Essay about vanity of human wishes

1726 Words Nov 14th, 2014 7 Pages
The Vanity of Human Wishes: The Vanity of Human Wishes

The Vanity of Human Wishes
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The Poem
Samuel Johnson’s The Vanity of Human Wishes imitates, as its subtitle states, Juvenal’s tenth satire. The 368 lines of iambic pentameter in rhymed couplets do not claim to provide an exact translation but rather to apply the poem to eighteenth century England. While Johnson therefore feels free to modernize the allusions, he follows his model closely. The poem opens with the proposition that people ask for the wrong things and points out the folly of the first common request, riches. An interlude follows during which the poet invokes
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Those seeking political power “mount,…shine, evaporate, and fall” (line 76). Beauty also “falls betray’d” (line 341). All who seek to rise decline instead.
This paradox is reinforced through the use of antithesis. The section on long life concludes with the examples of the Duke of Marlborough and Jonathan Swift, who ended their lives in senility. During the reign of Queen
Anne, Marlborough was the darling of the Whigs and bitterly opposed by Swift, strong supporter of the Tories who sought to conclude the war with France in which Marlborough so distinguished himself. Royal favor should have provided protection, but the favor of Charles I led to the execution of Thomas Wentworth.
Similarly, Edward Hyde, father-in-law of James, Duke of York, and Charles II’s Lord Chancellor, was forced into exile. Writing of the perils that beset the would-be scholar, Johnson includes praise, which should encourage, and beauty, which should stimulate; but in the world of the poem, all things include and produce their opposites. Gold bribes the ruffian to draw his sword, and gold corrupts the judge who will try this criminal. Themes and Meanings
In the thirty-second issue of his periodical, The Rambler (1750), Johnson wrote, “The armies of pain send their arrows against us on every side; the choice is only between those which are more or less sharp, or tinged with poison of greater or less

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