Study Guide

The Rape of the Lock

The Rape of the Lock Summary

The Rape of the Lock opens with a brief letter from Pope to the poem's real-life subject, Arabella ("Belle") Fermor. In the letter, he explains why he wrote the poem in the first place, the circumstances that led him to publish it, and why he dedicates it to Arabella.

With Canto I, the official story begins. Here we meet Belinda, the poem's beautiful, rich, young society heroine, cuddled up with her dog in her sumptuous bedroom, just barely awake in the late morning/early afternoon. She's been having a sexy dream in which a handsome, well-dressed young man whispers sweet nothings into her ear. We're off to a rather pleasant start.

We learn that the dream has come from the sylph, Ariel, the airy spirit who watches over her. In the dream, Ariel explains the entire spirit-world of the poem, and introduces the sylphs and gnomes who will play important roles in the action later on. Belinda wakes up fully and rings for her maid, who helps her get dressed and put on her makeup for the day. Invisible to the humans, Belinda's army of attendant sylphs help with her face, hair, and outfit. As Canto II opens, a resplendent Belinda is in a barge, sailing down the River Thames on her way to a fancy party at Hampton Court, one of the country residences of the royal family. We learn here that her hairstyle features two curling locks that hang down the back of her neck. Ariel the sylph makes a speech to all of the other sylphs, telling them he's had a premonition that something terrible is about to happen, and that they should all be on their guard during the party.

The "something terrible" happens in Canto III, which finds Belinda at the party with all of her friends, sipping coffee (a novelty refreshment in the early 1700s, believe it or not) and playing a card game called Ombre, which is very similar to Hearts. The card game itself is described as a metaphorical battle between Belinda and her opponent, the Baron, who unbeknownst to Belinda is also scheming to steal one of her two locks of hair. After Belinda wins the game, the Baron borrows a pair of scissors from her frenemy, Clarissa. He sneaks up behind her and, despite all of the efforts of Ariel and the Sylphs, snips off the lock.

Canto IV opens with Belinda having a complete hysterical fit about the theft. Pope gives her rage a supernatural source, telling us that Umbriel, a resentful gnome, goes down to the underworld to pick up a bag full of tears, sobs, and anger, which he then empties over Belinda's head.

After this, there's no way that Belinda will laugh off the Baron's prank, even though Canto V begins with Clarissa trying to tell her to be a good sport about it. Belinda ignores this advice, and starts a fight between herself and her friends, and the Baron and his friends. It's more of a battle of insults and mean looks than a physical throwdown, but a ton of social damage gets done all the same.

Just when it looks like Belinda's side is winning, we discover that the lock of hair itself has gone missing. Has all of the drama been for nothing? Nope. The poem concludes with the poet himself claiming the overall victory, as he has written this beautiful poem commemorating the loss of the lock—and his own poetry chops—for all eternity. Poetry and Alexander Pope, rather than vanity and petty quarrelling, win in the end.

  • Dedication

    To Mrs. Arabella Fermor

    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 forc'd to before I had executed half my Design, for the Machinery was entirely wanting to compleat it. The Machinery, Madam, is a Term invented by the Criticks, to signify that Part which the Deities, Angels, or Daemons, 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 it self, they always make it appear of the utmost Importance. These Machines I determin'd 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 call'd 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 Daemons of Earth, delight in Mischief; but the Sylphs, whose Habitation is in the Air, are the best-condition'd Creatures imaginable. For they say, any Mortals may enjoy the most intimate Familiarities with these gentle Spirits, upon a Condition very easie to all true Adepts, an inviolate Preservation of Chastity. As to the following Canto's, 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 manag'd, 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.

    • If you ever wind up reading a lot of 18th-century British poetry, you'll notice that many of the longer poems feature a letter of dedication, usually to a famous, powerful, rich, or important person (ideally, for the poet, a person who has all four of those things going on at once) at the very beginning of the work. Poets would often do this as a way to associate their work with that powerful or famous person, kind of like the way Nike named a style of basketball shoe the Air Jordan. Call it a form of literary endorsement.
    • The Rape of the Lock is no exception. While Arabella Fermor isn't famous at this point or politically powerful, here Pope has to work his way through a potentially complicated situation: he needs to make sure that Arabella is okay with him taking her story public. And even if she's not okay with it, he needs to make sure his readers know that he at least tried to make her okay with it. He's going to publish it either way.
    • You might notice that the letter addresses Arabella as "Mrs."; she's not actually married at this point, though. People in the 18th century addressed all respectable women as "Mrs", which was shorthand for "Mistress."
    • First, Pope explains to her his reasons for publishing the original poem (as opposed to just writing it out and giving it to all of the parties concerned): according to him, he was forced to take it public, as copies were leaking out and it would have been published anyway, so why not make sure the official version is the one that gets out? (Don't be fooled by Pope's disclaimer here, though. He knows this poem is top-notch and wants to take public credit for it).
    • Pope then explains some of the more obscure bells and whistles he's added to the poem's original story. That's the "Machinery" he describes in the second and third paragraphs.
    • Notice here his two-sided, "compliment" (NOT) to women readers in general, and Arabella in particular, when he says "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."
    • If this sounds condescending to you, you're right. It is. Pope may be gallant and polite here, but like most 18th-century men of the educated class, he had a sadly low opinion of women's intellect and abilities. We're still two hundred and twenty-six years away from women getting the vote, and just over two hundred and fifty years away from Title IX, folks.
    • "Machinery," as Pope next explains to Arabella, is a fancy word for the supernatural elements in an epic poem. For Homer and Virgil, these would be the old Greek gods who meddled in all of the battlefield action; for Pope, it's the Sylphs and Gnomes he describes here. The Rosicrucians were a medieval secret society that practiced alchemy and dabbled in Middle Eastern philosophy. 
    • That book Pope mentions with the French title? It's Le Comte de Gabalis ("the Count Gabalis"), a screwball comedy written in the 1670s about occult beliefs and mystical spirits, with some history and philosophy thrown in. The Rosicrucians loved it. 
    • The final two paragraphs of this opening letter dedicate the poem to Arabella, and are also a fancy version of the "all characters in this work are fictitious" disclaimer you'll often find at the beginning or end of a movie. 
    • You might also notice that a lot of the words in the letter (and throughout the entire poem) appear to be randomly capitalized or italicized, or misspelled. While sometimes the capitalization or italicization is meaningful (as when Pope personifies a noun, or wants to emphasize a word), for the most part it is random. 
    • Here's the deal: in the early 18th century, the English language wasn't yet fully standardized. There were no official, comprehensive dictionaries or guides to correct or proper grammar and spelling. (We know, you might now be wishing you lived back then, right?) At this point too few people knew how to read and write to even bother. But over the next hundred years, literacy exploded, and as more folk became literate, language became more regulated and codified.
  • Canto I

    Lines 1-12

    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! cou'd compel
    A well-bred Lord t'assault a gentle Belle?
    Oh say what stranger Cause, yet unexplor'd,
    Cou'd make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?
    In Tasks so bold, can Little Men engage,
    and in soft Bosoms dwells such Mighty Rage?

    • Do you ever say a quick prayer to some higher power before trying to do something really difficult, like nail a foul shot in a basketball game or take a hairy test in Algebra class? Ancient Greek and Roman poets like Homer (in the Iliad) and Virgil (in the Aeneid), and British heavyweights like John Milton (in Paradise Lost) would do the same thing as they began their epics, dedicating their poetic efforts to (and asking for inspirational help from) the Muses, the Greek gods, or (in Milton's case) God himself. 
    • In the first six lines of Canto I, Pope is doing just that, but in a very tongue-in-cheek way. Instead of a divinity, he dedicates the poem to his and Arabella Fermor's friend John Caryll, who originally asked him to write it, and to "Belinda" (i.e., Arabella, the woman the poem is ostensibly about). This is called an invocation. 
    • Here Pope sets the stage for the action that's coming, and gives us a bit of a mystery to follow as we read. Why (as he asks the "Goddess"—probably a Muse) would a Lord assault a young Lady? Why would a young Lady get angry at a Lord? Why would a society man do such a thing? And are society women really capable of getting into a rage about it? 
    • Also here at the very beginning of his long poem, with this mock-dedication, Pope is setting his readers up for a theme that will come back over and over again: the Rape of the Lock as what literature historians call a mock epic: a poem that takes as its model far more serious epics like the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, and Paradise Lost, using high-flying poetic language and grand metaphors just like they do. But mock epics are about something trivial and small, like a young society woman losing a piece of her hair, instead of about a great war between the Trojans and Greeks, or the founding of the Roman Empire, or the fall of Adam and Eve.
    • Pope isn't just making fun of grand epics, though: he's also paying an affectionate tribute to them, and demonstrating at the same time how well he knows epic poetry. Every educated person of Pope's day knew epic poetry really well, better even than you know the lyrics to the latest Katy Perry single. That's because the early 18th century loved Classical Greek and Roman culture. Historians call it the age of neoclassicism.
    • This makes The Rape of the Lock especially fun for people who have read the Iliad and the Odyssey and the Aeneid. Have you ever listened to Weird Al Yankovic doing his "Polka Face" spoof of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," or his "Party in the CIA" version of Miley Cyrus's "Party in the U.S.A"? They're really funny and clever all at the same time, especially if you know the original song really well. The Rape of the Lock is a lot like that. This is only the first of many mock-epic moments in the poem; we'll point them out to you as we go through it. 
    • Following the mock-epic theme, then, the first twelve lines go about juxtaposing the grand and the trivial. Notice how the first line contains "dire Offence" (i.e., a horrific crime) and "am'rous Causes" (that's "amorous," meaning connected to love and romance, but Pope has shortened the word with an apostrophe to make it fit the meter of the line.)? 
    • And notice how the second line contains "mighty Contests" and "trivial Things"? How about in line eleven, which has "Tasks so bold" and "Little Men," or line twelve, with "soft Bosoms" and "mighty Rage"? Yep, that's juxtaposition again. The technique is often used (as it is here) as a tool of satire
    • By placing the high and mighty next to the trivial, Pope can actually make the high and mighty seem trivial, and then get his readers to question why they thought it was high and mighty in the first place. 
    • Another cool poetic trick that Pope uses often comes in the last two lines of this section: "In Tasks so Bold, can little Men engage,/ And in soft Bosoms dwell such mighty Rage?" (11-12). If you look at both lines together, you'll see that the first half of the first line ("Tasks so Bold") goes with the second half of the second line ("mighty Rage"), and the second half of the first line ("little Men") goes well with the first half of the second ("soft Bosoms"). 
    • This poetic device is called a chiasmus, from the Greek word for "cross." Look for more instances of it throughout the poem.
    • What do you think Pope is up to by using it here?
    • Have you noticed the poem's form by now? The entire thing, like these first twelve lines, is written in iambic pentameter and rhymed couplets (another term for these is heroic couplets). 
    • See the "Form and Meter" section for a more detailed description of the heroic couplet, but take a sec to notice here (and all the way through the poem) how the side-by-side pairing of the couplets makes it easy for Pope to do the kind of juxtaposition we were looking at above. 
    • Pope was really, really, really good at heroic couplets, by the way. And we mean good. For a short description of just how good, see our guide to a snippet from one of his later poems, An Essay on Criticism.

    Lines 13–26

    Sol thro' white Curtains shot a tim'rous Ray,
    And op'd those Eyes that must eclipse the Day;
    Now Lapdogs give themselves the rowzing 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.
    '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 Birth-night 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.

