« PreviousContinue »
Pope, though a genius of a less masculine order than Dryden, and not possessed of his numbers or his impulsiveness, had more delicacy and fancy, has left more passages that have become proverbial, and was less confined to the region of matter of fact. Dryden never soared above earth, however nobly he walked it. The little fragile creature had wings; and he could expand them at will, and ascend, if to no great imaginative height, yet to charming fairy circles just above those of the world about him, disclosing enchanting visions at the top of drawing-rooms, and enabling us to see the spirits that wait on coffee-cups and hooppetticoats. But more of this in the notes.
My limits have allowed me to give only a portion of the Rape of the Lock, but it is the best and most important, containing the two main points of the poem,—the Rupe itself, and the leading operations of the sylphs.
From his other poems I have also selected such passages as are at once the wittiest and of the most ordinary interest,—the characters which he drew from life.
THE SYLPHS AND THE LOCK OF HAIR.
From “ The RAPE OF THE Lock.”
What dire offence from amorous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things,
I sing.–This verse to Caryl, muse! is due ;
This ev’n Belinda may vouchsafe to view :
Slight is the subject, but not so the praise,
If she inspire, and he approve my lays.
Say what strange motive, goddess! could compel
A well-bred lord † assault a gentle belle?
O say what stranger cause yet unexplor'd,
Could make a gentle belle reject a lord ?
In tasks so bold can little men engage ?
And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty rage ?-
Not with more glories in th’ ethereal plain,
The sun first rises o'er the purpled main,
Than, issuing forth, the rival of his beams
Launch'd on the bosom of the silver'd Thames.
Fair nymphs and well-dressed youths around her shone,
But every 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 unfixed as those :
Favors 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 them all.
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 the smooth ivory neck.
Love in these labyrinths his slaves detains,
And mighty hearts are held in slender chains.
With hairy springes we the birds betray :
Slight lines of hair surprise the finny prey;
Fair tresses man's imperial race ensnare,
And beauty draws us with a single hair.
Th’adventurous 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, ere Phæbus rose, he had implor'd
Propitious Heav'n, and every power 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 amorous sighs to light the fire.
Then prostrate falls, and begs with ardent eyes
Soon to obtain, and long possess the prize.-
But now secure the painted vessel glides,
The sunbeams trembling on the floating tides;
While melting music 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 sat heavy on his breast.?
He summons straight his denizens of air;
The lucid squadrons round the sails repair;
Soft o’er the shroud aërial 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 glittering textures of the filmy dew,
Dipp'd in the richest tinctures of the skies,
Where light disports in ever-mingling dyes,
While every beam new transient colors flings,
Colors 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 raised his azure wand, and thus begun :
“ Ye sylphs and sylphids, to your chief give ear;
Fays, fairies, genii, elves, and dæmons, hear !
Ye know the spheres, and various tasks assign'd
By law eternal to th' aërial kind :
Some in the fields of purest æther play,
And bask and whiten in the blaze of day;
Some guide the course of wandering orbs on high,
Or roll the planets through the boundless sky;
Some, less refin’d, beneath the moon's pale light
Pursue the stars that shoot athwart the 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 distil 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, though less glorious care ; To save the powder from too rude a gale, Nor let the imprison'd essences exhale : To draw fresh colors from the vernal flowers : To steal from rainbows, ere they drop in showers, 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 fiounce, or add a furbelow.
“ 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 wrapp'd in night.
Whether the nymph shall break Diana's law,
Or some frail China-jar receive a flaw;
Or stain her honor, or her new brocade :
Forget her prayers, or miss a masquerade ;
Or lose her heart, or necklace at a ball ;
Or whether Heaven has doom'd that Shock must fall.
Haste then, ye spirits ! to your charge repair ;
The fluttering fan be Zephyretta's care;
The drops to thee, Brillante, we consign:
And, Momentilla, let the watch be thine;
Do thou, Crispissa, tend her favorite 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 seven-fold fence to fail,
Though 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 stopp'd in vials, or transfix'd with pins :
Or plung'd in lakes of bitter washes lie,
Or wedg’d whole ages in a bodkin's eye ;3
Guns and pomatums shall his flight restrain
While clogg'd he beats his silken wings in vain.
Or alum styptics with contracting power
Shrink his thin' essence like a shrivell’d flower :
Or, as Ixion fix'd, the wretch shall feel
The giddy motions of the whirling mill;
In fumes of burning chocolate shall glow,
And tremble at the sea that froths 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.
Close by those meads, for ever crown'd with flowers, Where Thames with pride surveys his rising towers,
There stands a structure of majestic frame,
Which from the neighboring 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 every word a reputation dies.
Snuff, or the fan, supply each pause of chat,
With singing, laughing, ogling, and ALL THAT."
O thoughtless mortals, ever blind to fate,
Too soon dejected, and too soon elate!
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,
While China's earth receives the smoking tide.
At once they gratify their scent and taste,
And frequent cups prolong the rich repast.
Straight hover round the fair her airy band;
Some, as she sipp'd, the suming liquor fann'd ;
Some, o'er her lap their careful plumes display'd,
Trembling, and conscious of the rich úrocade,
Coffee (which makes the politician wise,
And see through all things with his half-shut eyes)
Sent up in vapors to the Baron's brain
New stratagems the radiant Lock to gain.
Ah cease, rash youth ! desist ere 'tis too late,
Fear the just gods, and think of Scylla's fate!
Chang'd to a bird, and sent to fit in air,
She dearly pays for Nisus' injured hair !5
. But when to inischief 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 reverence, and extends
The little engine on his fingers' ends :