Alexander Pope (1688–1744). Complete Poetical Works. 1903.

The Rape of the Lock

Canto I

  • An Heroi-Comical Poem
  • Nolueram, Belinda, tuos violare capillos;
  • Sed juvat, hoc precibus me tribuisse tuis.
  • Mart. Epig. xii. 84.

  • ‘It appears by this motto,’ says Pope, in a footnote supplied for Warburton’s edition, ‘that the following poem was written or published at the lady’s request. But there are some other circumstances not unworthy relating. Mr. Caryll (a gentleman who was secretary to Queen Mary, wife of James II., whose fortunes he followed into France, author of the comedy of Sir Solomon Single, and of several translations in Dryden’s Mescellanies) originally proposed it to him in a view of putting an end, by this piece of ridicule, to a quarrel that was risen between two noble families, those of Lord Petre and Mrs. Fermor, on the trifling occasion of his having cut off a lock of her hair. The author sent it to the lady, with whom he was acquainted; and she took it so well as to give about copies of it. That first sketch (we learn from one of his letters) was written in less than a fortnight, in 1711, in two cantos only, and it was so printed first, in a Miscellany of Bern. Lintot’s, without the name of the author. But it was received so well that he made it more considerable the next year by the addition of the machinery of the Sylphs, and extended it to five cantos.’
  • MADAM,—It will be in vain to deny that I have some regard for this piece, since I dedicate it to you. Yet you may bear me witness it was intended only to divert a few young ladies, who have good sense and good humour enough to laugh not only at their sex’s little unguarded follies, but at their own. But as it was communicated with the air of a secret, it soon found its way into the world. An imperfect copy having been offer’d to a bookseller, you had the good-nature for my sake, to consent to the publication of one more correct: this I was forced to, before I had executed half my design, for the Machinery was entirely wanting to complete it.
  • The Machinery, Madam, is a term invented by the critics, to signify that part which the Deities, Angels, or Dæmons, are made to act in a poem: for the ancient poets are in one respect like many modern ladies; let an action be never so trivial in itself, they always make it appear of the utmost importance. These Machines I determined to raise on a very new and odd foundation, the Rosicrucian doctrine of Spirits.
  • I know how disagreeable it is to make use of hard words before a lady; but it is so much the concern of a poet to have his works understood, and particularly by your sex, that you must give me leave to explain two or three difficult terms. The Rosicrucians are a people I must bring you acquainted with. The best account I know of them is in a French book called La Comte de Gabalis, which, both in its title and size, is so like a novel, that many of the fair sex have read it for one by mistake. According to these gentlemen, the four elements are inhabited by Spirits, which they call Sylphs, Gnomes, Nymphs, and Salamanders. The Gnomes, or Dæmons of earth, delight in mischief; but the Sylphs, whose habitation is in the air, are the best-conditioned creatures imaginable; for, they say, any mortal may enjoy the most intimate familiarities with these gentle spirits, upon a condition very easy to all true adepts,—an inviolate preservation of chastity.
  • As to the following cantos, all the passages of them are as fabulous as the Vision at the beginning, or the Transformation at the end (except the loss of your hair, which I always mention with reverence). The human persons are as fictitious as the airy ones; and the character of Belinda, as it is now managed, resembles you in nothing but in beauty.
  • If this poem had as many graces as there are in your person or in your mind, yet I could never hope it should pass thro’ the world half so uncensured as you have done. But let its fortune be what it will, mine is happy enough, to have given me this occasion of assuring you that I am, with the truest esteem, Madam,
  • Your most obedient, humble servant,
  • A. POPE.

  • Canto I

    WHAT dire offence from am’rous causes springs,

    What mighty contests rise from trivial things,

    I sing—This verse to Caryll, muse! is due:

    This, ev’n Belinda may vouchsafe to view:

    Slight is the subject, but not so the praise,

    If she inspire, and he approve my lays.

    Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel

    A well-bred Lord t’ assault a gentle Belle?

    O say what stranger cause, yet unexplor’d,

    Could make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?

    In tasks so bold can little men engage,

    And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty rage?

    Sol thro’ white curtains shot a tim’rous ray,

    And oped those eyes that must eclipse the day.

    Now lapdogs give themselves the rousing shake,

    And sleepless lovers just at twelve awake:

    Thrice rung the bell, the slipper knock’d the ground,

    And the press’d watch return’d a silver sound.

    Belinda still her downy pillow prest,

    Her guardian Sylph prolong’d the balmy rest.

    ’T was he had summon’d to her silent bed

    The morning-dream that hover’d o’er her head;

    A youth more glitt’ring than a Birthnight Beau

    (That ev’n in slumber caus’d her cheek to glow)

    Seem’d to her ear his winning lips to lay,

    And thus in whispers said, or seem’d to say:

    ‘Fairest of mortals, thou distinguish’d care

    Of thousand bright Inhabitants of Air!

    If e’er one vision touch’d thy infant thought,

    Of all the nurse and all the priest have taught—

    Of airy elves by moonlight shadows seen,

    The silver token, and the circled green,

    Or virgins visited by Angel-powers,

    With golden crowns and wreaths of heav’nly flowers;

    Hear and believe! thy own importance know,

    Nor bound thy narrow views to things below.

