Please analyze the first twenty lines of the poem '' The Vanity of Human Wishes''  by Samuel Johnson?

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Michael Ugulini | (Level 3) Educator

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The opening two lines of "The Vanity of Human Wishes" by Samuel Johnson indicate one taking a broad view of the world, and its societies, and the actions of its people. This broad view is to get an overview and understanding of what man is really all about - and what the toil of human beings is on the earth, as well as what this toil results in for individuals.

In the next two lines of the first twenty lines of the poem, the poet conveys the thought that one can look at the toil and strife in life, and see that men and women often have busy lives in this crowded world. He's alluding to mankind's striving to achieve goals and getting caught up in our 'striving.'

Johnson then indicates that our hopes, fears, dreams, desires, and more have a direct affect on our lives. Our station in life is dependent in part on our internal thoughts, which lead to actions - our thoughts and actions have consequences - for better or for worse. The poet then indicates that our pride leads us into unguided actions that can result in less than ideal results:

    Where wav’ring man, betray’d by vent’rous pride

    To tread the dreary paths without a guide,

Johnson further indicates that human beings are susceptible to negative outside influences as we dally with good and evil:

     As treach’rous phantoms in the mist delude,

Johnson says that people do not always use sound reasoning when making choices and living their lives. Nations, whole societies, can and do falter with unsound schemes. Individuals and nations often are foolish and let vengeance control their thoughts and actions, which can result in terrible results. We may be courageous at times, but it's an "impetuous" courage, not based on wisdom, but courage that is more passion than reasoned thought based on the analysis of situations. The poet states that our wishes are often influenced by the hand of fate, which can hamper our plans. In addition, he concludes that our passionate, but not always sound actions, can lead us into the fire of tragedy and/or despair.


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