Anne Finchs "A Nocturnal Reverie" and Alexander Popes "An Essay on Man" are two poems that use similar techniques to present opposing views on the propriety of mans ambitious nature. Both poems rely heavily on scenes from nature to support their views, and metaphors made of inconsistent registers to clarify and accentuate their claims. Finch creates a metaphor where the events of the day signify the distractions from, and night as the revelator of, the true beauties in life. She clarifies her claim that mans ambitious nature is the main disturber of these beauties by linking mans pains to his pursuits for pleasure; an idea contrary to the philosophy of a capitalist society. Rather than attack disruption as Finch does, Pope uses catastrophes that occur naturally to prove disorder is actually order. He clarifies that this philosophy applies directly all of mans burdens by linking mans afflictions with ideas of destiny and fortune. In the end, analysis of the two poems reveals that the same tools of logic and persuasion can prove opposing views.
In "A Nocturnal Reverie", Anne Finch uses images of night and day to create a metaphor describing the busy world of commerce and the quiet paradise of which she dreams. She writes:
In such a night when every louder wind
Is to its distant cavern confined;
And only gentle Zephyr fans his wings,
And Lonely Philomel, still waking, sings; (1-4)
In such a night, when passing clouds give place,
Or thinly veil the heavens mysterious face;
When in some river, overhung with green,
The waving moon and trembling leaves are seen; (7-10)
Finchs uses the infringing nature of the day to symbolize and attack capitalist ambitions. The two images from daytime are the heavens (8) and the wind (1). The nature of these two ideas, as they are described in the poem, combined with the social climate of the eighteenth century lead us to believe the metaphor expresses some of Finchs displeasure for the commercial world. Both the heavens and the winds are referred to in the plural sense suggesting they work in groups. Also, they are described with an aggressive nature. In line one, the wind is described as loud, and the inherent meaning of the word "heaven" suggests an object that is massive and encompassing. When night comes, neither the winds nor the heavens leave out of their own will and choice. The winds have to be confined to a cavern (2), and the heavens dont actually even leave; they are covered up. In short, we have two objects that are loud, intrusive, and destroy Finchs paradise. Given the economic expansion of the eighteenth century and the trend of eighteenth-century writers to attack capitalism, it is easy to understand the nature of the winds and the heavens as a reflection on society. This analysis is strengthened when man is introduced into the metaphor (this idea will be discussed at greater length in the fourth paragraph).
Through Finchs description of the night, we can understand her plea to slow down and enjoy our surroundings. Having proven the natures of the day as loud and large, the images of the night will prove to be exactly the opposite, namely small, quiet, and easily unnoticed. They will even require specific attention to even be noticed. In place of the confined winds, the Zephyr emerges (3). Whereas the winds were described as loud, the Zephyr is described as gentle, and only in the singular sense; likewise with the Philomel (4). To someone going about their day, a bunch of loud winds would be hard to ignore. The song of a single waking bird, on the other hand, could only be heard if that someone stops all of their thoughts and listens. A single gentle gust of wind could also go unnoticed without close attention to it. Finch mentions "trembling leaves" (10), but makes no reference to the large tree that it is attached to. Trembling leaves surely exist in the daytime as well, but Finch only mentions them in association with the night. Interestingly, each aspect of night that makes it a paradise also exists in the daytime. It is only that the large winds and bright sky make them hard to notice. In a sense, anyone, no matter what time you go to sleep, can enjoy this paradise if youre willing to pat attention to it. In other words, paradise is only a paradise when our minds are quiet enough to enjoy it. By combining these observations with the previous argument that "A Nocturnal Reverie" is a criticism on the fast-paced world of capitalism, we can understand the images of the night as a plea to slow down and pay attention to the wonderful world around us.
Creative imagery is not the only tool Finch uses in composing her arguments. As the poem progresses, she relies on using metaphors that consist of inconsistent registers to clarify that the disruption of her paradise is the fault of man:
Their short lived jubilee the creatures keep,
Which but endures, whilst tyrant-man does sleep;
When a sedate content the spirit feels,
And no fierce light disturbs, whilst it reveals;
But silent musing urge the mind to seek
Something, too high for syllables to speak.
