Please explain the first ten lines of the Poem ''The Vanity of Human Wishes'' by Samuel Johnson.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The first ten lines of this satirical poem by Samuel Johnson basically introduce what the rest of the poem is all about and the focus of the text. Johnson uses personification in depicting "Observation" as a character examining human nature the world over, from "China to Peru," as Observation surveys mankind and watches the "busy Scenes of Crowded life." As the title suggests, what Observation sees is ample evidence of the "vanity of human wishes," which is defined in these lines as a propensity to always want things that will actually negatively impact them:

Then say how Hope and Fear, Desire and Hate,
O'er spread with Snares the clouded Maze of Fate,
Where wav'ring Man, betray'd by vent'rous Pride,
To tread the dreary Paths without a Guide;
As treach'rous Phantoms in the Mist delude,
Shuns fancied Ills, or chases airy Good.

Note how man is depicted in these lines. He is "wav'ring" and "betray'd" by his "Pride" to pursue things that he feels will be good for him but actually are insubstantial. Johnson in these first ten lines therefore depicts man as lacking the judgement to decide what is best for him, and as a result of his "vanities" he always yearns or tries to acquire things that will actually damage him in the long run.

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