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description Journal article public Journal of Critical Studies in Language and Literature

Pope, Johnson and Swift: a Comparison of Their Poetic Styles and Views on Human Nature

Liqun Feng
Published 2020

Abstract

This paper aims to compare the poetic styles and views on human nature of three literary giants in English literature, namely, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson. As the three men of letters almost lived in the same age and they were all fond of writing on human nature, it will be very interesting to compare their respective styles and views on this issue. Since no previous studies have been found on this topic, this paper will be of great significance in exploring how their individual style and thinking vary from one another. Through close textual analysis of their representative poetic works, including An Essay on Man by Pope, The Vanity of Human Wishes by Johnson, and finally Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, D.S.P.D. by Swift, this paper discovers the extent to which the three great authors differ from one another in their poetic styles and views on human nature. From Alexander Pope to Samuel Johnson and then down to Jonathan Swift, their respective poetic styles drop in formality and start to be increasingly less serious. Their views on human nature, accordingly, become increasingly hopeless and bleak. For Alexander Pope, self-love and reason are the central traits in human nature; to live a righteous life man has to use reason to counterbalance his self-love. For Samuel John, it is vanity that motivates all human actions; to resolve all the unhappiness in human life, however, man must use reason. Therefore, both poets emphasize reason as a combating force against all the ego-centrism inherent in human nature. As for Jonathan Swift, he even did not believe human beings are capable of reason; what he perceives in human nature is mere selfishness. This means that Pope and John are still serious about human nature and believe all the evilness in human nature can be mended or bettered, while Jonathan Swift starts to jeer at it, which signifies his complete loss of faith in human nature. Although they all believe ego-centrism to be intrinsic in human nature, we can conclude that Jonathan Swift, among the three, possesses the bleakest view of human nature.

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