The Vanity of Human Wishes Essay

674 WordsApr 8, 20133 Pages
The Vanity of Human Wishes - Samuel Johnson 1749 Oh dear. I have done almost anything rather than write this post. My anxiety about this poem, and writing about poetry, verges on the ridiculous. Particularly when I consider Johnson's subject matter - namely, the need to face up to the realities of life. Oh dear. People talk about 'the difficulty' of this poem, and the introduction to it in my Norton neatly remarks that The difficulty of the poem is also related to its theme, the difficulty of seeing anything clearly on this earth. In a world of blindness and illusion, human beings must struggle to find a point of view that will not deceive them, and a happiness that can last. But my chief difficulty with Johnson's poetry is that, unlike his prose, when I am reading it I would rather be doing pretty much anything else. I remarked as much to a friend, who (smug in his century) replied that I 'don't really have the period for poetry'. I'm not sure if this is precisely true, there's Dryden, and there's Pope, there's Swift, there's Barbauld, Goldsmith, Cowper,Gray, Barker, Prior, Duck and... I don't love reading them. Some of them are very, very good, and I can appreciate that - but I don't find myself returning to their work with glee. It might be due to my complete lack of classical knowledge. It might be that I have no lexicon to distinguish Juvenalian from Horatian satire, and that makes me uneasy. It's probably something to do with my generally poor critical vocabulary when discussing poetry - I confuse myself with spondees and trochees, and then shy away from line analysis - to speak grandly of themes instead. It's possible that this isn't my area of interest - in which case I must just know enough to know what I need to know more about. And so to work. In this poem, Johnson addresses the themes he will return to in Rasselas - namely, the things people

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