between the continents of Birth and Death, in the isthmus of Life,
    Lives a Creature who can be stupidly wise and foolishly great.

    He knows too much to be faithless
    And is too much a square to be cool

    He does not know whether to do or just be
    He does not know whether he is God or Beast

    He does not know whether to cultivate his mind or his body
    He is born to die and to think illogically

    His reasoning is full of fallacies
    Whether he thinks too little or too much

    His mind and his heart are confused
    At times enslaved, at other times free

    He was born half to fly and half to fall
    The Master of all things, yet a Slave to all

    He alone judges what is true… yet misjudges all the time
    He is a hero and a joke… and the mystery of the world

    ***

    I am intrigued by the question of whether a man is God or Beast — or just plain vanilla.

    In the Philippine context:

    o Is he a god like Robredo or a beast like Duterte?
    o Is she a goddess like Leni or a beastess like Gloria?

    o Is he a beastly god like Trillanes or a godly beast like Heydarian?+
    o Is she a beastly goddess like Catriona++ or a godly beastess like Acosta?+++

    + Too soon?
    ++ Isn’t that lava-walk just beastly?
    +++ Aren’t her histrionics Oscar worthy?
    *****

  7. karlgarcia says:

    @IBRS,
    Thanks for sharing the tweets of Mark Remorin.

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