Back to March Menu
The Printable KISS Workbooks The On-Line Resources Pages
Notes for
Pensees (#147) by Blaise Pascal 
(translated by W. F. Trotter)
Exercise AK G11 Lit

     Pascal, and especially his Pensees, fascinate many high school students. In this famous passage in which Pascal compares man to a reed, he is, after all, addressing the question of identity that troubles many teenagers.
     You might want to have students read "A Reed," by the Persian Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273) and have them compare it to this Pensee. [See Grade 6, April 10.] Both writers compare people to a reed, but they present very different views of what people are. Have students compare the syntax of the two passages, and how that syntax supports (or correlates with) the ideas in the two passages. Pascal's syntax is much more complex, and I have to wonder if the most complex sentence

But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.
is a reflection of Pascal's ideas getting away from him. Does the complexity of the thought result in the complexity of the sentence? And what does he mean by "the advantage which the universe has over him"? Language struggles to express thought. (The famous Russian novelist Dostoevsky is reported to have said that only 10% of what was in his head got down on paper.)