Order of "An Essay on Man" vs. Order of "Nocturnal Reverie"

Alexander Pope author of "An Essay on Man" and Anne Finch author of "Nocturnal Reverie" speak of visions of order obtained through very different methods. Each uses opposite images to demonstrate how order is obtained. Both take a different view as to where humans fit within the order of God’s plan. Each poem addresses the existence of order. Pope and Finch create images of light and darkness, respectively, to illustrate how order can be achieved, they differ in the exact placement of humans and nature within God’s hierarchy and finally they differ in the beliefs as to whether order exists already or not on Earth.

Pope uses images of light to signify what must be done to reach an understanding of how to obtain a sense of order out of life. One of the most frequent signposts we find in his poem "An Essay on Man" lies within passages indicating enlightenment. Pope opens with the use of the greeting, "Awake, my St. John,…" (1), to create an image of morning or new light shed upon the day. Pope’s beckoning signifies that a new light will be shed upon his subject, the confusion of their states of being. Angels, "heav’nly bodies shine" (5), are Pope’s next representation of knowledge through light. They are referred to in comparison to man, and they shed the light on their vices. For example, "Heav’n from all creatures hides the book of fate,/ All but the page prescribed, their present state;/ From brutes what men, from men what spirits know:/ Or who could suffer being here below?/ The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed today,/ Had he thy reason, would he skip and play?" (77-9), Angels by comparison to men is structured over the listing of the vices, hence building an image of the superiority of the angels and the light that they may shed on men. "An Essay on Man" is a statement of where man lies in the hierarchy of God’s plan. By attempting to explain what can not be corrected in man Pope points out that man exists where he does to maintain the balance of the order.

Conversely there are the images of darkness that are representative of understanding in the poem "Nocturnal Reverie" by Anne Finch. In her poem, Finch describes nature with detail although it is blanketed in the darkness of night. Immediately she identifies that there is vision without light. "In such a night, when passing clouds give place,/ Or thinly veil the heavens’ mysterious face;" (7-8) Clouds are notorious for their ability to cover the light of the sun and, more importantly in this case, eliminate the illumination of the moon. Yet Finch states that the clouds "give place" as well as only "veil" heaven. In this case, the veil, like that of a bride, accents the mystery and beauty of that which it crowns. With the appearance of light in the break of day, images of order and peace are changed to images of chaos. Daybreak is met with the "scattered glow-worms" (17), "falling waters" (24), and the vision of "some ancient fabric, awful in repose" (26). All of which indicate chaos with the adjectives "scattered", "falling", "ancient" and "awful". Light is communicated through the nouns, for example "glow-worms" and "water" as a transmitter of light. Finally comes the admission of what light brings, "Till’ morning breaks, and all’s confused again;/ Our cares, our toils, our clamors are renewed,/ Or pleasures seldom reached again pursued." (48-50) In other words, without light there is order and reason, but with light mankind takes control and chaos dominates over reason.

Pope maintains that humans are superior to nature through his hierarchy of beings in God’s plan. Pope states his impression of God’s hierarchy as "…Natures ethereal, human, angel, Man,/ Beast, bird, fish, insect!" (238-239). Nature is portrayed as a necessary link in the chain, but a tool for all that precedes it. First Pope utilizes the imagery of a hunt as a means to establish nature’s lowly position relative to the human level. The hunt is aimed at nature’s folly, "Eye nature’s walks, shoot folly as it flies,/ And catch the manners living as they rise;" (13-14) Pope is embodying "folly" in a hunted bird as well as identifying nature as the most likely teacher by example of what not to do. Pope deals another blow to nature with his persuasion to disregard science, the study and analysis of nature, and his encouragement of the education of the senses. Analysis is avoided to reveal what is intricate and unique to other living systems. It is the human race that must be cast in the light because nature has already assumed its role in the order below humans.