Till the free soul to a composedness charmed,
Finding the elements disarmed, (37-44)
In such a night let me abroad remain,
Till morning breaks, and alls confused again;
Our cares, our toils, our clamors are renewed,
Or pleasures, seldom reached, again pursued. (47-50)
In this argument, "inconsistent registers" refers to words that are not normally used together. For example, in the capitalistic society of eighteenth-century England, "money" and "happiness" would be two ideas commonly connected, and therefore be of consistent registers. There are several pleasures that Finch says can be found in the nighttime paradise: Jubilee (37), contentment (39), pursuit of something too valuable for words to describe (41-42), and composure (43). To relate these pleasures to a consistent register, or a register considered consistent to Finchs contemporaries, would be to relate them to ideas such as "wealth" or "prestige". For, who has greater cause to engage in "jubilee" than a man who is wealthy? Or who would display more contentment and composure that a man well respected by his colleagues. More specifically, each of the said pleasures is usually the result of human effort or achievement, and so, society generally spends a great deal of energy and time in order to experience them. Contrary to traditional thought, Finch decides to link these pleasures not to words of activity but to words of inactivity such as "sleep" (38), "sedate" (39), "silent musing" (41), and "disarmed" (44). Use of such inconsistent registry explicitly attacks the ineffectiveness of societys capitalist pursuits. Furthermore, ideas such as worry, toil, and failure (see lines 49-50) are the very pains the business man hopes his earnings will erase, yet Finch says these pains are a direct result of "pleasure...pursued" (50). In all, Finchs use of inconsistent registers is the final and strongest punch in her attack on societys capitalist ambitions.
Like Finch, Alexander Pope in "An Essay on Man", relies heavily on images from nature to substantiate his views on mans ambitious nature. While Finch glorified the peaceable images of the night, Popes description of nature proves mans destructive ambitions should also be glorified:
But errs not Nature from this gracious end
From burning suns when livid deaths descend,
When earthquakes swallow, or when tempests sweep
Towns to one grave, whole nations to the deep?
"No" (tis replied) "the first Almighty cause
Acts not by partial, but genral laws; (141-146)
If plagues or earthquakes break not Heavens design,
Why then a Borgia, or a Catiline?
Who knows but he, whose hand the lightning forms,
Who heaves old ocean, and who wings the storms,
Pours fierce ambition in a Caesars mind,
Or turns young Ammon loose to scourge mankind? (155-160)
In this section of "Essay on Man", Pope combines two forms of nature: Heavenly nature and earthly nature. "Almighty cause" (145) and "Heavens design" (155) suggest order both in their connection to God because of the words "cause" and "design". "Cause" and "design" suggest that some purpose exists, or at least that planning occurred before action was taken. The heavenly references naturally suggest that those plans were perfect and good. These concepts of Godly purpose are directly tied to forms of earthly nature, all of which seem without design. "Earthquakes" (143) and "tempests" (143) appear to occur randomly killing both the good and the evil, destroying the new and the old. They tear things up, are difficult to predict, and unfairly target certain regions of the world. Plagues are likewise. Pope mentions four persons. All of which are famous for their conquering and murdering spirits. They, like the earthquakes and storms, killed randomly and by the thousands, yet they are all tied together under "Heavens design". Typically, the ideas of destruction and God a kept separate because one symbolizes death and the other symbolizes perfection and purpose. By discussing the two opposing ideas as one whole system, mans destructive side is seen as natural and good.
To clarify that the philosophy that bad is actually good applies to all of mankinds afflictions, Pope uses metaphors that link mans burdens with blessings:
Know thy own point: this kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, Heaven bestows on thee. (283-284)
Blindness and weakness are usually considered as abnormal defects. To acquire them, something has to have gone wrong in the body. Almost without exception, they hinder mans ability to achieve. Often, they are considered a curse from God. Yet if something is bestowed from heaven, as explained in the proceeding paragraph, it carries a sense of purpose. "Bestows" is associated with generosity and so the gift is anticipated to be a good one. Similar to the process discussed in the proceeding paragraph, links the two opposing ideas of good and bad and presents them under one theme heavenly goodness. Pope was able to use nature to prove that disorder is natural, and through inconsistent registers he links the same philosophy to individual afflictions.
Alexander Pope and Anne Finchs views on the propriety of ambition and disorder vary greatly, yet their similar use of nature and metaphors prove any one question can have a variety of well thought out answers. Similar connections can be drawn between almost any two opposing views. This does not prove, however, that human logic is flawed, but more so that our perception of human logic is flawed. Certainly, no single train of ideas will lead to one certain conclusion. It will, on the other hand, reveal that our reasoning and writing is not for the purpose of finding truth, but for the purpose of exploring our own ideas.
Finch, Anne. "A Noturnal Reverie." The Longman Anthology of British Literature, volume 1C, 1999.
Pope, Alexander. "An Essay on Man." The Longman Anthology of British Literature, volume 1C, 1999.