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So horrible he seems! His faded brow
Entrench'd with many a frown, and conic beard,
And spreading band, admir'd by modern saints,
Disastrous acts forebode; in his right hand
Long scrolls of paper solemnly he waves.
With characters and figures dire inscrib'd,
Grievous to mortal eyes (ye gods avert
Such plagues from righteous men !) Behind him stalks
Another monster, not unlike itself,
Sullen of aspect, by the vulgar call'd
A Catchpole, whose polluted hands the gods
With force incredible, and magic charms,
First have endued: if he his ample palm
Should haply on ill-fated shoulder lay
Of debtor, straight his body to the touch
Obsequious (as whilom knights were wont)
To some enchanted castle is conveyed,
Where gates impregnable, and coercive chains,
In durance strict detain him, till, in form
Of money, Pallas sets the captive free.
Beware, ye debtors! when ye walk, beware,
Be circumspect; oft with insidious ken
The caitiff eyes your steps aloof, and oft
Lies perdue in a nook or gloomy cave,
Prompt to enchant some inadvertent wretch
With his unhallow'd touch. So (poets sing)
Grimalkin to domestic vermin sworn
An everlasting foe, with watchful eye
Lies nightly brooding o'er a chinky gap,
Portending her fell claws, to thoughtless mice
Sure ruin.. So her disembowell'd web
Arachne, in a hall or kitchen, spreads
Obvious to vagrant flies: she secret stands
Within her woven cell; the humming prey,
Regardless of their fate, rush on the toils
Inextricable, nor will aught avail
Their arts, or arms, or shapes of lovely hue. ,
The wasp insidious, and the buzzing drone,
And butterfly proud of expanded wings
Distinct with gold, entangled in her snares,
Useless resistance make; with eager strides,
She towering flies to her expected spoils:
Then with envenom'd jaws the vital blood
Drinks of reluctant foes, and to her cave
Their bulky carcasses triumphant drags.
So pass my days. But when nocturnal shades
This world envelope, and th' inclement air
Persuades men to repel benumbing frosts
With pleasant wines, and crackling blaze of wood ,
Me, lonely sitting, nor the glimmering light
Of make-weight candle, nor the joyous talk
Of loving friend, delights; distress'd, forlorn,
Amidst the horrors of the tedious night,
Darkling I sigh, and feed with dismal thoughts
My anxious mind; or sometimes mournful verse
Indite, and sing of groves and myrtle shades,
Or desperate lady near a purling stream,
Or lover pendent on a willow-tree.
Meanwhile I labor with eternal drought,
And restless wish, and rave; my parched throat
Finds no relief, nor heavy eyes repose:
But if a slumber haply does invade
My weary limbs, my fancy, still awake,
Thoughtful of drink, and eager, in a dream,
Tipples imaginary pots of ale;
In vain;—awake I find the settled thirst
Still gnawing, and the pleasant phantom curse.
Thus do I live, from pleasure quite debarr'd,
Nor taste the fruits that the sun's genial rays
Mature, john-apple, nor the downy peach,
Nor walnut in rough-furrowed coat secure,
Nor medlar fruit delicious in decay;
Afflictions great! yet greater still remain.
My galligaskins, that have long withstood
The winter's fury and encroaching frosts,
By time subdued (what will not time subdue !)
An horrid chasm disclose with orifice
Wide, discontinuous ; at which the winds
Eurus and Auster and the dreadful force
Of Boreas, that congeals the Cronian waves,
Tumultuous enter with dire chilling blasts,
t Portending agues. Thus a well-fraught ship,
Long sails secure, or through the jEgean deep,
Or the Ionian, till cruising near
The Lilybean shore, with hideous crush
On Scylla or Charybdis (dangerous rocks)
She strikes rebounding; whence the shatter'd oak,
So fierce a shock unable to withstand,
Admits the sea. In at the gaping side
The crowding waves gush with impetuous rage,
Resistless, overwhelming. Horrors seize
The mariners; death in their eyes appears;
They stare, they leave, they pump, they swear, they pray.
(Vain efforts) still the battering waves rush in,
Implacable, till, delug'd by the foam,
The ship sinks foundering in the vast abyss.
BORN, 1688 DIED, 1744.
Besides being an admirable wit and satirist, and a man of the most exquisite good sense, Pope was a true poet; and though in all probability his entire nature could never have made him a great one (since the whole man contributes to form the genius, and the very weakness of his organization was in the way of it), yet in a different age the boy who wrote the beautiful verses,
Blest be the man whose wish and care,
would have turned out, I think, a greater poet than he was. He had more sensibility, thought, and fancy, than was necessary for the purposes of his school; and he led a sequestered life with his books and his grotto, caring little for the manners he drew, and capable of higher impulses than had been given him by the wits of the time of Charles the Second. It was unlucky for him (if indeed it did not produce a lucky variety for the reading world) that Dryden came immediately before him. Dryden, a robuster nature, was just great enough to mislead Pope; and French ascendency completed his fate. Perhaps, after all, nothing better than such a honey and such a sting as this exquisite writer developed, could have been got out of his little delicate pungent nature; and we have every reason to be grateful for what they have done for us. Hundreds of greater pretensions in poetry have not attained to half his fame, nor did they deserve it; for they did not take half his pains. Perhaps they were unable to take them, for want of as good a balance of qualities. Success is generally commensurate with its grounds.
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 Rape 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 offense 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 t' assault a gentle belle?
0 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.