The Rape of the Lock and Other Poems

- By Alexander Pope
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Alexander Pope (21 May 1688 – 30 May 1744) is seen as one of the greatest English poets and the foremost poet of the early 18th century. He is best known for satirical and discursive poetry, including The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, and An Essay on Criticism, and for his translation of Homer. After Shakespeare, Pope is the second-most quoted writer in English, according to The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations,[1] some of his verses having become popular in common parlance (e. g., damning with faint praise). He is considered a master of the heroic couplet. Pope's poetic career testifies to his indomitable spirit in the face of disadvantages, of health and of circumstance. The poet and his family were Catholics and thus fell subject to the Test Acts, prohibitive measures which severely hampered the prosperity of their co-religionists after the abdication of James II; one of these banned them from living within ten miles of London, and another from attending public school or university. For this reason, except for a few spurious Catholic schools, Pope was largely self-educated. He was taught to read by his aunt and became a lover of books. He learned French, Italian, Latin, and Greek by himself, and discovered Homer at the age of six. As a child Pope survived being once trampled by a cow, but when he was 12 he began struggling with tuberculosis of the spine (Pott disease), which restricted his growth so that as an adult he was only 4 feet 8 inches (1.42 metres) tall. He also suffered with crippling headaches which troubled him throughout his life.
But anxious cares the pensive nymph oppressed, And secret passions laboured in her breast. Not youthful kings in battle seized alive, Not scornful virgins who their charms survive, Not ardent lover robbed of all his bliss, Not ancient lady when refused a kiss, Not tyrants fierce that unrepenting die, Not Cynthia when her manteau's pinned awry, E'er felt such rage, resentment, and despair, As thou, sad virgin! for thy ravished hair.
While her racked soul repose and peace requires, The fierce Thalestris fans the rising fires. "O wretched maid!" she spread her hands, and cried, (And Hampton's echoes, "Wretched maid!" replied) "Was it for this you took such constant care Combs, bodkins, leads, pomatums to prepare? For this your locks in paper durance bound? For this with tort'ring irons wreathed around? Oh had the youth been but content to seize Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!
Gods! shall the ravisher display this hair, While the fops envy, and the ladies stare! Honour forbid! at whose unrivalled shrine Ease, pleasure, virtue, all, our sex resign. Methinks already I your tears survey, Already hear the horrid things they say, Already see you a degraded toast, And all your honour in a whisper lost! How shall I, then, your helpless fame defend? 'T will then be infamy to seem your friend! And shall this prize, th' inestimable prize, Exposed through crystal to the gazing eyes, And heightened by the diamond's circling rays, On that rapacious hand for ever blaze? Sooner shall grass in Hyde Park Circus grow, And wits take lodgings in the sound of Bow; Sooner let earth, air, sea, to chaos fall, Men, monkeys, lapdogs, parrots, perish all!"
She said; then raging to Sir Plume repairs, And bids her beau demand the precious hairs: Sir Plume, of amber snuff-box justly vain, And the nice conduct of a clouded cane, With earnest eyes, and round unthinking face, He first the snuff-box opened, then the case, And thus broke out - "My lord, why, what the devil! Zounds! damn the lock! 'fore Gad, you must be civil! Plague on't! 't is past a jest - nay, prithee, pox! Give her the hair." - He spoke, and rapped his box.
"It grieves me much," replied the peer again, "Who speaks so well should ever speak in vain: But by this lock, this sacred lock, I swear, (Which never more shall join its parted hair; Which never more its honours shall renew, Clipped from the lovely head where once it grew) That, while my nostrils draw the vital air, This hand, which won it, shall for ever wear." He spoke, and speaking, in proud triumph spread The long-contended honours of her head.
But see! the nymph in sorrow's pomp appears, Her eyes half-languishing, half drowned in tears; Now livid pale her cheeks, now glowing red On her heaved bosom hung her drooping head, Which with a sigh she raised, and thus she said: "For ever cursed be this detested day, Which snatched my best, my fav'rite curl away; Happy! ah ten times happy had I been, If Hampton Court these eyes had never seen! Yet am not I the first mistaken maid, By love of courts to num'rous ills betrayed. O had I rather unadmired remained In some lone isle, or distant northern land, Where the gilt chariot never marked the way, Where none learn ombre, none e'er taste bohea! There kept my charms concealed from mortal eye, Like roses, that in deserts bloom and die. What moved my mind with youthful lords to roam? O had I stayed, and said my pray'rs at home! 'Twas this the morning omens did foretell, Thrice from my trembling hand the patchbox fell; The tott'ring china shook without a wind, Nay, Poll sat mute, and Shock was most unkind! See the poor remnants of this slighted hair! My hands shall rend what ev'n thy own did spare: This in two sable ringlets taught to break, Once gave new beauties to the snowy neck; The sister-lock now sits uncouth, alone, And in its fellow's fate foresees its own; Uncurled it hangs, the fatal shears demands, And tempts once more thy sacrilegious hands."