    • Ah, the leisurely life of the rich and beautiful. Here we meet our heroine, Belinda, just waking up as the sun peeks through her window curtains. Barely awake, she rings the bell next to her bed to call her maid, and knocks her slipper against the floor for extra emphasis. She checks her watch to see what time it is, and then sinks back into a doze. 
    • We also meet Ariel, her "Guardian Sylph" (like a guardian angel but a lot smaller), who gives her an extra dream as she falls back to sleep. And what a dream it is. A very handsome, well-dressed young man—he makes her blush even in her sleep—is whispering in her ear.
    • "Sol" in the very first line is a personification of the sun, and Pope makes him seem almost shy to be peeking in to Belinda's window, as if he's afraid to disturb her. And indeed he should be. The very next line uses a metaphor to compare Belinda's own eyes to the sun; in fact, her eyes are more beautiful (they "must eclipse the Day") than he is. 
    • Belinda is hardly waking up with the dawn, though: these lines tell us that, like the pampered lapdogs owned by the 18th-century upper classes, or the sleepless lovers who don't need to work and so have the energy to stay awake all night thinking about romance, it's closer to noon
    • And Belinda's no Cinderella, as her bell and knocking slipper also show. She's got a maid coming to bring her breakfast and help her get dressed. She's also got a fancy watch that chimes to tell her the time.
    • So who is this dream boy whispering in her ear? We're not sure yet, but we do know that he's more decked out than "a Birth-night Beau." Every year, members of the British royal family would throw super-fancy Birth-night parties to celebrate their birthdays, and the nobility would go dressed in their finest clothes (think the red carpet on Oscar night, but more so). This dude is stylin'. No wonder she's blushing in her sleep.

    Lines 27-114

    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 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, unnumbered 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 inclos'd in Woman's beauteous Mold;
    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 the Souls retire:
    The Sprights 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 farther 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 Musick softens, and when Dancing fires?
    'Tis 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 Gnomes Embrace.
    These swell their Prospects and exalt their Pride,
    When Offers are disdain'd, and Love deny'd.
    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 Infants Cheeks a bidden Blush to know,
    And little Hearts to flutter at a Beau.

    Oft when the World imagine Women stray,
    The Sylphs thro' mystick 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 ev'ry Part,
    They shift the moving Toyshop of their Heart;
    Where Wigs with Wigs, with Sword-knots Sword-knots strive,
    Beaus banish Beaus, 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 rang'd the Crystal Wilds of Air,
    In the clear Mirror of thy ruling Star
    I saw, alas! some dread Event impend,
    E're to the Main this Morning Sun descend.
    But Heav'n reveals not what, or how, or where:
    Warn'd by thy Sylph, oh Pious Maid beware!
    This to disclose is all thy Guardian can.
    Beware of all, but most beware of Man!

    • What a dream indeed. Turns out our handsome youth is telling Belinda all about the spirits who control and protect young upper-class women of all personalities, without their knowledge.
    • See, Belinda's not just a nobody, or some unimportant dork of a girl. "Hear and believe! Thy own importance know" (I.35), he whispers, telling her she has an entire invisible entourage of fairylike creatures who keep an eye on her, her hair, her clothes, and her social life, guiding and protecting her. 
    • Who are they, and where did they come from? In lines 47-56, the dream visitor tells her that they were all once beautiful young women like herself, whose spirits now take joy in overseeing the social drama and romantic exploits of the girls who come after them. 
    • We are introduced to four different kinds of these spirits: "Salamanders" (59-60), spirits of fire, who had strong personalities in life and were temperamental and quick to anger; "Nymphs"(61-62), water spirits who used to be wishy-washy girls; "Gnomes" (63-64), earthy types who were moody drama queens in life; and best of all the "Sylphs" (65-66), spirits of the air who when alive were "coquettes"—flirty happy girls, or the classic cheerleader types. 
    • We then learn, in lines 67-78, that the Sylphs are the best of all four, as their job is to guard the good name of young women through all kinds of social situations, especially regarding those with the opposite sex (don't you wish you had someone like that to help you navigate lunch period or Saturday night's party?). 
    • Upperclass women in Pope's day had to be very careful about their reputations when it came to dealing with men who weren't their fathers or husbands. They had to preserve their honor at all costs; in The Rape of the Lock, Pope imagines that the Sylphs are on a specific mission to help girls do just that.
    • Lines 79-90 tell us more about what the Gnomes do: unlike the happy Sylphs, Gnomes fill young women with vanity and pride about their looks and the people they hang out with (yes, Gnomes turn girls into snobs who only care about status and who will do almost anything—even faking friendships or attraction—to get it). Not good. 
    • But the dream goes right back to the Sylphs in lines 91-104, reminding Belinda (and us) that even when the behavior of girls seems absolutely inexplicable (they drop a friend for no good reason, they don't show up where or when they're supposed to, they fall in and out of love often), it's really the Sylphs who are masterminding the whole confusing deal. 
    • Finally, in lines 105-114, the dream visitor reveals who he is: Ariel, the most powerful of all the Sylphs, who is Belinda's special guardian. And here, we get our first inkling that something terrible is about to happen in this poem: Ariel warns Belinda that he has a premonition of a dire event approaching, and that she needs to watch out for herself. He does not know exactly what it is, but he does know that it will involve a man. Cue the ominous music now. 
    • Not only does this section of the poem move us further forward in the plot thanks to Ariel's warning, it's also Pope's way of teaching us (his readers) all about the "Machinery" or supernatural element of the poem that he told Arabella Fermor about in the dedicatory letter
    • This is another mock-epic moment: in a serious poem like the Iliad, Greek gods like Zeus or Athena might be controlling and guiding and protecting the hero; in The Rape of the Lock, Belinda is protected and guided by the spirits of frou-frou young women, who used to love, on lines 55 and 56, "gilded Chariots" (decorated coaches, the fancy cars of Pope's day) and "Ombre" (a card game played at parties) just like herself. 
    • Where Athena might help a Greek hero like Achilles fight a Trojan hero like Hector, Ariel and his fellow Sylphs give Belinda a hand making it through "Courtly Balls, and Midnight Masquerades" (72), or dealing with mean friends or boys who try to take advantage of her (the "daring Spark" of line 73). The whole thing is ridiculously silly. 
    • Or is it? Belinda may be only a pretty girl with money, but the poem, even though it's frivolous, is still granting her all kinds of importance. As line 27 says, she is the "Fairest of Mortals," and she is our heroine after all. 
    • Pope is, as he has been doing all along, using the power of juxtaposition again: mock-epic Belinda's superficial social life might seem trivial compared to the mighty exploits of epic Achilles, but then again doesn't Achilles himself—and all of those posing, preening Greek and Trojan warriors—seem a little silly by association with Belinda and the girls she hangs out with? 
    • Speaking of double-edged compliments, did you think that some of the language Pope uses to describe women's minds and hearts in lines 91-104 is a little condescending? "giddy Circles," "varying Vanities," "the moving Toyshop of their Heart"?
    • You're right. As with the dedicatory letter, we're back in the territory of how low an opinion 18th-century society held of women's intellects and capacities. 
    • Pope pays Belinda and her kind massive compliments on their beauty and clothing and wit throughout this poem, but he's also at the same time reinforcing the stereotype of women like her as airheads. 
    • Notice that Pope uses the model of the four elements (air, earth, water, fire) to classify his spirits. Why do you think he does this?

    Lines 115-148

    He said; when Shock, who thought she slept too long,
    Leapt up, and wak'd his Mistress with his Tongue.
    'Twas then Belinda! if Report say true,
    Thy Eyes first open'd on a Billet-doux.
    Wounds, Charms, and Ardors, 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, rob'd in White, the Nymph intent adores
    With Head uncover'd, the Cosmetic Pow'rs.
    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 ev'ry 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, while others plait the Gown;
    And Betty's prais'd for Labours not her own.

    • Belinda's lapdog—yes, like Paris Hilton with her Chihuahua accessory, Belinda has a fancy little dog ("Shock") to keep her company—ends the dream abruptly by waking her up with puppy kisses. Will she remember Ariel's warning of dire things to come? 
    • Not likely, as the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes is a "Billet-doux" or a love letter (literally, it's French for "sweet note"—try that out on your Valentine next year). Pope does not tell us who the letter's from, but when she reads it, its contents (the "Wounds" her beauty has inflicted on the writer's heart, and how strongly— "Ardor"—he feels about her "Charms," line 119) make her completely forget about the dream. 
    • In what follows—the last 24 lines of this Canto, or section, of the poem—Pope gives us perhaps the grandest description of a girl putting on her makeup, doing her hair, and getting dressed, in all of British literature. Belinda gets out of bed, goes to her mirrored vanity, sits down, and with the help of the invisible Sylphs, she puts on her jewelry, makes up her face, does her hair, and laces herself up into her dress. 
    • Think Katniss in The Hunger Games, surrounded by Cinna and the rest of her personal-stylist team from the Capitol. "Betty," in line 148, is Belinda's maid, who—as the poem tells us—gets all of the credit for the fancy work the Sylphs actually do.
    • This description of Belinda's primping is another of those mock epic moments, juxtaposing the grand or the great with the trivial or the inconsequential. Pope uses three different extended metaphors to nail the juxtaposition. The first one (121-128) is religious: Belinda's "Toilet" (121) is likened to an "Altar" (127), and Belinda and Betty are made into priestess-worshipers.
    • What god are they praying to? Belinda's own image, of course (125). 
    • Their decking out of Belinda's face in the mirror is made into a form of worship service, or "The sacred Rites of Pride" (128), as Pope puts it. Just before you think Pope might be going a bit to far with this, ask yourself what an alien from outer space might think of how you get ready for school in the morning, especially if you take a lot of time with your hair and makeup. 
    • Vanity—Belinda's absolute love of her own appearance—and the bad effects too much of it can have on society, is a huge theme in The Rape of the Lock. This section of Canto I is where we first see it, but look out for it throughout the rest of the poem.
    • The second extended metaphor, from lines 129 to 138, takes us from the church of Belinda's face to the outer territories of the British Empire. Pope takes an inventory of what's on Belinda's dressing-table (her jewelry, her perfume, her makeup, her hair toys), and reminds us where all of the stuff originally came from. 
    • These are "the various Off'rings of the World" (130): her "Gems" from India, her perfumes from Arabia, her ivory and tortoise-shell combs from elephants and tortoises. You did know that the British Empire was getting larger and more powerful all throughout the eighteenth century, didn't you? Remember, in 1714 when the poem was written, the good old U.S. of A. was still thirteen colonies paying taxes to Britain, and British ships and merchants were scurrying all over the globe to bring back fancy goodies like perfume and ivory to deck out those who could afford them back home. 
    • Pope is celebrating all of this power and wealth even while he trivializes it by putting it in the form of the cosmetics and gewgaws in Belinda's room. Notice too how Belinda herself is oblivious to the nature or source of her accessories, as they're all jumbled together on the table top ("Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux" in line 138). 
    • "Patches," by the way, refers to the artificial beauty marks that 18th-century men and women would stick onto their faces in strategic places. Seem weird to you? Imagine what they would have thought of pierced eyebrows. It's all relative, people. 
    • The third extended metaphor makes Belinda into a warrior of sorts. A hottie warrior. Ever hear the '80s song by Pat Benatar, "Love is a Battlefield"? Belinda's hair-and-makeup session is arming her for war—well, more truthfully, for the fancy party she will go to in the very next Canto. 
    • Pope has already told us that her jewelry and cosmetics are "Spoil" (132), meaning the "spoils of war" (and not rotten fruit).
    • "Now awful Beauty puts on all its arms" (139), Pope tells us, and Belinda becomes like Achilles putting on his armor before facing the Trojans in battle. (Think about that while you're getting ready for the prom.) Who will Belinda be "fighting," though?
  • Canto II

    Lines 1-18

    Not with more Glories, in th' Etherial Plain,
    The Sun first rises o'er the purpled Main,
    Than issuing forth, the Rival of his Beams
    Lanch'd on the Bosom of the Silver Thames.
    Fair Nymphs, and well-drest Youths around her shone,
    But ev'ry Eye was fix'd on her alone.
    On her white Breast a sparkling Cross she wore,
    Which Jews might kiss, and Infidels adore.
    Her lively Looks a sprightly Mind disclose,
    Quick as her Eyes, and as unfix'd as those:
    Favours to none, to all she Smiles extends,
    Oft she rejects, but never once offends.
    Bright as the Sun, her Eyes the Gazers strike,
    And, like the sun, they shine on all alike.
    Yet graceful Ease, and Sweetness void of Pride,
    Might hide her Faults, if Belles had faults to hide:
    If to her share some Female Errors fall,
    Look on her Face, and you'll forget 'em all.

