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The Vanity of Human Wishes and Two Rambler

Samuel Johnson

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .e, it is so free a paraphrase as to be an original poem. The English reader who sets it against Dryden's closer version will sense immediately its greater weight. It is informed with Johnson's own sombre and most deeply rooted emotional responses to the meaning of experience. These, although emanating from a devout practising Christian and certainly not inconsistent with Christianity, neither reflect the specific articles of Christian doctrine nor are lightened by the happiness of Christian faith: they are strongly infused with classical resignation.

The poem is difficult as well as weighty. At times its expression is so condensed that the meaning must be wrestled for. Statements so packed as, for example,

  Fate wings with ev'ry wish th' afflictive dart,
  Each gift of nature, and each grace of art,

do not yield their full intention to the running reader. One line, indeed,&mda. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Had to read these for my Literature course: Didn't understand much but with some research, it was interesting.

This book is excellent, because your history is very interesting.

I haven't read this poem for maybe a half-century, and it's much better now than it was back then. It closely follows Juvenal's Satire 10, leaving out the obscene bits, updating most of the historical references, and Christianizing the religious conclusion. The basic idea is that we tend to want the

"The needy Traveller, ferene and gay,
Walks the wild Heath, and fings his Toil away.
Does Envy feize thee? crufh'th upbraiding Joy,
Encrease his Riches and his Peace destroy,
New Fears in dire Vicissitude invade,
The rustling Brake alarms, and quiv'ring Shade,
Not Light nor Darknefs bring his pain Relief,