Upon The Weakness And Misery

OF MAN" Samuel Butler (n.d.) Published as part of Samuel Butler's miscellany "Upon the Weakness and Misery of Man" is in the sonnet form of 14 lines and formatted in straight rhyming couplets. While not Butler's strongest effort, which may be found in his landmark HUDIBRAS (1662, 1663, 1678), the sonnet clearly expresses his attitudes toward man's self-destructive nature and tendency toward self-delusion. A staunch Royalist forced for a time to work for an officer in Cromwell's army, Butler had ample opportunity to observe the character defects of men supposedly devoted to religious causes, which turned those causes into a means to war and ultimately to control over others. However, in

"upon the Weakness and Misery of Man" Butler aims at a universal audience, united by their shared human tendency toward ultimately worthless self-aggrandizement, regardless of political leanings.

The first line begins with the simple declaration "Our pains are real things," which contrast with man's pursuit of pleasure: "and all / Our pleasures but fantastical." The speaker indicates that humans simply imagine the pleasure that their private pursuits afford. He goes so far in the third line as to indicate that pleasures actually cause self-inflicted harm to humans, comparing them to "Diseases of their own accord," not easily cured: "But cures come difficult and hard." While earthly delights are easily obtainable, their ethereal, transient nature makes them undesirable, particularly when they often result in long-term consequences that ultimately prove ill to others. Butler selects harshly realistic imagery in his next comparison through the FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE (FIGURE OF SPEECH) of metaphor: "our noblest piles and stateliest rooms / Are but outhouses to our tombs." By comparing structures of great state and status to outhouses designed to collect human waste, Butler emphasizes the great leveling effect of death and man's ultimate condition as mere detritus.

The poet broadens his consideration to entire civilizations as the speaker continues, "Cities though ne'er so great and brave / But mere warehouses to the grave," with the image of a warehouse indicating that the most glorious of cities act only as holding grounds for foolishly busy humans prior to their deaths. According to Butler, men project a false bravado that fools many onlookers, who can easily be convinced of the value of even a worthless person: "our bravery's but a vain disguise / to hide us from the world's dull eyes." The dull eyes of society may result from constant exposure to deception, which causes its eventual simple-minded acceptance. He may even hint that he and his fellow writers aid in duplicity by immortalizing for profit certain individuals, particularly war heroes. The bravery the speaker references may serve as an adequate disguise to fellow mortals or even to one's self but yields no protection against death, which embraces all equally and stripped of any costume. Bravado is "The remedy of a defect / With which our nakedness is decked."

The final couplet acts as it should in a sonnet, to supply a summary of, or response to, the problem presented in the preceding 12 lines. It makes clear that humans will continue pursuit of pleasure, denying its false nature: "Yet makes us smile with pride and boast / As if we had gained by being lost." In this case the final comment expresses irony, supporting through paradox the clearly expressed condition of man that precedes it. The speaker states sadly that man is so consumed by pride that he cannot even recognize how much he loses by engaging in idle boasting.

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