By Alexander Pope
Oh, sons of earth! attempt ye still to rise,
By mountains piled on mountains, to the skies?
Heaven still with laughter the vain toil surveys,
And buries madmen in the heaps they raise.
Know all the good that individuals find,
Or God and nature meant to mere mankind.
Reason’s whole pleasure, all the joys of sense,
Lie in three words,—health, peace, and competence.
But health consists with temperance alone;
And peace, O virtue! peace is all thy own.
The good or bad the gifts of fortune gain;
But these less taste them as they worse obtain.
Say, in pursuit of profit or delight,
Who risk the most, that take wrong means or right?
Of vice or virtue, whether blest or curst,
Which meets contempt, or which compassion first?
Count all th’ advantage prosperous vice attains,
‘T is but what virtue flies from and disdains:
And grant the bad what happiness they would,
One they must want, which is, to pass for good.
Oh, blind to truth, and God’s whole scheme below,
Who fancy bliss to vice, to virtue woe!
Who sees and follows that great scheme the best,
Best knows the blessing, and will most be blest.
But fools the good alone unhappy call,
For ills or accidents that chance to all.
Think we, like some weak prince, the Eternal Cause,
Prone for his favorites to reverse his laws?
Shall burning AEtna, if a sage requires,
Forget to thunder, and recall her fires?
When the loose mountain trembles from on high,
Shall gravitation cease, if you go by?
“But sometimes virtue starves while vice is fed.”
What, then? Is the reward of virtue bread?
That, vice may merit, ‘t is the price of toil;
The knave deserves it when he tills the soil,
The knave deserves it when he tempts the main,
Where folly fights for kings or dives for gain.
Honor and shame from no condition rise;
Act well your part, there all the honor lies.
Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow;
The rest is all but leather or prunella.
A wit’s a feather, and a chief a rod,
An honest man’s the noblest work of God.
One self-approving hour whole years outweighs
Of stupid starers, and of loud huzzas.
Know then this truth (enough for man to know),
“Virtue alone is happiness below.”
The only point where human bliss stands still,
And tastes the good without the fall to ill;
Where only merit constant pay receives,
Is blest in what it takes and what it gives.