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The Rape of the Lock: Canto 1

Alexander Pope 1688 (London) – 1744 (Twickenham)

Nolueram, Belinda, tuos violare capillos;
Sedjuvat, hoc precibus me tribuisse tuis.
  (Martial, Epigrams 12.84)
  What dire offence from am'rous causes springs,
  What mighty contests rise from trivial things,
  I sing--This verse to Caryl, 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 op'd those eyes that must eclipse the day;
  Now lap-dogs 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 press'd,
  Her guardian sylph prolong'd the balmy rest:
  'Twas 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 pow'rs,
  With golden crowns and wreaths of heav'nly flow'rs,
  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, though unseen, are ever on theg,
  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 inclos'd 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 embrac'd:
  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?
  'Tis but their sylph, the wise celestials know,
  Though honour is the word with men below.

  Some nymphs there are, too conscious of their face,
  For life predestin'd to the gnomes' 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.
  'Tis 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 through mystic mazes guide their
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:46 min read

Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) is regarded as one of the greatest English poets, and the foremost poet of the early eighteenth century. He is best known for his satirical and discursive poetry, including The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, and An Essay on Criticism, as well as for his translation of Homer. more…

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