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As the subtitle suggests, it is an imitation of Satire X by the Latin poet Juvenal. Unlike Juvenal, Johnson attempts to sympathize with his poetic subjects. Also, the poem focuses on human futility and humanity's quest after greatness like Juvenal but concludes that Christian values are important to living properly. It was Johnson's second imitation of Juvenal (the first being his 1738 poem London). Unlike London, The Vanity of Human Wishes emphasizes philosophy over politics. The poem was not a financial success, but later critics, including Walter Scott and T. S. Eliot, considered it to be Johnson's greatest poem.[2]
 
"The Vanity of Human Wishes is a poem of 368 lines, written in closed heroic couplets. Johnson loosely adapts Juvenal's original satire in order to demonstrate "the complete inability of the world and of worldly life to offer genuine or permanent satisfaction."[14] The opening lines of the poem announce the universal scope of the poem, as well as its central theme that "the antidote to vain human wishes is non-vain spiritual wishes":[15]
 
Johnson draws on personal experience as well as a variety of historical sources in order to illustrate "the helpless vulnerability of the individual before the social context" and the "inevitable self-deception by which human beings are led astray".[17] Both themes are explored in one of the most famous passages in the poem [the one which Eliot refers to???], Johnson's outline of the career of Charles XII of Sweden. As Howard D. Weinbrot notes, "The passage skillfully includes many of Johnson's familiar themes - repulsion with slaughter that aggrandizes one man and kills and impoverishes thousands, understanding of the human need to glorify heroes, and subtle contrast with the classical parent-poem and its inadequate moral vision."[18] Johnson depicts Charles as a "Soul of Fire", the "Unconquer'd Lord of Pleasure and of Pain", who refuses to accept that his pursuit of military conquest may end in disaster:
'Think Nothing gain'd, he cries, till nought remain,
On Moscow's Walls till Gothic Standards fly,
And all be Mine beneath the Polar Sky.'
(Lines 202-204)
[19]
In a famous passage, Johnson reduces the king's glorious military career to a cautionary example in a poem:
His Fall was destin'd to a barren Strand,
A petty Fortress, and a dubious Hand;
He left the Name, at which the World grew pale,
To point a Moral, or adorn a Tale.
(Lines 219-222)
[19]
 
CR


--- On Sun, 9/5/10, Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Dear Mike,

Our public library is closed 4th-6th (Labor Day). Please wait a couple of days. I look forward to sharing what Eliot says on this in his Introduction.

Meanwhile here's some idea of the lines' burden:

http://www.bartleby.com/220/0813.html

The first paragraph of a paper on The Vanity of Human Wishes at the following link sheds some light on Eliot's praise of it:

http://www.press.ntu.edu.tw/ejournal/files/Studies%5C14%5C3.pdf

Regards,
CR


--- On Sun, 9/5/10, mikemail <[log in to unmask]" ymailto="mailto:[log in to unmask]">[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>
> I was asking if anyone knew the specific lines of poetry by Johnson, which Eliot referred to as good poetry.  Nancy kindly provided the reference "If lines 189-220 of 'The Vanity of Human Wishes' are
> not poetry," T. S. Eliot commented, "I do not know what is." and
> I then searched for and posted the lines.  There are numerous discussions here about the meaning of poetry etc re.TSE.  //what is the meaning of Johnson's lines?//  Can this be seen in Eliot's poetry?  An interesting idea since he gave these lines such praise.
>  
> Mike