The Rape of the Lock: Canto 1

The Rape of the Lock: Canto 1

Original Text
Miscellany (Bernard Lintot, May 1712). Revised in Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock (March 2, 1714). Facs. edn.: Scolar Press, 1970. PR 3629.A1 1970 TRIN. Further revised in Alexander Pope, Works (London: W. Bowyer for Bernard Lintot, 1717). E-10 884 and E-10 885 and E-10 3947 and E-10 3938 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
Nolueram, Belinda, tuos violare capillos;
Sedjuvat, hoc precibus me tribuisse tuis.
           (Martial, Epigrams 12.84)
2What mighty contests rise from trivial things,
3I sing--This verse to Caryl, Muse! is due:
4This, ev'n Belinda may vouchsafe to view:
5Slight is the subject, but not so the praise,
6If she inspire, and he approve my lays.
7     Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel
8A well-bred lord t' assault a gentle belle?
9O say what stranger cause, yet unexplor'd,
10Could make a gentle belle reject a lord?
11In tasks so bold, can little men engage,
12And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty rage?
13     Sol thro' white curtains shot a tim'rous ray,
14And op'd those eyes that must eclipse the day;
15Now lap-dogs give themselves the rousing shake,
16And sleepless lovers, just at twelve, awake:
19Belinda still her downy pillow press'd,
20Her guardian sylph prolong'd the balmy rest:
22The morning dream that hover'd o'er her head;
24(That ev'n in slumber caus'd her cheek to glow)
25Seem'd to her ear his winning lips to lay,
26And thus in whispers said, or seem'd to say.
28Of thousand bright inhabitants of air!
29If e'er one vision touch'd thy infant thought,
30Of all the nurse and all the priest have taught,
31Of airy elves by moonlight shadows seen,
33Or virgins visited by angel pow'rs,
34With golden crowns and wreaths of heav'nly flow'rs,
35Hear and believe! thy own importance know,
36Nor bound thy narrow views to things below.
37Some secret truths from learned pride conceal'd,
38To maids alone and children are reveal'd:
39What tho' no credit doubting wits may give?
40The fair and innocent shall still believe.
41Know then, unnumber'd spirits round thee fly,
42The light militia of the lower sky;
43These, though unseen, are ever on the wing,
45Think what an equipage thou hast in air,
47As now your own, our beings were of old,
48And once inclos'd in woman's beauteous mould;
49Thence, by a soft transition, we repair
51Think not, when woman's transient breath is fled,
52That all her vanities at once are dead;
53Succeeding vanities she still regards,
54And tho' she plays no more, o'erlooks the cards.
58To their first elements their souls retire:
59The sprites of fiery termagants in flame
60Mount up, and take a Salamander's name.
62And sip with Nymphs, their elemental tea.
63The graver prude sinks downward to a Gnome,
64In search of mischief still on earth to roam.
65The light coquettes in Sylphs aloft repair,
66And sport and flutter in the fields of air.
67     Know further yet; whoever fair and chaste
68Rejects mankind, is by some sylph embrac'd:
69For spirits, freed from mortal laws, with ease
71What guards the purity of melting maids,
72In courtly balls, and midnight masquerades,
73Safe from the treach'rous friend, the daring spark,
74The glance by day, the whisper in the dark,
75When kind occasion prompts their warm desires,
76When music softens, and when dancing fires?
77'Tis but their sylph, the wise celestials know,
78Though honour is the word with men below.
80For life predestin'd to the gnomes' embrace.
81These swell their prospects and exalt their pride,
82When offers are disdain'd, and love denied:
83Then gay ideas crowd the vacant brain,
84While peers, and dukes, and all their sweeping train,
85And garters, stars, and coronets appear,
86And in soft sounds 'Your Grace' salutes their ear.
87'Tis these that early taint the female soul,
88Instruct the eyes of young coquettes to roll,
89Teach infant cheeks a bidden blush to know,
90And little hearts to flutter at a beau.
91     Oft, when the world imagine women stray,
92The Sylphs through mystic mazes guide their way,
93Thro' all the giddy circle they pursue,
94And old impertinence expel by new.
95What tender maid but must a victim fall
96To one man's treat, but for another's ball?
97When Florio speaks, what virgin could withstand,
98If gentle Damon did not squeeze her hand?
99With varying vanities, from ev'ry part,
100They shift the moving toyshop of their heart;
101Where wigs with wigs, with sword-knots sword-knots strive,
102Beaux banish beaux, and coaches coaches drive.
103This erring mortals levity may call,
104Oh blind to truth! the Sylphs contrive it all.
107Late, as I rang'd the crystal wilds of air,
109I saw, alas! some dread event impend,
110Ere to the main this morning sun descend,
111But Heav'n reveals not what, or how, or where:
113This to disclose is all thy guardian can.
114Beware of all, but most beware of man!"
116Leap'd up, and wak'd his mistress with his tongue.
117'Twas then, Belinda, if report say true,
118Thy eyes first open'd on a billet-doux;
120But all the vision vanish'd from thy head.
122Each silver vase in mystic order laid.
123First, rob'd in white, the nymph intent adores
124With head uncover'd, the cosmetic pow'rs.
125A heav'nly image in the glass appears,
126To that she bends, to that her eyes she rears;
127Th' inferior priestess, at her altar's side,
128Trembling, begins the sacred rites of pride.
129Unnumber'd treasures ope at once, and here
130The various off'rings of the world appear;
131From each she nicely culls with curious toil,
132And decks the goddess with the glitt'ring spoil.
133This casket India's glowing gems unlocks,
134And all Arabia breathes from yonder box.
135The tortoise here and elephant unite,
136Transform'd to combs, the speckled and the white.
137Here files of pins extend their shining rows,
138Puffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux.
139Now awful beauty puts on all its arms;
140The fair each moment rises in her charms,
141Repairs her smiles, awakens ev'ry grace,
142And calls forth all the wonders of her face;
143Sees by degrees a purer blush arise,
144And keener lightnings quicken in her eyes.
145The busy Sylphs surround their darling care;
146These set the head, and those divide the hair,
147Some fold the sleeve, whilst others plait the gown;


