Study Guide

The Vanity of Human Wishes Power

By Samuel Johnson

Power

There's an old saying: "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Well, that's pretty much the speaker's take on power in this poem. Power is a big theme in "The Vanity of Human Wishes." The speaker explores all types of power: from political power to sexual power to intellectual power.

Johnson's speaker suggests that power—and especially our pursuit of it—isn't good for us. When we want power, we want control, but we can't have control. We're only human, after all. We're not God, and so our pursuit of power is misguided.

Questions About Power

  1. What are the dangers involved in having a lot of power, according to the speaker of this poem?
  2. What are the various forms of power that people strive to acquire, according to this poem?
  3. How can we escape the corrupting influence of power?
  4. What are some of the lessons that history teaches us about power?

Chew on This

In the speaker's view, the only true power lies with God.

The only way we can escape the troubles that come with power is to give whatever power we have up completely.

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