Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Analysis of "The Universal Prayer" by Alexander Pope

Original poem reprinted online here:  "The Universal Prayer" by Alexander Pope
Originally read: January 26, 2013
More information about the Poet:  Alexander Pope

The poem is constructed in quatrains with alternating rhyme scheme (abab).  I wrote that first because I don't know what I should write about this one.  Yes, I did choose this poem, and I think I chose it because of the inconsistencies or, maybe, humor in the poem.

The last line in the first stanza, "Jehovah, Jove, or Lord!"  shows a sense of desperation or rather overstatement (over-dramatization) of need.  From here on out, I get a sense of sarcasm from the poem.  In stanza two, "To know but this -- that thou art good, / And that myself am blind: / Yet gave me, in this dark estate to see the good from ill"  Within four lines there's a quandry.  An omnipotent being is good, but made me blind, but in my blindness, inflicted by a good omnipotent being, I am able to see the good in things because of the good omnipotent being.  Yeah, kind of confusing.

Yet this line solidifies the sense of sarcasm for me, "This, teach me more than Hell to shun, / That, more than Heaven pursue."  Past me wrote, "I find this to be interesting -- if human beings have free will, then teach this person, the speaker, life is more than praise (Heaven) or punishment (Hell)."  I guess I sidestep the obvious religious debate here.  What is there more than wanting to go to Heaven in a prayer?  Isn't Heaven the end result.  So there's a question being asked instead of statement -- what is there to pursue more than Heaven?

So here's a list of what this omnipotent being is to impart on the speaker:

1) If the speaker is right, let the speaker have grace.
2) If the speaker is wrong, teach the speaker a better way.
3) Not to have foolish pride.
3) Not to be discontent with religious pursuits.
4) Feel another's pain
5) Hide the speakers faults
6) Show mercy onto others and mercy is shown upon the speaker.

That's a mighty list for one omnipotent being to do.  At this point, the poem is not what the being can do for the speaker; rather, what the speaker wants to gain from the being -- control of self.  But isn't control of the self, well, up to the self?

And the speaker has the self-awareness of his/her faults, "Mean though I am" the speaker blames, I mean, trust, the being to show him/her a better way.

The last stanza interests me.  Yes, Nature can be looked upon as another name for a higher being, but there's a pun in there.  Nature as in being, but also, Nature as in self (human nature).  Thus, perhaps, the speaker is talking about him/herself as a higher being with the ability to change.  Universal doesn't always mean out there, but in here as well.


  1. Alexander Pope was a rationalist, a Deist and a Freemason. He was born Catholic and you can see that he modeled the Universal Prayer on "The Lord's Prayer" from the Gospel of Christ according to Matthew in the NT.

    However, he gave it a very masonic/deity twist as you mentioned. He is not expecting God to solve his problems (as a Deist he doesn't believe in a personal anthropormorphic deity, simply that God is a complex psychological expression of mankinds' highest ideals).

    The "Jehovah, Jove or Lord" is simply another masonic expression that no matter how you call this Great Architect of the Universe we are all worshiping the same great mystery. Less an expression of desparation and more an expression of tolerance for all deities.

    As a deist he doesn't believe in a literal heaven or hell. But that doesn't mean that there isn't a purpose in prayer. This prayer is for the person praying, not for deity (God is a big boy, he will do just fine with or without our prayers).

    In the rest of "An Essay on Man" (which this Universal Prayer is the last part) he discusses how we create our own heaven or hell on earth by seeking virtue and shunning vice.

    He is preaching virtue while at the same time trying to avoid superstition or preaching that any tradition is superior to any other.

  2. Hey, just discovered your blog, via poetry foundation, Pope, Universal Prayer. I keep a few blogs as well, and consider myself a poet, as do billions of others. Chin up, confound the Jerries at every turn, all that, hip hip... [knees bent running about]