    Some secret truths, from learned pride conceal’d,

    To maids alone and children are reveal’d:

    What tho’ no credit doubting Wits may give?

    The fair and innocent shall still believe.

    Know, then, unnumber’d Spirits round thee fly,

    The light militia of the lower sky:

    These, tho’ unseen, are ever on the wing,

    Hang o’er the Box, and hover round the Ring.

    Think what an equipage thou hast in air,

    And view with scorn two pages and a chair.

    As now your own, our beings were of old,

    And once inclosed in woman’s beauteous mould;

    Thence, by a soft transition, we repair

    From earthly vehicles to these of air.

    Think not, when woman’s transient breath is fled,

    That all her vanities at once are dead;

    Succeeding vanities she still regards,

    And, tho’ she plays no more, o’erlooks the cards.

    Her joy in gilded chariots, when alive,

    And love of Ombre, after death survive.

    For when the Fair in all their pride expire,

    To their first elements their souls retire.

    The sprites of fiery termagants in flame

    Mount up, and take a Salamander’s name.

    Soft yielding minds to water glide away,

    And sip, with Nymphs, their elemental tea.

    The graver prude sinks downward to a Gnome

    In search of mischief still on earth to roam.

    The light coquettes in Sylphs aloft repair,

    And sport and flutter in the fields of air.

    ‘Know further yet: whoever fair and chaste

    Rejects mankind, is by some Sylph embraced;

    For spirits, freed from mortal laws, with ease

    Assume what sexes and what shapes they please.

    What guards the purity of melting maids,

    In courtly balls, and midnight masquerades,

    Safe from the treach’rous friend, the daring spark,

    The glance by day, the whisper in the dark;

    When kind occasion prompts their warm desires,

    When music softens, and when dancing fires?

    ’T is but their Sylph, the wise Celestials know,

    Tho’ Honour is the word with men below.

    ‘Some nymphs there are, too conscious of their face,

    For life predestin’d to the Gnome’s embrace.

    These swell their prospects and exalt their pride,

    When offers are disdain’d, and love denied:

    Then gay ideas crowd the vacant brain,

    While peers, and dukes, and all their sweeping train,

    And garters, stars, and coronets appear,

    And in soft sounds, “Your Grace” salutes their ear.

    ’T is these that early taint the female soul,

    Instruct the eyes of young coquettes to roll,

    Teach infant cheeks a bidden blush to know,

    And little hearts to flutter at a Beau.

    ‘Oft, when the world imagine women stray,

    The Sylphs thro’ mystic mazes guide their way;

    Thro’ all the giddy circle they pursue,

    And old impertinence expel by new.

    What tender maid but must a victim fall

    To one man’s treat, but for another’s ball?

    When Florio speaks, what virgin could withstand,

    If gentle Damon did not squeeze her hand?

    With varying vanities, from every part,

    They shift the moving toyshop of their heart;

    Where wigs with wigs, with sword-knots sword-knots strive,

    Beaux banish beaux, and coaches coaches drive.

    This erring mortals levity may call;

    Oh blind to truth! the Sylphs contrive it all.

    ‘Of these am I, who thy protection claim,

    A watchful sprite, and Ariel is my name.

    Late, as I ranged the crystal wilds of air,

    In the clear mirror of thy ruling star

    I saw, alas! some dread event impend,

    Ere to the main this morning sun descend,

    But Heav’n reveals not what, or how or where.

    Warn’d by the Sylph, O pious maid, beware!

    This to disclose is all thy guardian can:

    Beware of all, but most beware of Man!’

    He said; when, Shock, who thought she slept too long,

    Leap’d up, and waked his mistress with his tongue.

    ’T was then, Belinda, if report say true,

    Thy eyes first open’d on a billet-doux;

    Wounds, charms, and ardours were no sooner read,

    But all the vision vanish’d from thy head.

    And now, unveil’d, the toilet stands display’d,

    Each silver vase in mystic order laid.

    First, robed in white, the nymph intent adores,

    With head uncover’d, the cosmetic powers.

    A heav’nly image in the glass appears;

    To that she bends, to that her eyes she rears.

    Th’ inferior priestess, at her altar’s side,

    Trembling begins the sacred rites of Pride.

    Unnumber’d treasures ope at once, and here

    The various off’rings of the world appear;

    From each she nicely culls with curious toil,

    And decks the Goddess with the glitt’ring spoil.

    This casket India’s glowing gems unlocks,

    And all Arabia breathes from yonder box.

    The tortoise here and elephant unite,

    Transform’d to combs, the speckled, and the white.

    Here files of pins extend their shining rows,

    Puffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux.

    Now awful beauty puts on all its arms;

    The Fair each moment rises in her charms,

    Repairs her smiles, awakens every grace,

    And calls forth all the wonders of her face;

    Sees by degrees a purer blush arise,

    And keener lightnings quicken in her eyes.

    The busy Sylphs surround their darling care,

    These set the head, and those divide the hair,

    Some fold the sleeve, whilst others plait the gown;

    And Betty’s prais’d for labours not her own.