The vanity of human wishes analysis. The Vanity of Human Wishes Themes 2022-10-23

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The Vanity of Human Wishes, written by 18th-century English poet and lexicographer Samuel Johnson, is a satirical poem that highlights the futility of human desire and the fleeting nature of success. Through the use of irony and humor, Johnson points out the ridiculousness of our endless pursuit of wealth, power, and fame, and the ultimate emptiness that these pursuits often bring.

The poem begins by stating that "the man of real happiness" is one who is content with what he has, rather than constantly striving for more. This is a direct rebuke of the societal values of the time, which placed a high value on material wealth and social status. Johnson argues that the pursuit of these things is ultimately futile, as they can never truly bring lasting happiness or fulfillment.

Johnson also points out the irony of how much time and energy we spend on these pursuits, while ignoring the things that truly matter in life. He writes that "The boy, who plows in hope, at fifty quits / To finish as a fool what he begun as a sage." This suggests that even those who work hard and strive for success may ultimately end up regretting their choices, as they have sacrificed the things that truly matter for the sake of fleeting success.

Throughout the poem, Johnson uses a variety of literary devices to drive home his point. One such device is personification, as he speaks of "Time" and "Fate" as if they are living beings, controlling and manipulating the lives of humans. This serves to emphasize the idea that we are not in control of our own destinies, and that our pursuit of material wealth and status is ultimately futile.

The Vanity of Human Wishes is a thought-provoking and deeply cynical work that challenges readers to consider the true value of their desires and goals. It serves as a reminder that the things that truly matter in life ā€“ love, friendship, and personal fulfillment ā€“ are often overlooked in our pursuit of fleeting success and material wealth. In this way, Johnson's poem encourages us to reassess our priorities and find happiness in the things that truly matter.

The Vanity of Human Wishes Plot Summary

the vanity of human wishes analysis

He died at 77. You could probably comment on a pessimistic semantic field that links the passionate emotions consistently to death and suffering. The speaker calls on minstrelsā€”musiciansā€”to play pleasing songs that might act as a pain relieverā€”lenitiveā€”and bring the aged person joy, but the sounds fall on deaf ears. The bloody business of war provides immense glory but is costly and senseless, leaving nations indebted and glory tarnished. The desire of absolute power leads him to the public hatred and dislikes. A suppliant can be understood to be a beggar and thus within the line we see the gambler find destruction in his abandonment of reason and then once again relying on the hope of charity rather than using reason to restore his fortunes. Man is filled with trouble and strife, which Johnson puts down to the pitfalls associated with our determination to follow the twin passions of desire and hate, and pursue our hopes or avoid our fears.

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from The Vanity of Human Wishes by Samuel Johnson

the vanity of human wishes analysis

Also described with details regarding their harsh ends are Robert Harley, earl of Oxford, treasurer for Queen Anne, later impeached and sent to the Tower by the Whigs; Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, once a favorite of Charles I but later impeached and executed; and Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon, once in favor with Charles II, eventually exiled to Europe. He ties this to the acclaim the brave want from modern papers, such as the Oxford Gazette. His strongest consternations, where they appear, are reserved for overreaching ambition, such as Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey's rise to power, corruption, or excessive pride, including what he decries as Xerxes's madness. The speaker references some of the eastern European ethnic groupsā€”"the fierce Croatian, and the wild Hussar"ā€”involved in the fighting on the Austrian side. Cite this page as follows: "The Vanity of Human Wishes - Themes and Meanings" Critical Guide to Poetry for Students Ed. Stanzas 21ā€”22 In Stanza 21 mothers pray for beauty for their children, but beauty is dangerous.

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Vanity Of Human Wishes The

the vanity of human wishes analysis

He says Wolsey's weak foundation could not bear the weight placed on him, and he ended up even lower than he began. He falls in battle, without sons, trying to take a minor fort. He is sympathetic to the struggles of a scholar, such that it seems evident he associates himself with the profession. Celebrated satirist Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver's Travels, suffered a stroke in the last years of his life that left him unable to speak coherently or care for himself. The second stanza moves on from discussing how our wishes and emotions lead us astray and now presents the corruption that money or greed has upon humanity. In these lines Johnson writes of everyday scenes, allowing any reader to form an immediate mental image of his or her own daily activities. Johnson sets out the human condition of emotional affliction, which leads us astray.