    • Canto II opens with Belinda traveling down the River Thames. This is the main river that runs through London. People in the 18th century used to hire boats—kind of like a water taxi—to take them to destinations up and down the river. Belinda's on her way to a party at Hampton Court, a few miles upriver from her house. 
    • The boat is full of her equally well-dressed and good-looking friends, male and female, but Belinda outshines them all. She's wearing a jeweled cross necklace as part of her ensemble, and she's making a ton of small talk. And even though she can be flirtatious, she's so superficially nice to everyone and she looks so good that everyone forgives her if she accidentally hurts someone's feelings. If there were such things as "popular" school cliques in Belinda's day, she would totally belong to one. 
    • We are back to the sun again in these first few lines of Canto II. Remember how "Sol" (a.k.a., the sun) was so shy about peeping through Belinda's window curtains at the beginning of Canto I, because Belinda's very eyes would rival his beams for beauty? Here Pope continues the metaphor that relates Belinda and the sun, taking it to the absolute nth degree in the first four lines, where she is "the Rival of his Beams" (3). 
    • What's going on with that cross around her neck in lines 7-8, the one "Which Jews might kiss, and Infidels adore"? 
    • Here's the deal: Pope is gently poking fun at religious prejudices here, telling us that Belinda is so beautiful at this moment, even a Jewish person or an "infidel" (by this Pope probably means a follower of Islam; yes, you're right in guessing that people in Pope's day were not as tolerant of different religions as we are now) would kiss the very Christian cross she wears. It's another reminder (as if we needed one here, right?) of how darn good she looks.
    • Pope hits us with a simile in lines 13-14, comparing Belinda to the sun (again), telling us that just like the sun, her smiles and brightness shine on everyone alike. A great compliment, isn't it? But look at it again more closely and you'll see it's got a double edge: the sun is superficial, not deep. So, by extension, is our friend Belinda.

    Lines 19-46

    This Nymph, to the Destruction of Mankind,
    Nourish'd two Locks, which graceful hung behind
    In equal Curls, and well conspir'd to deck
    With shining Ringlets her smooth Iv'ry Neck.
    Love in these Labyrinths his Slaves detains,
    And mighty Hearts are held in slender Chains.
    With hairy Sprindges we the Birds betray,
    Slight Lines of Hair surprize the Finny Prey,
    Fair Tresses Man's Imperial Race insnare,
    And Beauty draws us with a single Hair.
    Th' Adventrous Baron the bright Locks admir'd,
    He saw, he wish'd, and to the Prize aspir'd:
    Resolv'd to win, he meditates the way,
    By Force to ravish, or by Fraud betray;
    For when Success a Lover's Toil attends,
    Few ask, if Fraud or Force attain'd his Ends.
    For this, e're Phoebus rose, he had implor'd
    Propitious Heav'n, and ev'ry Pow'r ador'd,
    But chiefly Love — to Love an Altar built,
    Of twelve vast French Romances, neatly gilt.
    There lay three Garters, half a Pair of Gloves;
    And all the Trophies of his former Loves.
    With tender Billet-doux he lights the Pyre,
    And breathes three am'rous Sighs to raise the Fire.
    Then prostrate falls, and begs with ardent Eyes
    Soon to obtain, and long possess the Prize:
    The Pow'rs gave Ear, and granted half his Pray'r,
    The rest, the Winds dispers'd in empty Air.

    • Finally, Pope introduces us to the locks themselves, the main subject of the poem's title, which he describes as hanging, perfectly curled and shiny, down the back of Belinda's neck. 
    • In these lines we also meet the Baron, the male protagonist of the story, who Pope tells us has been plotting and planning to steal those locks for a long time. 
    • In fact, we learn in lines 35-44 that he spent the early morning of this very day praying for the opportunity. We also learn in lines 45–46 that his prayers have been halfway granted. Belinda's doom is sealed.
    • Do you think that the locks of hair hanging down Belinda's neck are accidental? Yeah right. She's actually "Nourish'd" (20) them both, knowing full well that a few strategic curls can be very attractive. Pope gives us two tidy metaphors here: in lines 23-24 the locks are "slender Chains" with the power to enslave their beholder; in lines 25-28 they are tools for catching admirers, much like "Sprindges" (i.e. snares) or fishing line might catch a bird or a fish. 
    • If love was a battlefield in the first Canto, here at the beginning of the second Canto love is a little more like a hunting trip, with Belinda out to catch herself a boyfriend. We wouldn't say she is literally planning on tying up a likely dude with her hair, though (this isn't Tangled, kids).

    Lines 47-72

    But now secure the painted Vessel glides,
    The Sun-beams trembling on the floating Tydes,
    While melting Musick steals upon the Sky,
    And soften'd Sounds along the Waters die.
    Smooth flow the Waves, the Zephyrs gently play,
    Belinda smil'd, and all the World was gay.
    All but the Sylph — With careful Thoughts opprest,
    Th' impending Woe sate heavy on his Breast.
    He summons strait his Denizens of Air;
    The lucid Squadrons round the Sails repair:
    Soft o'er the Shrouds Aerial Whispers breathe,
    That seem'd but Zephyrs to the Train beneath.
    Some to the Sun their Insect-Wings unfold,
    Waft on the Breeze, or sink in Clouds of Gold.
    Transparent Forms, too fine for mortal Sight,
    Their fluid Bodies half dissolv'd in Light.
    Loose to the Wind their airy Garments flew,
    Thin glitt'ring Textures of the filmy Dew;
    Dipt in the richest Tincture of the Skies,
    Where Light disports in ever-mingling Dies,
    While ev'ry Beam new transient Colours flings,
    Colours that change whene'er they wave their Wings.
    Amid the Circle, on the gilded Mast,
    Superior by the Head, was Ariel plac'd;
    His Purple Pinions opening to the Sun,
    He rais'd his Azure Wand, and thus begun.

    • Poor Ariel. He and his posse of Sylphs have come along for the ride, to keep an eye on Belinda and make sure the party goes well for her. But while for all of the humans in the boat this is a perfect morning—the sun is shining, music is playing, Belinda is smiling—Ariel can't get the dire portents of the morning out of his head. Bad stuff's gonna go down.
    • He calls all of the Sylphs together from the air and from their perches in the boat sails, to have a quick strategy meeting and prepare for the worst. Unseen by Belinda and her friends, the gorgeously colored and transparent Sylphs gather around their leader, who begins to speak.
    • In this passage Pope uses a lot of color, light, and air language to underscore the fragile beauty of these frivolous creatures: they speak in "Aerial whispers"(57) that to humans might sound only like "Zephyrs"—a Greek word for a light, playful breeze (51 and 58)—they "Waft" and sink in "Clouds of Gold" (60). 
    • More great words in this part that completely nail the image: "Transparent," "fluid," "dissolv'd in Light," "airy," "glitt'ring," and "filmy." Pope wants to make totally certain that you don't miss his point: the Sylphs are beautiful, colorful, and delicate, like a lot of butterflies. You didn't miss his point, did you?

    Lines 73-142

    Ye Sylphs and Sylphids, to your Chief give Ear,
    Fays, Fairies, Genii, Elves, and Daemons hear!
    Ye know the Spheres and various Tasks assign'd,
    By Laws Eternal, to th' Aerial Kind.
    Some in the Fields of purest Aether play,
    And bask and whiten in the Blaze of Day.
    Some guide the Course of wandring Orbs on high,
    Or roll the Planets thro' the boundless Sky.
    Some less refin'd, beneath the Moon's pale Light
    Hover, and catch the shooting stars by Night;
    Or suck the Mists in grosser Air below,
    Or dip their Pinions in the painted Bow,
    Or brew fierce Tempests on the wintry Main,
    Or o'er the Glebe distill the kindly Rain.
    Others on Earth o'er human Race preside,
    Watch all their Ways, and all their Actions guide:
    Of these the Chief the Care of Nations own,
    And guard with Arms Divine the British Throne.
    Our humbler Province is to tend the Fair,
    Not a less pleasing, tho' less glorious Care.
    To save the Powder from too rude a Gale,
    Nor let th' imprison'd Essences exhale,
    To draw fresh Colours from the vernal Flow'rs,
    To steal from Rainbows ere they drop in Show'rs
    A brighter Wash; to curl their waving Hairs,
    Assist their Blushes, and inspire their Airs;
    Nay oft, in Dreams, Invention we bestow,
    To change a Flounce, or add a Furbelo.
    This Day, black Omens threat the brightest Fair
    That e'er deserv'd a watchful Spirit's Care;
    Some dire Disaster, or by Force, or Slight,
    But what, or where, the Fates have wrapt in Night.
    Whether the Nymph shall break Diana's Law,
    Or some frail China Jar receive a Flaw,
    Or stain her Honour, or her new Brocade,
    Forget her Pray'rs, or miss a Masquerade,
    Or lose her Heart, or Necklace, at a Ball;
    Or whether Heav'n has doom'd that Shock must fall.
    Haste then ye Spirits! to your Charge repair;
    The flutt'ring Fan be Zephyretta's Care;
    The Drops to thee, Brillante, we consign;
    And Momentilla, let the Watch be thine;
    Do thou, Crispissa, tend her fav'rite Lock;
    Ariel himself shall be the Guard of Shock.

    To Fifty chosen Sylphs, of special Note,
    We trust th' important Charge, the Petticoat.
    Oft have we known that sev'nfold Fence to fail;
    Tho' stiff with Hoops, and arm'd with Ribs of Whale.
    Form a strong Line about the Silver Bound,
    And guard the wide Circumference around.

    Whatever spirit, careless of his Charge,
    His Post neglects, or leaves the Fair at large,
    Shall feel sharp Vengeance soon o'ertake his Sins,
    Be stopt in Vials, or transfixt with Pins.
    Or plung'd in Lakes of bitter Washes lie,
    Or wedg'd whole Ages in a Bodkin's Eye:
    Gums and Pomatums shall his Flight restrain,
    While clog'd he beats his silken Wings in vain;
    Or Alom-Stypticks with contracting Power
    Shrink his thin Essence like a rivell'd Flower.
    Or as Ixion fix'd, the Wretch shall feel
    The giddy Motion of the whirling Mill,
    In Fumes of burning Chocolate shall glow,
    And tremble at the Sea that froaths below!

    He spoke; the Spirits from the Sails descend;
    Some, Orb in Orb, around the Nymph extend,
    Some thrid the mazy Ringlets of her Hair,
    Some hang upon the Pendants of her Ear;
    With beating Hearts the dire Event they wait,
    Anxious, and trembling for the Birth of Fate.

