The most accomplished verse satirist in the English language, Alexander Pope, was born on May 21, 1688. Popeâ€™s life, which he ironically described as â€œthis long disease,â€ was shaped by two great disadvantages: he was crippled from his earliest years by a deformity of the spine, and as a member of the Roman Catholic Church, he was excluded from the public life of his time and denied a university education. Nevertheless, Pope was a gifted writer. Home-schooled, he wrote his earliest surviving poem when he was about twelve years old. Too sickly for boysâ€™ sports, he devoted his teenage years to literature. But his most famous works were An Essay on Criticism (1711) and â€œThe Rape of the Lock.â€ Who can ever forget the tragic figure Miss Arabella Fermor, who lost a curl to the upstart young Baron Lord Petre!
The Rape of the Lock
What dire Offence from amâ€™rous Causes springs,
What mighty Contests rise from trivial Things,
I sing-This verse to Caryl, Muse! is due;
This, evâ€™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! couâ€™d compel
A well-bred Lord tâ€™assault a gentle Belle?
Oh say what stranger Cause, yet unexplorâ€™d,
Couâ€™d make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?
In tasks so bold, can little Men engage,
And in soft Bosoms, dwell such mighty Rage?
Sol through white Curtains shot a timâ€™rous Ray,
And opeâ€™d those Eyes that must eclipse the Day:
Now Lap-dogs give themselves the rouzing Shake,
And sleepless Lovers, just at Twelve, awake:
Thrice rung the Bell, the Slipper knockâ€™d the Ground,
And the pressâ€™d Watch returnâ€™d a silver sound,
Belinda still her downy Pillow prest,
Her guardian Sylph prolngâ€™d the balmy rest.
â€™Twas he had summonâ€™d to her silent Bed
The Morning Dream that hoverâ€™d oâ€™er her Head.
A Youth more glittâ€™ring than a Birth-night Beau
(That evâ€™n in slumber causâ€™d her Cheek to glow)
Seemâ€™d to her Ear his winning Lips to lay,
And thus in Whispers said, or seemed to say.
Fairest of Mortals, thou distinguishâ€™d Care
Of thousand bright Inhabitants of Air!
If eâ€™er one Vision touchâ€™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-powers
With Golden Crowns and Wreaths of heavâ€™nly Flowâ€™rs;
Hear and believe! thy own Importance know,
Nor bound thy narrow Views to things below.
Some secret Truths, from Learned Pride concealâ€™d,
To Maids alone and Children are revealâ€™d:
What thoâ€™ no Credit doubting Wits may give?
The Fair and Innocent shall still believe.
Know then, unnumberâ€™d Spirits round thee fly,
The light Militia of the lower sky:
These, thoâ€™ unseen, are ever on the Wing,
Hang oâ€™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 inclosâ€™d in Womanâ€™s beauteous Mold;
Thence, by a soft Transition, we repair
From earthly Vehicles to these of Air.
Think not, when Womanâ€™s transient Breath is fled,
That all her Vanities at once are dead.
Succeeding Vanities she still regards,
And thoâ€™ she plays no more, oâ€™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 Sprites of fiery Termagants in Flame
Mount up, and take a Salamanderâ€™s name.
Soft yielding Minds to Water glide away,
And sip, with Nymphs, their elemental Tea.
The graver Prude sinks downward to a Gnome,
In search of Mischief still on Earth to roam.
The light Coquettes in Sylphs aloft repair,
And sport and flutter in the Fields of Air.
Know further yet; Whoever fair and chaste
Rejects Mankind, is by some Sylph embracâ€™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 treachâ€™rous Friend, the daring Spark,
The Glance by Day, the Whisper in the Dark;
When kind Occasion prom pts their warm Desires,
When Music softens, and when Dancing fires?
â€™Tis but their Sylph, the wise Celestials know,
Thoâ€™ Honour is the Word with Men below.
Some Nymphs there are, too conscious of their Face,
For Life predestinâ€™d to the Gnomesâ€™ Embrace.
Who swell their Prospects and exalt their Pride,
When Offers are disdainâ€™d, and Love denyâ€™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.
â€™Tis these that early taint the Female Soul,
Instruct the eyes of young Coquettes to roll,
Teach Infant Cheeks a bidden Blush to know,
And little Hearts to flutter at a Beau.
Oft when the World imagine Women stray,
The Sylphs through Mystic mazes guide their Way.
Throâ€™ all the giddy Circle they pursue,
And old Impertinence expel by new.
What tender Maid but must a Victim fall
To one Manâ€™s Treat, but for anotherâ€™s Ball?
When Florio speaks, what Virgin could withstand,
If gentle Damon did not squeeze her Hand?
With varying Vanities, from evâ€™ry Part,
They shift the moving Toyshop of their Heart;
Where Wigs with Wigs, with Sword-knots Sword-knots strive,
Beaux banish Beaux, 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 rangâ€™d the crystal Wilds of Air,
In the clear Mirror of thy ruling Star
I saw, alas! some dread Event impend,
Ere to the Main this morningâ€™s Sun descend,
But Heavâ€™n reveals not what, or how, or where:
Warnâ€™d by thy Sylph, oh pious Maid beware!
This to disclose is all thy Guardian can.
Beware of all, but most beware of Man!
He said: when Shock, who thought she slept too long,
Leapâ€™d up, and wakâ€™d his Mistress with his Tongue.
â€™Twas then, Belinda! if Report say true,
Thy Eyes first openâ€™d on a Billet-doux;
Wounds, Charms, and Ardors,20were no sooner read,
But all the Vision vanishâ€™d from thy Head.
And now, unveilâ€™d, the Toilet stands displayâ€™d,
Each Silver Vase in mystic Order laid.
First, robâ€™d in White, the Nymph intent adores
With Head uncoverâ€™d, the Cosmetic Powâ€™rs.
A heavâ€™nly Image in the Glass appears,
To that she bends, to that her Eyes she rears;
Thâ€™ inferior Priestess, at her Altarâ€™s side,
Trembling, begins the sacred Rites of Pride.
Unnumberâ€™d Treasures ope at once, and here
The various Offâ€™rings of the World appear;
From each she nicely culls with curious Toil,
And decks the Goddess with the glittâ€™ring Spoil.
This casket Indiaâ€™s glowing Gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder Box.
The Tortoise here and Elephant unite,
Transformâ€™d to Combs, the speckled and the white.
Here Files of Pins extend their shining Rows,
Puffs, Powders, Pat ches, Bibles, Billet-doux.
Now awful Beauty puts on all its Arms;
The Fair each moment rises in her Charms,
Repairs her Smiles, awakens evâ€™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, whilst others plait the Gown;
And Bettyâ€™s praisâ€™d for labours not her own.