1] First published anonymously in Lintot's Miscellany in May 1712, but revised, expanded, and published separately under Pope's name on March 2, 1714. To this edition Pope added the following dedicatory letter:
To Mrs. Arabella Fermor
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 offered 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 'tis 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 Le 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 mortals 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 through 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,
Your most obedient, Humble Servant,
A. Pope

The Rape of the Lock was written at the request of John Caryl, a Catholic man of letters and Pope's lifelong friend and correspondent. In the year 1711, Robert, Lord Petre (the Baron of the poem), a relative of Caryl's, caused a serious quarrel by the theft of a lock of Miss Arabella Fermor's hair (Pope's Belinda). Caryl requested a jesting poem to laugh the families out of their anger, and Pope obliged with the 1712 two-canto version of The Rape of the Lock, which had only 334 lines. The version of 1714 exploited far more fully the idea of a "heroi-comical" poem. This involved the addition of the "celestial machinery," of Rosicrucian spirits--the sylphs. Other epic or "heroic" analogues added in 1714 included Belinda's toilet (the arming for battle), the card game of ombre (epic games), and the Cave of Spleen (descent to the underworld).
The present version contains one other addition made in 1717, Clarissa's speech in Canto V, which Pope said (with some irony) opened "more clearly the moral of the poem." The importance of The Rape of the Lock and its proper comprehension by its audience was underlined by a prose publication called the Key to the Lock. In this work, Pope, writing under the pseudonym of Esdras Barnevelt, carries on a comic attack on the poem, pointing out some of the religious overtones, such as the sylphs as guardian angels, Belinda's toilet as a parody of the Mass. Nolueram, Belinda .... I didn't wish to violate your locks, Belinda, but I'm happy to have granted this to your prayers (Martial, Epigrams, XII, 84). Back to Line
17] Thrice rung ... the ground. Belinda's summons to her maid employs the triple repetition common in epic poetry. Back to Line
18] press'd watch: a watch which sounded the immediately preceding hour or quarter hour when it was pressed. These watches enabled one to tell time when it was too dark to see. Back to Line
21] The gods often communicate with the epic hero through dreams (e.g., Aeneid, III, 147 ff.). Back to Line
23] birth-night beau: dressed in the splendid apparel used for a royal birthday celebration. Back to Line
27] Epic heroes are always under the protection or guardianship of higher powers. Back to Line
32] silver token: coin left by the fairies in the shoes of grass covered with "fairy-ring," circles of dark, coarse grass, supposed to mark the place where the fairies have been dancing. Back to Line
44] box: theatre box.
Ring: the circular driveway in Hyde Park frequented by ladies of fashion. Back to Line
46] chair: sedan chair. Back to Line
50] vehicles: bodies (Pope intends a pun linking vehicles with equipage and chair). Back to Line
55] chariots: an eighteenth-century four-wheeled carriage but used in this context because of its epic appropriateness to the heroic action. Back to Line
56] ombre: see below, III, 27 ff. Back to Line
57] For when.... Air. This passage refers to the theory of personality which relates the basic kinds of temperament to the predominance of one or another of the four elements (air, fire, water, earth). Although the theory at times has been more generally held, it formed part of the Rosicrucian speculations from which Pope borrows his machinery. Back to Line
61] away ... tea: a perfect rhyme in Pope's day (pronounced {_e}i). Back to Line
70] Assume ... please: cf. the angels in Paradise Lost. Back to Line
79] nymphs: here used in the sense of maidens. Cf. dedicatory letter and line 62 where it refers to one of the four orders of Rosicrucian spirits. Back to Line
105] who thy protection claim: i.e., claim the right to protect thee. Back to Line
106] Ariel: "a word from the Vulgate ... rendered altar" (OED). The name is used in the Old Testament as a man's name and also occurs in Isaiah 29: 1-9, where it means "lion of God" and is applied to Jerusalem. Milton used the name for a rebel angel and Shakespeare for his benign aery spirit in The Tempest. In magical literature, the name is used for a spirit that controls the elements or planets. Back to Line
108] In the clear mirror: "[Pope] The language of the Platonists, the writers of the intelligible world of spirits, etc." Back to Line
112] pious: dutiful, godly. Back to Line
115] Shock. The shock or shough was a special kind of lap-dog, hairy, curled, and rough all over. (Pope puns on the usual meaning of the word.) Back to Line
119] Wounds ... ardors: i.e., the exaggerated expression of the billet-doux. Back to Line
121] In the Key to the Lock (see introduction above), Pope calls attention to the parallel between these sacred rites of pride and the Mass. Belinda is the priestess; the maid, the inferior priestess or acolyte. Pope also has in mind the hero arming for battle. Back to Line
148] Betty: a generic name for a lady's maid. Back to Line
Publication Start Year
Publication Notes
Revised 1714, 1717
RPO poem Editors
D. F. Theall
RPO Edition
3RP 2.305.