    • For these final sixty or so lines of Canto II, Ariel gives a stirring, grandiose speech to his army of Sylphs that warns them of Belinda's possible danger. First (74-90) he gives an overview of the entire spirit world, starting at the very top of the pecking order with those spirits who guide the cosmos and the galaxy, moving through those in charge of the sea and the weather, on down to those who guard and guide humanity, including the spirits who "guard with Arms Divine the British Throne" (61). 
    • He and his Sylphs, he goes on to say, have a much less important job: to keep an eye on society women like Belinda. In lines 91-100, he gives us details: Sylphs help with hairstyles, makeup, and fashion, without their humans ever knowing it. 
    • Powders and washes, flounces and furbelows: it's all fun and games until Ariel throws down the doom and gloom in line 101.
    • He warns the Sylphs that "black Omens" threaten their Belinda, and that they all have to pull together to guard her from whatever terrible thing is about to happen to her. 
    • In lines 111-122, he assigns certain posts to certain Sylphs: one for her fan, one for her earrings, one for her watch, one for her hair, and Ariel himself tells us he will protect Shock the dog. 
    • Fifty Sylphs are assigned to keep an eye on Belinda's skirt (dresses were BIG in those days). The final 14 lines of Ariel's speech (123–136) threaten any Sylph who falls down on the job with some horrific punishments. The speech over, the Sylphs all take their protective positions, and wait. Cue more ominous music.
    • Here we go again with another of Pope's poetic juxtapositions; in fact, Ariel's entire speech puts the sublime and the ridiculous side by side so often that the chief Sylph could quit his day job and go write for Monty Python's Flying Circus. 
    • From his opening shout-out to all classes of spirits (that's what he means in lines 73 and 74, when he calls to "Ye Sylphs and Sylphids" and to all of the "Fays, Fairies, Genii, Elves and Daemons") to his description of the grand powers that move the planets and stars in their orbits, or control the weather, or keep an eye on the Queen of England, his speech in lines 73 through 90 is about as inflated as you can get. 
    • But where, in all of this pomp and circumstance, do he and his fellow Sylphs fit in? After line 91, we get the answer: the realm of the ridiculous. Bling and frills, curls and perfume, the keen fashion sense of the idle rich—right up next to the sun, moon, stars, and the government of nations. 
    • If you haven't snorted your milk through your nose yet, you might get there soon: the juxtapositions keep on coming thicker and faster from lines 105 through 110 as Ariel speculates on what Belinda's dire fate will be. Pope is making much of the couplet form here to bring his juxtapositions across. 
    • Take a close look at lines 105 and 106: "Whether the Nymph shall break Diana's law,/ Or some frail China jar receive a Flaw." The "Nymph" is Belinda, and "Diana" in that first line is the Roman goddess of chastity and the moon. What do you think "Diana's law" might be? Yep, you're right: Ariel is wondering if Belinda might lose her virginity today. A pretty monumental thing, if it did happen. 
    • But what does Pope juxtapose that with, in the very next line? Whether or not a vase might get a crack in it. If you feel like Ariel has his priorities confused by putting these two things on an equal footing within a couplet, you're right. 
    • Now look at the juxtaposition that occurs within the very next line: "Or stain her Honour, or her new Brocade." "Brocade" stands for a new dress made out of a fancy embroidered fabric. Is the Ariel equating a stain on Belinda's honor with a stain on her dress? Absolutely. Is that messed up? Absolutely. 
    • Keep on going, and you'll see more examples of this over the next two lines, ending finally with Ariel getting anxious about the fate of Shock the dog. 
    • Notice how Pope is developing that whole juxtaposition thing into commentary on the priorities of the society he lives in. Have you ever listened to your friends freaking out over Justin Bieber's current relationship status and thought, get real, people.
    • Yeah, it's kind of like that. 
    • Check out the odd names that Ariel gives to specific Sylphs when he assigns a protective mission to each one in lines 111-116.
    • Remember the word "Zephyr" from earlier in this Canto, which referred to a gentle breeze? Here we have a Sylph named "Zephiretta," whom Ariel assigns to watch Belinda's fan. Get it? 
    • And see why "Brillante" might be needed to keep an eye on her diamonds, and "Momentilla" her watch? "Crispissa" is a play on the Latin word for "curl." Pope is having a ton of geek fun with words here, as you might have noticed. Puns galore.
    • And then there's the issue of the petticoat in line 117-122. Sure, women's skirts were huge in those days, but fifty Sylphs are needed to guard it? What do you think Ariel is getting at here? Hint: it has something to do with "Diana's law" again. Bingo. 
    • Someone getting up Belinda's skirts (figuratively and literally) would probably be one of the worst things that could happen to her reputation. If you are starting to think that reputation and honor, mainly when it came to sex, were really important to young society women in the 18th century, you're right on the money. 
    • And while women's corsets and petticoats were pretty formidable in those days (as the poem describes, made with hoops and whalebone, which was a little springy), the implication here is that all of that construction might not be enough to keep out a persistent suitor. 
    • Now on to Ariel's punishments for those Sylphs who might fall asleep on the job, in lines 123-136. Slacking Sylphs might find themselves stuck in small glass jars or poked with pins, dunked in cosmetic "Washes" (imagine drowning in a lake of Sea Breeze), or stuck in a hairpin (that's the "Bodkin's eye" in line 128).
    • They might also get gooed up in hair gel or lotion ("Gums and Pomatums," line 129), shrunk into nothingness ("Alom-stypticks" were astringents that were used for first-aid to stop bleeding), or imprisoned in a coffee grinder, or drowned in a sea of hot chocolate.
    • With the coffee grinder Pope gets in a tiny allusion in line 133 to the Classical Greek character Ixion, who was doomed to revolve on a wheel in Hades for eternity. Yep, more juxtaposition. It's everywhere 
    • Overall, these are perfect punishments for the frivolous Sylphs, wouldn't you say? No wonder they so diligently repair to their posts in Belinda's skirts, hair, and earrings, to wait for whatever comes. Are you starting to worry about her yet?
  • Canto III

    Lines 1-18

    Close by those Meads for ever crown'd with Flow'rs,
    Where Thames with Pride surveys his rising Tow'rs,
    There stands a Structure of Majestick Frame,
    Which from the neighb'ring Hampton takes its Name.
    Here Britain's Statesmen oft the Fall foredoom
    Of Foreign Tyrants, and of Nymphs at home;
    Here Thou, great Anna! whom three Realms obey,
    Dost sometimes Counsel take—and sometimes Tea.
    Hither the Heroes and the Nymphs resort,
    To taste awhile the Pleasures of a Court;
    In various Talk th' instructive hours they past,
    Who gave the Ball, or paid the Visit last:
    One speaks the Glory of the British Queen,
    And one describes a charming Indian Screen.
    A third interprets Motions, Looks, and Eyes;
    At ev'ry Word a Reputation dies.
    Snuff, or the Fan, supply each Pause of Chat,
    With singing, laughing, ogling, and all that.

    • Belinda's boat has finally made it the few miles up the River Thames to Hampton Court, one of the Queen's palaces, and to the party that waits for her there.
    • The scene is pretty brutal when it comes to gossip; this bunch of social cutthroats does not play around. Pope gives us a quick glimpse of their small talk and mean comments, interspersed with waving fans and snuff-taking.
    • You have probably noticed the juxtapositions Pope uses in this section, but just in case, we'll point them out to you.
    • Once again (yep—there's a theme here) the poem places the high and mighty right next to the trivial and frivolous, starting in lines 5-6, where "Britain's Statesmen" (that would be the ministers and politicians in the British government of Pope's time) make important decisions, like "foredooming" the fall of "Foreign Tyrants" (kind of like our government's decision to fight against Saddam Hussein back in the early 1990s).
    • But look in the very next phrase of that line: what else do those politicians talk about? The fall of "Nymphs at home"—i.e. the reputations of girls like Belinda. What a bunch of gossips those politicians are.
    • But notice, too, how the parallelism of that line works: "Nymphs" (attractive young women) are placed right next to "Foreign Tyrants." Kind of associates the tyrants with flirtatious girls (very silly), but also associates those girls with the tyrants. Have you ever seen a pretty girl bossing around her boyfriends or friends? Yeah, we thought so.
    • Another juxtaposition comes up quickly, in lines 7 and 8, where we meet—bows and curtsies, please—the Queen of England herself. Not Elizabeth II, the current queen, but Ann, who reigned from 1702-1714. (You can learn more about her in the "Setting" section.)
    • Pope is a little more respectful to his monarch than he was to his politicians: "Here Thou, Great Anna! Whom three Realms obey,/ Dost sometimes Counsel take—and sometimes Tea." Notice his very high poetic language, using "Thou" instead of "You," and "Dost" instead of "Do."
    • The contrast comes in that second line, where we see the Queen in her palace sometimes conferring with her advisors about grand affairs of state… and sometimes just sitting and sipping a cup of tea (in Pope's day, "tea" was pronounced "tay," so the rhyme in the couplets is very strong here as well).
    • Have you ever read Us magazine's "Stars—They're Just Like Us" pages? All about Brad and Angelina going to the grocery store or Beyoncé walking her dog? Queen Anne—just like us.
    • The last ten lines of this second foreground the silliness of the social network of nobles and gentry who hang around the Queen's court partying, flirting, eating, and generally making intrigue. This is Belinda's crowd, and—as you're about to see—they're a pretty mean clique.

    Lines 19-100

    Mean while declining from the Noon of Day,
    The Sun obliquely shoots his burning Ray;
    The hungry Judges soon the Sentence sign,
    And Wretches hang that Jury-men may Dine;
    The Merchant from th'exchange returns in Peace,
    And the long Labours of the Toilette cease ----
    Belinda now, whom Thirst of Fame invites,
    Burns to encounter two adventrous Knights,
    At Ombre singly to decide their Doom;
    And swells her Breast with Conquests yet to come.
    Strait the three Bands prepare in Arms to join,
    Each Band the number of the Sacred Nine.
    Soon as she spreads her Hand, th' Aerial Guard
    Descend, and sit on each important Card,
    First Ariel perch'd upon a Matadore,
    Then each, according to the Rank they bore;
    For Sylphs, yet mindful of their ancient Race,
    Are, as when Women, wondrous fond of place.
    Behold, four Kings in Majesty rever'd,
    With hoary Whiskers and a forky Beard;
    And four fair Queens whose hands sustain a Flow'r,
    Th' expressive Emblem of their softer Pow'r;
    Four Knaves in Garbs succinct, a trusty Band,
    Caps on their heads, and Halberds in their hand;
    And Particolour'd Troops, a shining Train,
    Draw forth to Combat on the Velvet Plain.
    The skilful Nymph reviews her Force with Care;
    Let Spades be Trumps, she said, and Trumps they were.
    Now move to War her Sable Matadores,
    In Show like Leaders of the swarthy Moors.
    Spadillio first, unconquerable Lord!
    Led off two captive Trumps, and swept the Board.
    As many more Manillio forc'd to yield,
    And march'd a Victor from the verdant Field.
    Him Basto follow'd, but his Fate more hard
    Gain'd but one Trump and one Plebeian Card.
    With his broad Sabre next, a Chief in Years,
    The hoary Majesty of Spades appears;
    Puts forth one manly Leg, to sight reveal'd;
    The rest his many-colour'd Robe conceal'd.
    The Rebel-Knave, who dares his Prince engage,
    Proves the just Victim of his Royal Rage.
    Ev'n mighty Pam that Kings and Queens o'erthrow,
    And mow'd down Armies in the Fights of Lu,
    Sad Chance of War! now, destitute of Aid,
    Falls undistinguish'd by the Victor Spade.
    Thus far both Armies to Belinda yield;
    Now to the Baron Fate inclines the Field.
    His warlike Amazon her Host invades,
    Th' Imperial Consort of the Crown of Spades.
    The Club's black Tyrant first her Victim dy'd,
    Spite of his haughty Mien, and barb'rous Pride:
    What boots the Regal Circle on his Head,
    His Giant Limbs in State unwieldy spread?
    That long behind he trails his pompous Robe,
    And of all Monarchs only grasps the Globe?
    The Baron now his Diamonds pours apace;
    Th' embroider'd King who shows but half his Face,
    And his refulgent Queen, with Pow'rs combin'd,
    Of broken Troops an easie Conquest find.
    Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, in wild Disorder seen,
    With Throngs promiscuous strow the level Green.
    Thus when dispers'd a routed Army runs,
    Of Asia's Troops, and Africk's Sable Sons,
    With like Confusion different Nations fly,
    In various habits and of various Dye,
    The pierc'd Battalions dis-united fall,
    In Heaps on Heaps; one Fate o'erwhelms them all.
    The Knave of Diamonds now tries his wily Arts,
    And wins (oh shameful Chance!) the Queen of Hearts.
    At this, the Blood the Virgin's Cheek forsook,
    A livid Paleness spreads o'er all her Look;
    She sees, and trembles at th' approaching Ill,
    Just in the Jaws of Ruin, and Codille.
    And now, (as oft in some distemper'd State)
    On one nice Trick depends the gen'ral Fate.
    An Ace of Hearts steps forth: The King unseen
    Lurk'd in her Hand, and mourn'd his captive Queen.
    He springs to Vengeance with an eager pace,
    And falls like Thunder on the prostrate Ace.
    The Nymph exulting fills with Shouts the Sky,
    The Walls, the Woods, and long Canals reply.

