the light fantastic

vague ramblings re: early british lit

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Vanity of Human Wishes

A lot of the passage related to modernism remind me of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. There's the whole futility theme and how nothing you do or say will affect the outcome. Samuel Johnson's poem also remind me of this, especially the concept of vanity.

First, he describes the idyllic void of busy lives and introduces the 'needy traveler' as an alternative to the money centered lives of man. The busy scenes only care for the clouded maze of fate and fail to see the dreary paths they are upon. But as soon as the traveler sings his toils away, envy seizes his heart and "increases his riches and his peace destroy (line 40)" and he too is caught in the snares of anxious toil.

Then he goes on to describe the greed of Wolsey, and of a college student, where enough was not enough and they both met tragic ends. No matter where the initial occupation or ideals man posess, it is inevitable to Johnson that greed of money, or of fame, or of power, will overtake him in the end and lead to a sad and lonely death. The helplessness of man's submission to Vanity is absolute, much like the "all is vanity"s of Ecclesiastes.

Then the only solution to the rat-race of human life is to be found in Heaven and death. Johnson's depression outlook doesn't even guarantee that Heaven will restore peace and calm, it merely looks forward to death as the retreat of senselessness of life.

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