She said: the pitying audience melt in tears; But fate and Jove had stopped the baron's ears. In vain Thalestris with reproach assails, For who can move when fair Belinda fails? Not half so fixed the Trojan could remain, While Anna begged and Dido raged in vain. "To arms, to arms!" the bold Thalestris cries, And swift as lightning to the combat flies. All side in parties, and begin th' attack; Fans clap, silks rustle, and tough whalebones crack; Heroes' and heroines' shouts confus'dly rise, And bass and treble voices strike the skies; No common weapons in their hands are found, Like gods they fight, nor dread a mortal wound.
So when bold Homer makes the gods engage, And heav'nly breasts with human passions rage, 'Gainst Pallas, Mars; Latona, Hermes arms, And all Olympus rings with loud alarms; Jove's thunder roars, heav'n trembles all around, Blue Neptune storms, the bellowing deeps resound: Earth shakes her nodding tow'rs, the ground gives way, And the pale ghosts start at the flash of day!
While through the press enraged Thalestris flies, And scatters death around from both her eyes, A beau and witling perished in the throng, One died in metaphor, and one in song. "O cruel nymph; a living death I bear," Cried Dapperwit, and sunk beside his chair. A mournful glance Sir Fopling upwards cast, "Those eyes are made so killing" - was his last. Thus on Mæander's flow'ry margin lies Th' expiring swan, and as he sings he dies.
As bold Sir Plume had drawn Clarissa down, Chloe stepped in, and killed him with a frown; She smiled to see the doughty hero slain, But at her smile the beau revived again.
Now Jove suspends his golden scales in air, Weighs the men's wits against the lady's hair; The doubtful beam long nods from side to side; At length the wits mount up, the hairs subside.
See fierce Belinda on the baron flies, With more than usual lightning in her eyes: Nor feared the chief th' unequal fight to try, Who sought no more than on his foe to die. But this bold lord, with manly strength endued, She with one finger and a thumb subdued: Just where the breath of life his nostrils drew, A charge of snuff the wily virgin threw; Sudden, with starting tears each eye o'erflows, And the high dome re-echoes to his nose.
"Now meet thy fate," th' incensed virago cried, And drew a deadly bodkin from her side.
"Boast not my fall," he said, "insulting foe! Thou by some other shalt be laid as low; Nor think to die dejects my lofty mind; All that I dread is leaving you behind! Rather than so, ah let me still survive, And still burn on, in Cupid's flames, alive."
"Restore the lock!" she cries; and all around "Restore the lock!" the vaulted roofs rebound. Not fierce Othello in so loud a strain Roared for the handkerchief that caused his pain. But see how oft ambitious aims are crossed, And chiefs contend till all the prize is lost! The lock, obtained with guilt, and kept with pain, In ev'ry place is sought, but sought in vain: With such a prize no mortal must be blessed, So heav'n decrees! with heav'n who can contest? Some thought it mounted to the lunar sphere, Since all that man e'er lost is treasured there. There heroes' wits are kept in pond'rous vases, And beaux' in snuff-boxes and tweezer-cases. There broken vows, and death-bed alms are found, And lovers' hearts with ends of ribbon bound, The courtier's promises, and sick man's pray'rs, The smiles of harlots, and the tears of heirs, Cages for gnats, and chains to yoke a flea, Dried butterflies, and tomes of casuistry.
But trust the muse - she saw it upward rise, Though marked by none but quick poetic eyes: (Thus Rome's great founder to the heav'ns withdrew, To Proculus alone confessed in view) A sudden star, it shot through liquid air, And drew behind a radiant trail of hair. Not Berenice's locks first rose so bright, The skies bespangling with dishevelled light. (This the beau monde shall from the Mall survey, (As through the moonlight shade they nightly stray, (And hail with music its propitious ray; This Partridge soon shall view in cloudless skies, When next he looks through Galileo's eyes; And hence th' egregious wizard shall foredoom The fate of Louis, and the fall of Rome.
Then cease, bright nymph! to mourn thy ravished hair, Which adds new glory to the shining sphere! Not all the tresses that fair head can boast, Shall draw such envy as the lock you lost. For after all the murders of your eye, When, after millions slain, yourself shall die; When those fair suns shall set, as set they must, And all those tresses shall be laid in dust, This lock the muse shall consecrate to fame, And 'midst the stars inscribe Belinda's name.

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Word Lists:

Bodkin : a blunt, thick needle with a large eye used especially for drawing tape or cord through a hem.

Virago : a domineering, violent, or bad-tempered woman

Beau : a boyfriend or male admirer.

Ravish : seize and carry off (someone) by force

Nymph : a mythological spirit of nature imagined as a beautiful maiden inhabiting rivers, woods, or other locations

Casuistry : the use of clever but unsound reasoning, especially in relation to moral questions; sophistry.

Sacrilegious : involving or committing sacrilege

Rapacious : aggressively greedy or grasping

Egregious : outstandingly bad; shocking

Fop : a man who is concerned with his clothes and appearance in an affected and excessive way; a dandy.

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Rating: C

Words: 1526

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