    • It's about to be twelve noon, the time when (as Pope reminds us) both working folk (like judges and juries and merchants) and the idle rich (who mainly work at their "Toilette" or dressing table (24) take a break for lunch.
    • Belinda, working the party like a pro, challenges the Baron and another young man to "Ombre," which was a very popular card game of Pope's day, where players win by taking tricks (much like the game of Hearts that we play today).
    • The deck is dealt, and as Belinda surveys her hand, a set of worried Sylphs hops onto each of her cards to keep an eye on the action. The rest of this section describes the card game itself, as first Belinda is winning all of the hands (45-65), and then the Baron comes out on top (67-92). The game turns in Belinda's favor with the final trick (94-100), and she wins.
    • Check out how Pope gets in just a teeny bit of social satire in the first four lines of this section, as he describes judges and juries rushing through trials and court decisions so that they can make it to lunch on time? "Wretches hang"—yep, death sentences get decided quickly—"that Jury-men may dine" (22). Doesn't say much for the justice system right before noon, does it?
    • The rest of this section of Canto III might seem confusing at first until you keep the whole mock epic theme in mind. All true epics feature at least one amazing battle scene (Homer's Iliad has a ton of them) where heavily-armored heroes hack away at one another, and speak poetically while they're drowning in bloody gore.
    • Pope very cleverly makes the society card game into his own "battle," to keep The Rape of the Lock as mock-epic as he can. How competitive do family card games get at your house? You can look at this whole section (37–100) as one massive extended metaphor, where Belinda and the Baron are generals, and the cards are their armies, battling one another.
    • In lines 37-44, Pope describes the card deck in splendid poetic language, using personification to make the face cards seem like living Kings, Queens, and Jacks commanding an army of the numbered cards.
    • The "Velvet Plain" in line 44 is the surface of the card-table, which at a rich society party would have been covered in green velvet. As the card game progresses, Pope gives each of the important cards in the deck heroic names: Belinda's Spades are "sable Matadores" that get likened to "Moors" (in Pope's day, Islamic people from Northern Africa); "Spadillio" (49) is the Ace of Spades and "Manillio" (51) is the two of Spades; "Basto" (53) the Ace of Clubs, and so on. Can you follow the game as it continues?

    Lines 101–124

    Oh thoughtless Mortals! ever blind to Fate,
    Too soon dejected, and too soon elate!
    Sudden these Honours shall be snatch'd away,
    And curs'd for ever this Victorious Day.
    For lo! the Board with Cups and Spoons is crown'd,
    The Berries crackle, and the Mill turns round.
    On shining Altars of Japan they raise
    The silver Lamp; the fiery Spirits blaze.
    From silver Spouts the grateful Liquors glide,
    And China's Earth receives the smoking Tyde.
    At once they gratify their Scent and Taste,
    While frequent Cups prolong the rich Repast.
    Strait hover round the Fair her Airy Band;
    Some, as she sip'd, the fuming Liquor fann'd,
    Some o'er her Lap their careful Plumes display'd,
    Trembling, and conscious of the rich Brocade.
    Coffee, (which makes the Politician wise,
    And see thro' all things with his half shut Eyes)
    Sent up in Vapours to the Baron's Brain
    New Stratagems, the radiant Lock to gain.
    Ah cease rash Youth! desist e'er 'tis too late,
    Fear the just Gods, and think of Scylla's Fate!
    Chang'd to a Bird, and sent to flit in Air,
    She dearly pays for Nisus' injur'd Hair!

    • After the card game ends with Belinda exulting in victory, the narrator of the poem gives us a brief warning (cue more ominous music) that her happiness in won't last long. She should not be rubbing it in so much that she won the game; she's due for a fall, and it's coming soon.
    • All of the party guests gather around the coffee and tea tables, and as Belinda takes a cup of coffee, her Sylphs flutter around her fanning the hot drink to cool it, and protecting her dress from any spills. Meanwhile the Baron, also sipping his cup of joe, starts to come up with an immediate plan to fulfill his desire to steal Belinda's locks of hair.
    • Hard to believe, but true, that coffee, tea, and hot chocolate were new and exciting beverages in Pope's day—the Kombucha of their time. Before the European exploration of the Americas, China, Africa, and India in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, countries like England and France only had water, wine, and beer (kind of boring for the under-21 set, you might think, but remember there was no drinking age back then either).
    • When Europeans discovered the Indians, the Chinese, the Africans, and the South Americans drinking these tasty (and caffeinated) hot beverages, you can imagine they were quick to start sending some back home. By the time Pope was in his twenties, no party was complete without a fancy coffee, tea, or chocolate service—which is what we see described here.
    • Pope uses a poetic technique called periphrasis —indirectly referring to coffee and tea by using their components, attributes, or origins ("Berries crackle" are roasting coffee beans, the "grateful liquors" are the coffee and tea, as is "China's earth" and "smoking tyde"). All of this extra wordage contributes to make the scene as grand as possible.
    • Are you a coffee or tea drinker yourself? Do you find that the caffeine makes your brain run a little faster (not a bad thing the morning before a test)? The Baron gets a little juiced here in line 119, and starts obsessing over Belinda's locks again.
    • This hair fetish of his is beginning to get weird and potentially dangerous, a fact Pope reminds us of with an allusion to Greek mythology in lines 121-124, where the narrator warns the Baron not to follow through on his plans, by referring to the story of Scylla and Nisus (which you can read in more detail in Book VIII of Ovid's Metamorphoses).
    • Scylla was a princess, and Nisus was her father. He had a lock of purple hair that made him invincible, and when she fell in love with a rival king, she snipped that lock so that her lover could defeat her father in battle. Her lover was disgusted with her behavior, and ditched her, and then the gods turned her into a seagull. The Baron had better watch out.

    Lines 125-146

    But when to Mischief Mortals bend their Will,
    How soon they find fit Instruments of Ill!
    Just then, Clarissa drew with tempting Grace
    A two-edg'd Weapon from her shining Case;
    So Ladies in Romance assist their Knight,
    Present the Spear, and arm him for the Fight.
    He takes the Gift with rev'rence, and extends
    The little Engine on his Finger's Ends:
    This just behind Belinda's Neck he spread,
    As o'er the fragrant Steams she bends her Head:
    Swift to the Lock a thousand Sprights repair,
    A thousand Wings, by turns, blow back the Hair,
    And thrice they twitch'd the Diamond in her Ear,
    Thrice she look'd back, and thrice the Foe drew near.
    Just in that instant, anxious Ariel sought
    The close Recesses of the Virgin's Thought;
    As on the Nosegay in her Breast reclin'd,
    He watch'd th' Ideas rising in her Mind,
    Sudden he view'd, in spite of all her Art,
    An Earthly Lover lurking at her Heart.
    Amaz'd, confus'd, he found his Pow'r expir'd,
    Resign'd to Fate, and with a Sigh retir'd.

    • The scheming Baron finds an ally in Belinda's friend Clarissa, who lends him a pair of fancy scissors. Belinda, totally oblivious, has her back to the Baron as she leans forward to take another sip of coffee. He comes up close behind and goes to snip off one of her two locks of hair.
    • The Sylphs try frantically to protect the lock, by fanning it out of the way or attempting to get Belinda's attention. She does look back three times.
    • But Ariel, reading her mind, discovers that she's not as empty a flirt as she seems on the surface—she actually cares about someone (although the poem does not tell us who at this point). Because of that deep emotion, the superfluous Sylphs have no power to protect her any longer. Ariel sighs and steps back.
    • With friends like Clarissa, who needs enemies? You have to wonder about her motives in loaning the Baron her scissors. The narrator isn't very clear about her relationship to him, although we do get a simile in lines 129-130 that likens her to "Ladies in Romance"—guess we're talking King Arthur-style now—who help their knights into battle.
    • Yes, more juxtaposition. Clarissa's little scissors and a fantasy sword, which makes the Baron into a heroic knight about to go into battle with… a lock of hair? You see the irony here?
    • The powerlessness of the Sylphs to protect Belinda and her hair from impending doom brings us to one of the central mysteries of this poem: who is this "Earthly Lover" that Ariel spies in Belinda's heart?
    • We know from the very beginning of Canto I that the Sylphs' job is to guard and protect flirtatious coquettes who are nice to everyone but in love with no one (kind of like Belinda shining on everyone equally in the boat in Canto II). Here, Belinda is suddenly not in that category any more. But who is it that she loves? Is it the Baron? If it were, why wouldn't the poem tell us that?

    Lines 147-178

    The Peer now spreads the glitt'ring Forfex wide,
    T'inclose the Lock; now joins it, to divide.
    Ev'n then, before the fatal Engine clos'd,
    A wretched Sylph too fondly interpos'd;
    Fate urg'd the Sheers, and cut the Sylph in twain,
    (But Airy Substance soon unites again)
    The meeting Points that sacred Hair dissever
    From the fair Head, for ever and for ever!
    Then flash'd the living Lightnings from her Eyes,
    And Screams of Horror rend th' affrighted Skies.
    Not louder Shrieks to pitying Heav'n are cast,
    When Husbands or when Lap-dogs breath their last,
    Or when rich China Vessels, fal'n from high,
    In glittring Dust and painted Fragments lie!
    Let Wreaths of Triumph now my Temples twine,
    (The Victor cry'd) the glorious Prize is mine!
    While Fish in Streams, or Birds delight in Air,
    Or in a Coach and Six the British Fair,
    As long as Atalantis shall be read,
    Or the small Pillow grace a Lady's Bed,
    While Visits shall be paid on solemn Days,
    When numerous Wax-lights in bright Order blaze,
    While Nymphs take Treats, or Assignations give,
    So long my Honour, Name, and Praise shall live!
    What Time wou'd spare, from Steel receives its date,
    And Monuments, like Men, submit to Fate!
    Steel cou'd the Labour of the Gods destroy,
    And strike to Dust th' Imperial Tow'rs of Troy.
    Steel cou'd the Works of mortal Pride confound,
    And hew Triumphal Arches to the Ground.
    What Wonder then, fair Nymph! thy Hairs shou'd feel
    The conqu'ring Force of unresisted Steel?