On the other hand, Finch depicts nature as a wise being, calm, peaceful, and satisfied with its station. However nature views itself above the human race. While humanity still holds the power over nature, the ability to reason that nature possesses is superior. In fact humanity displays a total lack of reason in Finch’s poem. Nature’s superiority of reason is suggested in the following line, "Or from some tree, famed for the owl’s delight,/ She, hollowing clear, directs the wanderer right:" ("Nocturnal" 5-6). Nature is depicted as the directing beacon to the human wanderer. With this Finch intimates the human lack of direction represented by the wanderer. An even more overt statement of the support of this idea is the following, "Their short-lived jubilee the creatures keep,/ Which but endures, whilst tyrant-man does sleep;" ("Nocturnal" 37-38). A tyrant lacks all reason, greed and self-satisfaction to which all must be subjected motivate him, but while he sleeps nature enjoys a temporary world of reason and order. In this temporary world all has its place and "Till the free soul to a compos’dness charmed,/ Finding the elements of rage disarmed,/ O’er all below a solemn quiet grown,/ Joys in th’ inferior world, and thinks it like her own:" ("Nocturnal" 43-46) With peace of mind the soul looses all its inhibitions and rage no longer has a place within the body. Solitude and silence indicate ease with order of spiritual self. Reason is essential to the order of "Nocturnal Reverie" and it is within nature that reason is found.

Pope sees a world of chaos as he writes his plan for the achievement of his vision of order. He attempts to describe how to find the peace that the acceptance of one’s limitations may bring. His proposal for accomplishing such a feat is the adoption of the Lockean ideal of gaining knowledge through the senses rather than science. ("An Essay Concerning" 2631) Pope is intent upon encouraging mankind to observe the behaviors of nature and understand that it is those certain behaviors that separate man from beast. With this new level of understanding man can assume his place in the hierarchy with satisfaction rather than confusion as to why all the abilities of nature cannot be his.

Cease then, nor ORDER imperfection name:

Our proper bliss depends on what we blame.

Know thy own point: This kind, this due degree

Of blindness, weakness, Heav’n bestows on thee.

Submit-In this, or any other sphere,

Secure to be as blest thou canst bear:

Safe in the hand of one disposing Pow’r,

Or in the natal, or the mortal hour ("An Essay on Man 281-288).

Finch adopts a different ideal in her "Nocturnal Reverie". She uses the contrast of a world fist depicted at night in order, but helpless to the chaos that will come with the break of day. Darkness allows for reflection. Reflections upon the images that have already been imprinted upon the mind provide for an understanding of their meaning. No longer does an object remain inanimate; it takes an active role in the part of the whole that nature represents. "When freshened grass now bears itself upright,/ And makes cool banks to pleasing rest invite,/ Whence springs the woodbind, and the bramble-rose,/ And where the sleepy cowslip sheltered grows;" (13-14). Acceptance of these roles and actions reveals an understanding of how all coexist in the make-up of the whole. Milton proposed that this level of understanding was not possible but reflection allows for the exploration of the impossible. "When a sedate content the spirit feels,/ And no fierce light disturbs whilst it reveals;/ But silent musings urge the mind to seek/ Something, too high for syllables to speak;" (39-42). Through reflection the mind can "seek" to obtain what is claimed to be obtainable in Milton’s Paradise Lost.

In conclusion, Anne Finch and Alexander Pope both propose Lockean methods of gaining understanding of order, but each method lies at the opposite end of the spectrum. Finch supports the method of reflection while Pope advocates sensory perception. Due to the opposites in methods, the images used to depict each process exist as opposites as well, darkness and light. Both authors acknowledge the presence of nature as necessary, but in different ways. Finch sees nature as the epitome of order while Pope sees nature as a stepping stone to obtaining human order. Finally, the two differ in whether order is or is not a presence on Earth. Finch believes that order exists where solitude can be found while Pope maintains that order can not be achieved until impossible realizations of limitations are made.