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The Vanity of Human Wishes

the vanity of human wishes analysis

His spare existence precluded the moral excesses of the modern world, and the narrator believes he would laugh at the pretense of Britain as it is now. Food becomes tasteless; drunkenness no longer brings joy. As Weinbrot writes, "For Johnson, the source of love far transcends human affection. The speaker remarks that one can have loads of wealth, but it will not buy the bearer's truth or safety. Johnson tells us that greed is unstoppable or unchallenged by the world, each man will abandon principle or reason in order to get their hands on gold. The personifications also create a world vibrantly populated with actors and wills within the poem, rather than impersonal consequence or a world in which humanity is alone.

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The Vanity of Human Wishes Study Guide

the vanity of human wishes analysis

Croesus, despite his martial prowess, was defeated in a surprise attack by Cyrus II of Persia. Stanza 17 tells of how the aging person's wits go, and even the promise of inheritance cannot bring relatives to listen anymore. The speaker continues to question the listener in Stanza 10, asking if they would rather stay "on the banks of Trent"ā€”a reference to the River Trent that runs through England's provincial midlands regionā€”having less pride and more justice. This quote influences a question out of the readers, how could someone who seems so good turn evil? Democritus Though the works of Democritus are known only through secondhand sources, the narrator insists the philosopher was known for his mirth and that he lived in a time before wealth or inequality. Human wishes and ambitions by contrast are not only flawed, but the people who follow them in defiance of God's plan exercise a ruinous mortal vanity in prioritizing their own wants above the will of their creator.

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The Vanity of Human Wishes Key Figure Analysis

the vanity of human wishes analysis

At 368 lines in rhyming couplets, this imitation of Juvenal's Tenth Satire proved Johnson's longest poem. It tells how "the bold Bavarian" sends "unexpected legions" into the defenseless lands of the Queen. In the concluding part of the poem, Johnson suggests to develop the right frame of the mind. Foreign monarchs are notably not exempt from the poem's satire. The only way to get happiness is God.

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The Vanity of Human Wishes by Samuel Johnson: Summary and Analysis

the vanity of human wishes analysis

Roman and Christian Moralities From its title onward, "The Vanity of Human Wishes" is an acknowledged imitation of Juvenal's 10th satire, and its form and arguments follow Juvenal through wealth, power, learning, military glory, and old age. Must dull Suspense corrupt the stagnant mind? Wolsey Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey was born to a humble family but received a good education and was ordained. The bold Bavarian The poem recounts the broad strokes of the War of the Austrian Succession 1740ā€”48 without naming the combatants specifically. A scholar may find that when political fortunes change, "fatal learning leads him to the block. The speaker then lists several political figures who were the favorites of English rulers and whose lives ended badly: George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham, who was assassinated; Robert Harley, first Earl of Oxford, who died of disease; Thomas Wentworth, first Earl of Strafford, who was executed; and Edward Hyde, first Earl of Clarendon, who lived his days in exile. Although Johnson draws on Juvenal and invokes Democritus, his poem is less satire than tragedy. Whereas the original, for example, mocks the old man with his dripping nose and toothless gums, the one-eyed Hannibal riding his last surviving elephant, Johnson pities his subjects.

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The Vanity Of Human Wishes Analysis

the vanity of human wishes analysis

His attention to the Let Observation, with extensive view, Survey mankind, from China to Peru; Remark each anxious toil, each eager strife, And watch the busy scenes of crowded life; Then say how hope and fear, desire and hate O'erspread with snares the clouded maze of fate. He combines the opposites in the poem. When their fortunes fail, people will ridicule their memories. In Stanza 9 the speaker invokes Thomas, Cardinal The speaker asks the listener, who rebels at the thought of "humble peace," if they would rather have Wolsey's position if it also meant Wolsey's end. The speaker mentions Anne Vane, the mistress of Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales.


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