    • As Ariel turns away, the Baron cuts the lock from Belinda's neck, accidentally cutting a Sylph in half as well (although the Sylph isn't damaged by this). Belinda completely freaks out, but the Baron gloats and brags about his triumph. The narrator closes the Canto by telling Belinda she's been honorably defeated.
    • So it finally happened. The "rape of the lock." The Baron, described in Pope's heroic language, snips off a lock of Belinda's hair. And Belinda—in even more heroic language—responds with "Shrieks of Horror." Massive drama. And can you see how Pope's language emphasizes the silliness of it all?
    • Notice the juxtaposition of the deaths of "Husbands" and "Lap-dogs" in line 158: now, we all love our dogs, but would you say that the death of a husband is equal to the death of a dog?
    • The Baron is no better. His bragging in lines 161-170 goes way over the top. Or at least, it seems to. Notice how (again) Pope manages to make fun of both high society and heroic language here?
    • The Baron exults that his name and honor will live forever, or at least as long as " Atalantis shall be read" —and Atalantis refers to a fluffy gossip novel, a trashy bestseller of the day, hardly a classic of Brit Lit. He's just rudely clipped a lock of hair, for crying out loud.
    • Those last eight lines give Belinda some small consolation by apostrophizing the "Steel" that Clarissa's scissors were made of, reminding us of how steel weapons brought down the city of Troy (another epic allusion there).
    • If steel could do that, how could Belinda possibly have protected her lock of hair from it? The message? Don't feel too bad about it, as there wasn't much you could have done to save yourself. But will Belinda listen? Stay tuned…
  • Canto IV

    Lines 1-16

    But anxious Cares the pensive Nymph opprest,
    And secret Passions labour'd in her Breast.
    Not youthful Kings in Battel seiz'd alive,
    Not scornful Virgins who their Charms survive,
    Not ardent Lovers robb'd of all their Bliss,
    Not ancient Ladies when refus'd a Kiss,
    Not Tyrants fierce that unrepenting die,
    Not Cynthia when her Manteau's pinn'd awry,
    E'er felt such Rage, Resentment and Despair,
    As Thou, sad Virgin! for thy ravish'd Hair.
    For, that sad moment, when the Sylphs withdrew,
    And Ariel weeping from Belinda flew,
    Umbriel, a dusky melancholy Spright,
    As ever sully'd the fair face of Light,
    Down to the Central Earth, his proper Scene,
    Repairs to search the gloomy Cave of Spleen.

    • Belinda is completely pissed off, angry, and upset. As she steams and weeps in the middle of the party, the Gnome Umbriel heads off to the Cave of Spleen to make more trouble.
    • Will Belinda just let it go? As you might gather from these first lines in Canto IV, the answer is no. Nope. No way. She is insanely upset, as Pope shows us with a series of comparisons that begins with "Kings in Battel" —that's "battle"—taken prisoner. 
    • Pope's use of anaphora ("Not […] Not […] Not") here adds to the grandiosity of the comparisons, and to their ridiculousness: Seriously? Belinda's loss of her lock of hair is like a king being taken prisoner in war? 
    • Note, too, the way the comparisons go back and forth between the sublime and the ridiculous (more juxtaposition, yet again): from imprisoned kings to unhappy women who outlive their looks, from lovers losing their beloveds to old women who want to be kissed, from tyrants dying to a woman named Cynthia whose scarf won't go straight.
    • Note the words "ravish'd" and "Virgin" in line 10. Do you think that maybe there's some symbolism here in Belinda's loss of her hair to the Baron? We will get to the title later (see "What's Up With The Title"), but for now think about that word "ravish'd" and how it relates to the word "rape." Maybe she does have good reason to be upset.
    • Remember the Gnomes, one of the categories of spirits that Ariel told us about in Canto I? They weren't exactly a happy bunch. They used to be gloomy drama queens while they were alive. We finally get to meet one here: Umbriel, a "dusky" (that means dark-ish) spirit, who takes over once Ariel leaves the scene. 
    • Umbriel sees an opportunity to make some mischief, so he heads immediately to a place called the "Cave of Spleen." We know that the spleen is an organ in your body, which sits next to your stomach and helps with digestion. Literally
    • Figuratively, though, "spleen" also means bad temper or spite. In the 18th century, doctors thought that the spleen was responsible for all kinds of physical diseases and problems, especially depression, moodiness, and sadness. Especially in women. Do you see where Umbriel (ok, Pope) is going here? If you guessed that he's off for a dose of Prozac to cheer Belinda up, you're wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Lines 17-54

    Swift on his sooty Pinions flitts the Gnome,
    And in a Vapour reach'd the dismal Dome.
    No cheerful Breeze this sullen Region knows,
    The dreaded East is all the Wind that blows.
    Here, in a Grotto, sheltred close from Air,
    And screen'd in Shades from Day's detested Glare,
    She sighs for ever on her pensive Bed,
    Pain at her side, and Megrim at her Head.
    Two Handmaids wait the Throne: Alike in Place,
    But diff'ring far in Figure and in Face.
    Here stood Ill-nature like an ancient Maid,
    Her wrinkled Form in Black and White array'd;
    With store of Pray'rs, for Mornings, Nights, and Noons,
    Her Hand is fill'd; her Bosom with Lampoons.
    There Affectation with a sickly Mien
    Shows in her Cheek the Roses of Eighteen,
    Practis'd to Lisp, and hang the Head aside,
    Faints into Airs, and languishes with Pride;
    On the rich Quilt sinks with becoming Woe,
    Wrapt in a Gown, for Sickness, and for Show.
    The Fair ones feel such Maladies as these,
    When each new Night-Dress gives a new Disease.
    A constant Vapour o'er the Palace flies;
    Strange Phantoms rising as the Mists arise;
    Dreadful, as Hermit's Dreams in haunted Shades,
    Or bright as Visions of expiring Maids.
    Now glaring Fiends, and Snakes on rolling Spires,
    Pale Spectres, gaping Tombs, and Purple Fires:
    Now Lakes of liquid Gold, Elysian Scenes,
    And Crystal Domes, and Angels in Machines.
    Unnumber'd Throngs on ev'ry side are seen
    Of Bodies chang'd to various Forms by Spleen.
    Here living Teapots stand, one Arm held out,
    One bent; the Handle this, and that the Spout:
    A Pipkin there like Homer's Tripod walks;
    Here sighs a Jar, and there a Goose Pie talks;
    Men prove with Child, as pow'rful Fancy works,
    And Maids turn'd Bottels, call aloud for Corks.

    • Umbriel flies down to the Cave of Spleen, where he finds the Queen of Spleen herself. Lying in bed in a dark close room, she has a migraine headache. She is attended by her maids, Ill-Nature and Affectation. The rest of the section describes the Cave; a gloomy, fantastical place full of fogs, vapors, and weird hallucinations. 
    • No doubt about it, the spleen is symbolic of a weird set of psychological and physical problems. The Queen of Spleen's migraine (that's what the word "Megrim" in line 24 means) keeps her sighing and feeling sorry for herself on her bed, in a dark "Grotto," which is a cave of sorts. 
    • It's probably no wonder she feels so bad, given the company she keeps: her maids, "Ill-nature" and "Affectation." These figures are personifications of the conditions that are their names. 
    • Ill-nature looks a little like an old nun without a sense of humor, and Affectation is pretty much like any girl you might know who puts on an act of being fragile and delicate when she really isn't. 
    • The trio is surrounded by a bunch of hallucinogenic visions and figures, all representing the kinds of symptoms that people sick with spleen might experience. 
    • Ghosts, fantasy buildings, visions of the afterworld (that's what Pope means by "Elysian scenes" in line 45—the Elysian Fields were the ancient Greeks' version of Heaven); walking talking teapots (seriously) and small clay jars (that's what the "Pipkin" in line 51 is) crawling around like "Homer's Tripod" (these were magical walking three-legged tables featured in the Iliad—only in Pope's imagination would they wind up in the Cave of Spleen). 
    • There are even pregnant men. Crazy, yes. But that's what 18th-century people said about the spleen.

    Lines 55–88

    Safe past the Gnome thro' this fantastick Band,
    A Branch of healing Spleenwort in his hand.
    Then thus addrest the Pow'r--Hail wayward Queen!
    Who rule the Sex to Fifty from Fifteen,
    Parent of Vapors and of Female Wit,
    Who give th' Hysteric or Poetic Fit,
    On various Tempers act by various ways,
    Make some take Physick, others scribble Plays;
    Who cause the Proud their Visits to delay,
    And send the Godly in a Pett, to pray.
    A Nymph there is, that all thy Pow'r disdains,
    And thousands more in equal Mirth maintains.
    But oh! if e'er thy Gnome could spoil a Grace,
    Or raise a Pimple on a beauteous Face,
    Like Citron-Waters Matron's Cheeks inflame,
    Or change Complexions at a losing Game;
    If e'er with airy Horns I planted Heads,
    Or rumpled Petticoats, or tumbled Beds,
    Or caus'd Suspicion when no Soul was rude,
    Or discompos'd the Head-dress of a Prude,
    Or e'er to costive Lap-Dog gave Disease,
    Which not the Tears of brightest Eyes could ease:
    Hear me, and touch Belinda with Chagrin;
    That single Act gives half the World the Spleen.
    The Goddess with a discontented Air
    Seems to reject him, tho' she grants his Pray'r.
    A wondrous Bag with both her Hands she binds,
    Like that where once Ulysses held the Winds;
    There she collects the Force of Female Lungs,
    Sighs, Sobs, and Passions, and the War of Tongues.
    A Vial next she fills with fainting Fears,
    Soft Sorrows, melting Griefs, and flowing Tears.
    The Gnome rejoicing bears her Gift away,
    Spreads his black Wings, and slowly mounts to Day.

    • Moving through this fantastic landscape, Umbriel approaches the Queen of Spleen, and hails her with respect. He begs her to inflict the powers of spleen on poor Belinda, because overall Belinda is usually so good-natured, and sending her into a hysterical fit would be a triumph. 
    • The Queen grants his request by giving him a bag full of screams, cries, sobs, and argument, and a vial full of tears, grief, and sorrow. He takes them and flies back up to the party.
    • Umbriel makes it through all of the vapours, fog, and hallucinations, protected by holding "a branch of Spleenwort" (56), which was a plant that 18th-century doctors believed could cure spleen disorders.
    • Does it seem to you like the spleen pretty much exemplifies—even amplifies—all of the tendencies Pope's society has of blowing things way out of proportion? Does it also seem to you that Pope's satirical description of all of the disorders the spleen causes is aimed specifically at women? Bingo on both counts. 
    • When Umbriel addresses the Queen of Spleen as the "wayward Queen" who rules "the Sex to Fifty from Fifteen"(57-58), he means the female sex, which becomes clear in the following seventeen lines. 
    • Women inflicted with the spleen, or so these lines seem to tell us, show symptoms of "Vapors." In 18th-century medical jargon, that was what they called "female hysteria"—or, worse, "Female Wit" (59), which might lead them to write poetry or plays (60–62). Yes, ladies, Pope is making fun of women who write, and calling them diseased. Hey, we never said the 18th century was an enlightened age. 
    • Other women with spleen problems might be witchy to their friends ("cause the Proud their Visits to delay," in line 63), or get all self-righteous ("send the Godly in a Pett"—that's a snit or a temper—"to Pray," line 64). 
    • Belinda, however, isn't like any of those. As Umbriel tells the Queen, Belinda "disdains" the power of spleen, and tends instead to keep everyone around her in good humor ("thousands more in equal Mirth maintains"). 
    • In other words, Belinda is a challenge to the Queen of Spleen, and right now—after the Baron has clipped her hair—is a golden opportunity for the Queen to assert her power. Umbriel pleads with the Queen to do just that, and uses his own accomplishments on her behalf to help his case. 
    • Umbriel himself is quite a troublemaker. He causes zits on pretty girls' faces, and makes older women go all red in the face; he makes husbands imagine that their wives are having affairs (that's what he means by "If e'er with airy Horns I planted Heads" in line 71); he makes friends think their friends are stabbing them in the back; he messes up careful hairdos; he makes lap-dogs sick. What a resume. 
    • But the Queen hears him out and grants his wish, giving him a magical bag full of female screams and cries, and a vial of tears and sorrow. 
    • There's another allusion here, in line 82—this time from Homer's Odyssey. Ulysses, that epic's main character, is given a bag full of all of the winds, except the west wind, with the idea that the west wind will blow his ship home from the Trojan War. 
    • Sadly, his men mistakenly open the bag when they're just in sight of shore, all the other winds come out, and the ship is blown far away. It takes them ten years to get home again. (See the Odyssey, Book 10 for the whole story). That is some bag. Do you think Pope is making a humorous comparison between the winds of Classical Greek epic, and the sobs and screams of society women? Does a bear have hair?
    • Speaking of allusions, this entire section of Canto IV is an extended one, to Aeneas's trip to the underworld in Book VI of Virgil's Aeneid
    • Of course, Umbriel's adventures in the Cave of Spleen aren't half as serious as Aeneas's in the underworld. Pope keeps on putting the mock into mock epic.

