Study Guide

The Vanity of Human Wishes Stanza 25

By Samuel Johnson

Stanza 25

Lines 342-350

Where, then, shall Hope and Fear their objects find?
Must dull Suspense corrupt the stagnant mind?
Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,
Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate?
Must no dislike alarm, no wishes rise,
No cries invoke the mercies of the skies?
Enquirer, cease, petitions yet remain,
Which Heav'n may hear, nor deem religion vain. 

  • The speaker begins this final stanza by asking a series of rhetorical questions. To which end can we direct our hope and fear? Must our minds be corrupted by suspense? Must helpless man be swept along by the current of his fate? Must we make no wishes, and ask for no mercy?
  • In these lines we see more use of one of Johnson's favorite literary devices: metaphor. Fate is depicted as a "current" that sweeps man along. 
  • The speaker then tells us to stop asking questions (though of course it's him, not us, who is asking questions, so dude needs to settle down a little if you ask us). He says that we may be able to appeal to Heaven, and that we should not dismiss the power of religion.

Lines 351-356

Still raise for good the supplicating voice,
But leave to Heav'n the measure and the choice.
Safe in his pow'r, whose eyes discern afar
The secret ambush of a specious pray'r.
Implore his aid, in his decisions rest,
Secure whate'er he gives, he gives the best.

  • The speaker says that we can raise our voice to ask for good, but we have to leave it to Heaven to work things out for us. 
  • We have to have faith in God's power. God, after all, sees very far, even into our wrong prayers. 
  • We have to ask for God's help and accept his decisions, and we have to be secure in the knowledge that whatever God gives us is the best.

Lines 357-368

Yet when the sense of sacred presence fires,
And strong devotion to the skies aspires,
Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind,
Obedient passions, and a will resign'd;
For love, which scarce collective man can fill;
For patience, sov'reign o'er transmuted ill;
For faith, that panting for a happier seat,
Counts death kind Nature's signal of retreat:
These goods for man the laws of heav'n ordain,
These goods he grants, who grants the pow'r to gain;
With these celestial Wisdom calms the mind,
And makes the happiness she does not find.

  • When we are full of a sense of sacred (God's) presence, and we aspire to turn our devotion to God, let us ask for a healthy mind, passions that we can control, and a resigned will. Let's also ask for love and patience and faith, which counts death as a blessing. 
  • Heaven ordains these good things for man, and God gives them. He also gives us power to find what we want. 
  • With these good things that God gives, the speaker tells us, we can find wisdom, which calms us, and we can also find the happiness that can't be found in worldly things. 
  • Ah, so we get a happy ending after all. We knew our speaker would cheer up eventually.

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