    Lines 89-140

    Sunk in Thalestris' Arms the Nymph he found,
    Her Eyes dejected and her Hair unbound.
    Full o'er their Heads the swelling Bag he rent,
    And all the Furies issued at the Vent.
    Belinda burns with more than mortal Ire,
    And fierce Thalestris fans the rising Fire.
    O wretched Maid! she spread her hands, and cry'd,
    (While Hampton's Ecchos, wretched Maid reply'd)
    Was it for this you took such constant Care
    The Bodkin, Comb, and Essence to prepare;
    For this your Locks in Paper-Durance bound,
    For this with tort'ring Irons wreath'd around?
    For this with Fillets strain'd your tender Head,
    And bravely bore the double Loads of Lead?
    Gods! shall the Ravisher display your Hair,
    While the Fops envy, and the Ladies stare!
    Honour forbid! at whose unrival'd 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?
    'Twill then be Infamy to seem your Friend!
    And shall this Prize, th' inestimable Prize,
    Expos'd thro' Crystal to the gazing Eyes,
    And heighten'd by the Diamond's circling Rays,
    On that Rapacious Hand for ever blaze?
    Sooner shall Grass in Hide Park Circus grow,
    And Wits take Lodgings in the Sound of Bow;
    Sooner let Earth, Air, Sea, to Chaos fall,
    Men, Monkies, Lap-dogs, 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 open'd, then the Case,
    And thus broke out— "My Lord, why, what the Devil?
    "Z—ds! damn the Lock! 'fore Gad, you must be civil!
    "Plague on't! 'tis past a Jest—nay prithee, Pox!
    "Give her the Hair— he spoke, and rapp'd his Box.
    It grieves me much (reply'd the Peer again)
    Who speaks so well shou'd 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,
    Clipt from the lovely Head where late 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.

    • Umbriel finds Belinda where he left her, drooping in the arms of her friend Thalestris. He wastes no time in dumping the entire contents of the bag of tears and anger over their heads, and they both become enraged. 
    • Thalestris makes a short outraged speech to Belinda about how humiliating it is to have her hair snipped in this way, and runs to her boyfriend, Sir Plume, asking him to force the Baron to return the lock. Sir Plume takes a bit of snuff and scolds the Baron, but to no avail: the Baron refuses to give it back.
    • With friends like these, who needs enemies? Pope gives us a clue to Thalestris's personality just by her name: it's another allusion to ancient Greek legend. The original Thalestris was Queen of the Amazons, a tough female warrior who was more than a match for Alexander the Great. 
    • Belinda's Thalestris is just as confrontational, especially after Umbriel dumps the contents of the bag of angry tears over her head. The Queen of Spleen's bag is so horrific, Pope tells us, that it seems as if the Furies themselves are coming out of it.
    • (That's another allusion to Classical Greece, where the Furies were vengeful creatures unleashed by the gods to punish criminals. You can learn more about them in the ancient Greek play Erinyes.)
    • Belinda is too angry to speak (she "burns with more than Mortal Ire"), but Thalestris has no problems fanning the flames by telling Belinda how much she deserves to be super-pissed about it all. 
    • Her speech in lines 95-120 first refers to the difficulty in preparing 18th-century hairstyles. That may seem trivial, but while they did have hairpins and combs, and even hair gel—that's what she means when she talks about "Bodkin, Comb, and Essence" in line 108—they had to heat up their curling and straightening irons in the fire. Aren't you grateful for electricity?,
    • And then she horrifically imagines the Baron showing off Belinda's lock of hair to the public as a trophy. 
    • This—or so Thalestris says—will give her a bad reputation, as people will talk about her, and "all your Honour in a Whisper" will be lost (110). Even worse, in classic frenemy style, Thalestris says that once Belinda does lose her honor, even she herself won't want to be Belinda's friend, as everyone will talk about her too. Nice. 
    • We're veering back into symbolism here, where that lock is more than just a lock, aren't we? Will the Baron really, Thalestris asks in lines 113, take the lock and enclose it in a crystal ring, to wear around and show off? 
    • No way, she insists, never—not until grass grows in "Hide-Park Circus" (this was a fancy riding ring in London) or young society men ("Wits") move to an unfashionable neighborhood ("Bow"). This is Thalestris's way of saying, not until Hell freezes over. 
    • Having possibly done more damage to Belinda's peace of mind than even the Baron, Thalestris then turns to her own boyfriend (her "Beau"), Sir Plume, in lines 121-130, asking him to intervene. 
    • Sir Plume, you might notice, is very much the society dandy, holding a beautiful snuff-box made of amber (snuff was another popular social pastime, mainly for men, back in those days) and carrying a fancy cane. Call him an 18th-century hipster.
    • Notice the way he talks in lines 127-130? Can you even completely understand what he is saying? You're not supposed to: Pope is also making fun of the kind of fashionable slang that men like Sir Plume used, words like "Z—ds" (for "zounds", which was a swear word meaning "God's wounds") or "Pox" (which was slang for either smallpox or venereal disease). 
    • Pause for just a moment here, though, and admire Pope's ability to take actual speech like Sir Plume's and make it work completely within the iambic pentameter and rhyme scheme of the heroic couplet form. That's boss.
    • Sir Plume, however, is not boss, and the Baron first makes fun of him, and then swears that he will never, ever give up his prize. Now what?

    Lines 141-176

    But Umbriel, hateful Gnome! forbears not so;
    He breaks the Vial whence the Sorrows flow.
    Then see! the Nymph in beauteous Grief appears,
    Her Eyes half languishing, half drown'd in Tears;
    On her heav'd Bosom hung her drooping Head,
    Which, with a Sigh, she rais'd; and thus she said.
    For ever curs'd be this detested Day,
    Which snatch'd 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 betray'd.
    Oh had I rather un-admir'd remain'd
    In some lone Isle, or distant Northern Land;
    Where the gilt Chariot never marks the way,
    Where none learn Ombre, none e'er taste Bohea!
    There kept my Charms conceal'd from mortal Eye,
    Like Roses that in Desarts bloom and die.
    What mov'd my Mind with youthful Lords to rome?
    O had I stay'd, and said my Pray'rs at home!
    'Twas this, the Morning Omens seem'd to tell;
    Thrice from my trembling hand the Patch-box fell;
    The tott'ring China shook without a Wind,
    Nay, Poll sate mute, and Shock was most Unkind!
    A Sylph too warn'd me of the Threats of Fate,
    In mystic Visions, now believ'd too late!
    See the poor Remnants of these slighted Hairs!
    My hands shall rend what ev'n thy Rapine spares:
    These, in two sable Ringlets taught to break,
    Once gave new Beauties to the snowie Neck.
    The Sister-Lock now sits uncouth, alone,
    And in its Fellow's Fate foresees its own;
    Uncurl'd it hangs, the fatal Sheers demands;
    And tempts once more thy sacrilegious Hands.
    Oh hadst thou, Cruel! been content to seize
    Hairs less in sight, or any Hairs but these!

    • The Baron is unmoved by Sir Plume and Thalestris, so Umbriel dumps the contents of the vial of tears and sorrow over Belinda's head, which gives her a serious case of weepy self-pity. 
    • She bemoans the fate that brought her to Hampton Court in the first place, and recalls a series of bad omens that should have kept her at home. She cries a little over the remaining, lonely lock and wonders if it, too, will get cut off by the Baron. Why couldn't he have cut off some other hair from somewhere else?
    • More drama. So much more drama. Umbriel's vial of tears sends Belinda into a massive pity-party. We've all gone there at one time or another; it's the "guess-I'll-go-eat-worms" syndrome that sometimes hits us when we're down. 
    • Belinda has it bad. Why, she wonders, why did she ever even go to Hampton Court in the first place? Why didn't she just move to the North Pole or someplace far far away where no one plays card games like "Ombre" or drinks "Bohea" ( a fancy kind of tea)? 
    • Hindsight is always 20/20, they say, and Belinda keeps on remembering all kinds of portents and omens—even the dream sent by Ariel that morning—that should have kept her, and her hair, safe and at home. 
    • Following along with the self-pity is fear and recrimination (of course). And if you think that Pope might be making a vaguely dirty joke when he has Belinda as the Baron why he didn't take "Hairs less in sight, or any Hairs but these" (176), you are more than likely right. Just don't tell your parents. This is great literature after all.
  • Canto V

    Lines 1-34

    She said: the pitying Audience melt in Tears,
    But Fate and Jove had stopp'd the Baron's Ears.
    In vain Thalestris with Reproach assails,
    For who can move when fair Belinda fails?
    Not half so fixt the Trojan cou'd remain,
    While Anna begg'd and Dido rag'd in vain.
    Then grave Clarissa graceful wav'd her Fan;
    Silence ensu'd, and thus the Nymph began.
    Say, why are Beauties prais'd and honour'd most,
    The wise Man's Passion, and the vain Man's Toast?
    Why deck'd with all that Land and Sea afford,
    Why Angels call'd, and Angel-like ador'd?
    Why round our Coaches crowd the white-glov'd Beaus,
    Why bows the Side-box from its inmost Rows?
    How vain are all these Glories, all our Pains,
    Unless good Sense preserve what Beauty gains:
    That Men may say, when we the Front-box grace,
    Behold the first in Virtue, as in Face!
    Oh! if to dance all Night, and dress all Day,
    Charm'd the Small-pox, or chas'd old Age away;
    Who would not scorn what Huswife's Cares produce,
    Or who would learn one earthly Thing of Use?
    To patch, nay ogle, might become a Saint,
    Nor could it sure be such a Sin to paint.
    But since, alas! frail Beauty must decay,
    Curl'd or uncurl'd, since Locks will turn to grey,
    Since paint'd, or not paint'd, all shall fade,
    And she who scorns a Man, must die a Maid;
    What then remains, but well our Pow'r to use,
    And keep good Humour still whate'er we lose?
    And trust me, Dear! good Humour can prevail,
    When Airs, and Flights, and Screams, and Scolding fail.
    Beauties in vain their pretty Eyes may roll;
    Charms strike the Sight, but Merit wins the Soul.

    • Belinda finishes her tearful lament, and leaves not a dry eye in the house. The Baron still refuses to relent, even after Thalestris yells at him some more. 
    • Then Clarissa waves her fan and makes a long speech about the importance of keeping good humor and putting things like this into perspective, especially for young women. It's good humor, she argues, that makes women more attractive than anything else. 
    • It's hard to believe that the Baron can withstand beautiful Belinda's tears, but as our narrator tells us, "Jove" (i.e. the king of the Greek and Roman gods, who you may know as Jupiter or Zeus), along with Fate, has plugged his ears. 
    • To demonstrate just how unmoved the Baron is, Pope tosses in yet another epic allusion, to Aeneas again, this time from Book 4 in the Aeneid when Dido and her sister, Anna, are begging Aeneas not to leave Carthage. Aeneas leaves. The Baron holds on to the lock. Men.
    • Another thing that's hard to believe about this moment in The Rape of the Lock is Clarissa's speech. You may be saying, hold on a sec—isn't that the same Clarissa who started all the trouble in the first place by giving the Baron her scissors? Absolutely. 
    • So where does she get off telling Belinda to just suck it up and deal with the haircut? Good question. Literary critics have been arguing for almost three hundred years about why Pope gives her this speech, which is one of the most common-sensical passages in the whole poem. 
    • How many times have your parents told you that it's not what you look like on the outside, but how you are on the inside that counts? That's pretty much the gist of what Clarissa is saying here. 
    • Beauty like Belinda's might be nice to have, but in a few years it fades anyway, and so—Clarissa argues—"what then remains, but well our Pow'r to use, / And keep good Humour still whate'er we lose?" (30–31). 
    • She concludes with the most anti-spleen passage in the whole poem, telling Belinda that all of her "Airs, and Flights, and Screams, and Scolding" will probably fail, and that if she keeps things in perspective and rises above the whole issue, she'll win in the end. Very sensible and reasonable, wouldn't you say?

    Lines 35-70

    So spake the Dame, but no Applause ensu'd;
    Belinda frown'd, Thalestris call'd her Prude.
    To Arms, to Arms! the fierce Virago cries,
    And swift as Lightning to the Combate 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 base, 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!
    Triumphant Umbriel on a Sconce's Height
    Clapt his glad Wings, and sate to view the Fight,
    Propt on their Bodkin Spears, the Sprights survey
    The growing Combat, or assist the Fray.
    While thro' the Press enrag'd Thalestries flies,
    And scatters Deaths around from both her Eyes,
    A Beau and Witling perish'd in the Throng,
    One dy'd in Metaphor, and one in Song.
    O cruel Nymph! a living Death I bear,
    Cry'd Dapperwit, and sunk beside his Chair.
    A mournful Glance Sir Fopling upwards cast,
    Those Eyes are made so killing—was his last:
    Thus on Meander's flow'ry Margin lies
    Th' expiring Swan, and as he sings he dies.
    When bold Sir Plume had drawn Clarissa down,
    Chloe stept in, and kill'd him with a Frown;
    She smil'd to see the doughty Hero slain,
    But at her Smile, the Beau reviv'd again.

    • The entire party basically ignores Clarissa, and a battle between the ladies and the gentlemen ensues. Umbriel sits above them all on a sconce and watches, delighted. 
    • Cue another mock epic battle scene—this time, off of the card table. Clarissa's speech was reasonable, but no one at this party is satisfied with reason. Thalestris and Belinda laugh at Clarissa and urge their friends to attack the friends of the Baron. Our narrator calls Thalestris a "Virago" in line 37, a Latin word for a woman who fights like a man (very appropriate for a female Amazon). 
    • We've pretty much lost any pretense at social grace or politeness at this point, as the beaus and belles jump on each other, rap each other with fans, canes, and snuffboxes, or simply wound each other with mean glances and sarcasm. It's an all-out riot.
    • Pope pulls in yet another epic allusion in lines 45-52, when he uses a simile to refer to Homer's practice of tossing the Greek gods into the battle between the Trojans and Greeks in the Iliad
    • Pope name-drops like crazy; here are all of our old friends from the Hellenic pantheon: "Pallas" (as in Athena), "Mars" (the god of war), "Latona," mother of Apollo and Diana, "Hermes" the messenger. Here's Jove (Zeus) again, and Neptune as well. 
    • Do we think that Belinda and Thalestris, the Baron and Sir Plume, are as formidable as these ancient gods? Er, no. More mock epic juxtaposition. But then again, couldn't you also think that Homer's old Greek gods themselves were pretty silly and petty to get themselves all involved in a human squabble like the Trojan War? The satire cuts both ways.
    • Notice how cleverly Pope represents combat in lines 57-70, as Thalestris cruises through the room doing damage with sarcastic glances and mean comments. Love is a battlefield, as the wounded "Beau" and "Witling" and "Dapperwit" (all potentially insulting names for young society men) can attest. 
    • Notice too in line 67 that even our sensible Clarissa has been drawn into the fight.

    Lines 71–102

    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 fear'd the Chief th' unequal Fight to try,
    Who sought no more than on his Foe to die.
    But this bold Lord, with manly Strength indu'd,
    She with one Finger and a Thumb subdu'd,
    Just where the Breath of Life his Nostrils drew,
    A Charge of Snuff the wily Virgin threw;
    The Gnomes direct, to ev'ry Atome just,
    The pungent Grains of titillating Dust.
    Sudden, with starting Tears each Eye o'erflows,
    And the high Dome re-ecchoes to his Nose.
    Now meet thy Fate, incens'd Belinda cry'd,
    And drew a deadly Bodkin from her Side.
    (The same, his ancient Personage to deck,
    Her great great Grandsire wore about his Neck
    In three Seal-Rings which after, melted down,
    Form'd a vast Buckle for his Widow's Gown:
    Her infant Grandame's Whistle next it grew,
    The Bells she gingled, and the Whistle blew;
    Then in a Bodkin grac'd her Mother's Hairs,
    Which long she wore, and now Belinda wears.)
    Boast not my Fall (he cry'd) 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 burn in Cupid's Flames,—but burn alive.

    • Jove weighs the outcome of the battle in favor of the men, but Belinda conquers the Baron by tossing a pinch of snuff in his nose and making him sneeze. She threatens him with a hairpin, and he capitulates by confessing his love for her.
    • More mock epic in these lines: Pope is really laying it on thick here, towards the end of the poem. We may have great Jove in the sky keeping an eye on the battle—but in the thick of things Belinda defeats the Baron with a well-thrown bit of snuff. 
    • That weapon is about as ridiculous as the hairpin she draws on him, next. In the best epic tradition, where the weapons of heroes such as Achilles and Hector have their own histories, Pope describes Belinda's bodkin as being melted into different forms and worn by her ancestors as, variously: seal rings; a belt buckle; a baby's whistle, and then the hairpin she now wields. 
    • Notice the Baron's losing speech: he's not afraid to die, he says, but he is afraid of leaving Belinda behind. So perhaps there was something to Ariel's noticing that "Earthly Lover" in Belinda's heart, earlier, and there's more than a little something between her and the Baron. What a weird way these two have of showing their feelings for each other. Pigtail-pulling is one thing, but chopping one off altogether?

    Lines 103-150

    Restore the Lock! she cries; and all around
    Restore the Lock! the vaulted Roofs rebound.
    Not fierce Othello in so loud a Strain
    Roar'd for the Handkerchief that caus'd his Pain.
    But see how oft Ambitious Aims are cross'd,
    And Chiefs contend 'till all the Prize is lost!
    The Lock, obtain'd with Guilt, and kept with Pain,
    In ev'ry place is sought, but sought in vain:
    With such a Prize no Mortal must be blest,
    So Heav'n decrees! with Heav'n who can contest?
    Some thought it mounted to the Lunar Sphere,
    Since all things lost on Earth, are treasur'd there.
    There Heroe's Wits are kept in pondrous Vases,
    And Beau's in Snuff-boxes and Tweezer-Cases.
    There broken Vows, and Death-bed Alms are found,
    And Lovers Hearts with Ends of Riband bound;
    The Courtiers Promises, and Sick Man's Pray'rs,
    The Smiles of Harlots, and the Tears of Heirs,
    Cages for Gnats, and Chains to Yoak a Flea;
    Dry'd Butterflies, and Tomes of Casuistry.
    But trust the Muse—she saw it upward rise,
    Tho' mark'd by none but quick Poetic Eyes:
    (So Rome's great Founder to the Heav'ns withdrew,
    To Proculus alone confess'd in view.)
    A sudden Star, it shot thro' liquid Air,
    And drew behind a radiant Trail of Hair.
    Not Berenice's Locks first rose so bright,
    The heav'ns bespangling with dishevel'd light.
    The Sylphs behold it kindling as it flies,
    And pleas'd pursue its Progress thro' the Skies.
    This the Beau-monde shall from the Mall survey,
    And hail with Musick its propitious Ray.
    This, the blest Lover shall for Venus take,
    And send up Vows from Rosamonda's Lake.
    This Partridge soon shall view in cloudless Skies,
    When next he looks thro' Galilaeo's Eyes;
    And hence th' Egregious Wizard shall foredoom
    The Fate of Louis, and the Fall of Rome.
    Then cease, bright Nymph! to mourn the ravish'd 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, your self shall die;
    When those fair Suns shall sett, as sett they must,
    And all those Tresses shall be laid in Dust;
    This Lock, the Muse shall consecrate to Fame,
    And mid'st the Stars inscribe Belinda's Name!

    • The Baron vanquished, all of the party call on him to return the lock of hair. But the lock itself has gone missing. 
    • The narrator first guesses a series of places where it might have gone, but concludes that it rose all the way up to the night sky in the form of a star. The only person who saw it go is the narrator himself, who (as the poet telling the story) comforts Belinda that because the lock is now a star, it will shine in the sky for eternity, and thus ensure Belinda's own undying fame and immortality. Um, great?
    • Note Pope's allusion to his fellow Brit, William Shakespeare, in line 105, where he references Othello and his wife's infamous handkerchief. 
    • We get more juxtaposition here (how silly is it, to equate Belinda's lock of hair with the handkerchief that causes Othello's jealousy and his eventual murder of Desdemona?), but this time, of high tragedy to the comedy of this scene. 
    • Does your family have an imaginary, mysterious place where all of the lost socks, keys, and other little things you can never find, are probably all collected? 
    • Pope describes just that in the "Lunar Sphere" of lines 113-122: a place where ridiculous, or nonsensical, or trivial things (like broken vows, or the promises of courtiers, or the tears of greedy children whose rich parents are dying, or "tomes of Casuistry" (that's fancy speak for big, thick books of meaningless philosophy), all wind up. 
    • But the lock is not up there in the "Lunar Sphere" with all of those other things. Where, then, did it go? "Trust the Muse—she saw it upward rise" (123), our narrator tells us. When you hear the word "Muse," your poetry alarm bells ought to start ringing hard. Pope is moving us into another level here: that of the poet himself, who's been watching and telling the story all along, his "quick Poetic Eyes" noticing everything. 
    • We get two immediate allusions to greatness right away in lines 125-126: the first, to Romulus, the founder of Rome, who appeared after his death in a vision to his friend Proculus; the second, to "Berenice's Locks" —a reference to an ancient Egyptian myth about a queen who sacrificed her beautiful long hair to save her husband's life. The gods, or so the myth goes, placed the locks into the sky as a constellation (which actually exists; it's the constellation Coma Berenices). 
    • The Sylphs themselves, we're told, saw the lock rise upwards, and it will forever be seen by the "Beau-monde" (high society) as they spend time in the classy places of London, like the "Mall" (Pall Mall, a fashionable place to see and be seen), or "Rosamunda's Lake" (an artificial pond in St. James's Park). 
    • In a final burst of ridiculousness, the narrator tells us that the lock will also be seen by "Partridge", a reference to a crackpot astrologer of the 17th century, who made crazy predictions about the future (think Nostradamus, whose predictions always headline the National Inquirer). 
    • We certainly hope that you don't feel cheated by the poem's ending, or feel like Pope pulled a major cop-out. Were you hoping that Belinda would get her hair back? Or that the Baron would make it into a nose-ring and wear it at the next masquerade ball? 
    • Do you realize that Pope is trying to tell us that what actually did happen to the lock was the best possible thing that could happen to it? He made it into a poem. And we're still reading about it, and about Belinda, and about the Baron. 
    • In the end, we're still reading Alexander Pope. So maybe also in the end The Rape of the Lock is about the power of poetry—and the power of this particular poet, Alexander Pope—to raise things above the trivial world and into the world of eternal literary fame.