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3 AUDIOBOOK COLLECTIONS

6 BOOK COLLECTIONS
UNDERSTANDING

POPE:

THE

RAPE

OF

THE

LOCK
Understanding Pope
UNDERSTANDING
POPE:

The Rape of the Lock

Robert A. Albano

MERCURYE PRESS

Los Angeles
UNDERSTANDING POPE:
The Rape of the Lock

Robert A. Albano

First Printing: December 2016

All Rights Reserved © 2016 by Robert A. Albano

No part of this book may be reproduced or


transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic,
electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, taping, or by any information storage
retrieval system, without the written permission of the
publisher.

MERCURYE PRESS

Los Angeles
TABLE OF CONTENTS

7 Background on Alexander Pope


9 Social Criticism
10 Some Comments on “The Educator”
12 Purpose and Method in
The Rape of the Lock
15 Epic Features
18 Rosicrucian Imagery
20 The Structure of The Rape of the Lock
23 Comments on Canto 1
29 Comments on Canto 2
38 Comments on Canto 3
44 Comments on Canto 4
49 Comments on Canto 5
54 The China Jar Imagery
Understanding Pope
BACKGROUND ON
ALEXANDER POPE

Alexander Pope was born in 1688 and died in


1744. At this time in England the conflict between
Protestants and Roman Catholics was still quite
strong. And the Catholics, being the minority group,
were often the victims of prejudice and unjust laws.
Alexander Pope was a Catholic. Because of this, he
could not attend a university; he could not vote; and he
could not hold any public office. But despite these
obstacles, Alexander Pope became one of the most
prominent men of letters in the history of England.
He was a critic, a translator, an editor, and, most
importantly, a poet.
Pope was also a financial success. Fairly early in
his career, his writing, especially his translations of
Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, provided him with a
sufficient income. He was thus able to live the life of a
gentleman. He was also the friend of many other
notable writers during the time, including the other
truly great writer of this particular time in history,
Jonathan Swift. Achieving the status of gentleman
and literary great, Pope was able to socialize with
aristocrats and the more fashionable society of
England. As certain critics suggest, he would often join
"the masculine world of coffeehouse and tavern." His
life was a comfortable one.

7
Critics divide Pope's literary career into three
stages:

1710-17 Period of Light or


Non-Controversial Poetry

"An Essay on Criticism" (1711)


"Rape of the Lock" (1712)
Revision of "Rape of the Lock" (1717)

1717-27 Period as Translator and Editor

Translation of The Iliad by Homer (1720)


Edition of Shakespeare's Works (1725)
Translation of The Odyssey by Homer (1726)

1727-44 Period of Sharp Satire and


Ethical Poetry

The Dunciad (verse satire, Books 1-3, 1728)


An Essay on Man
(poetry on ethics and philosophy, 1734)
The New Dunciad (The Fourth Book, 1742)

8
SOCIAL CRITICISM

Pope wrote many other works besides the ones


listed above. However, one of the listed works that
deserves special mention is The Dunciad. In this
satire or mock epic, Pope ridicules (or makes fun of)
his literary enemies. In this regard, Pope's work is quite
similar to a work of satire from the preceding age,
MacFlecknoe (c. 1678), by John Dryden. But The
Dunciad accomplishes several other goals in addition to
mocking Pope's literary enemies. (1) It reflects the Age
that Pope was living in. At this time there is a
noticeable shift away from the aristocracy and to the
commercial class as a social force of power and
influence. Not everyone in England felt that such a
shift was positive or progressive. (2) The Themes of
the satire suggest a decline in the quality of life. Pope
depicts morality, education, literature, and art as being
in a state of decline or decay. The world is becoming a
worse place to live. Such themes would reappear in
literature during the 20th century. The most notable
example is a long poem entitled The Waste Land (1922)
by T.S. Eliot. (3) In Pope's poem a number of
Characters are called dunces (which refers to foolish
or stupid people). Pope suggests that the dunces
dominate or have taken over society. This is a very
obvious example of social criticism. Pope was not
alone in viewing society as a world of dunces. His
friend and fellow author, Jonathan Swift, suggested
the same idea in Gulliver's Travels (1726). In that
work of prose satire, Swift created a group of
characters that he called yahoos. The yahoos and the
dunces represent the same idea.

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SOME COMMENTS ON
"THE EDUCATOR"

As noted above, The Dunciad is a satirical


work of social criticism. Pope wrote the fourth book
or section of this long poem in 1742. In this book
Pope sharply criticizes the misuse or misapplication of
human reason and learning. Apparently, such misuse
was quite common in Pope's time, as it is today.
In the fourth book the goddess Dulness rules
over the land, and numerous dunces (fools, weak-
minded individuals) push forward to come up to her
and speak. One of these dunces is the Educator. The
Educator is a satiric portrait of someone Pope actually
knew: Dr. Busby, the headmaster of Westminster
School. Pope's Educator is a hard and stern taskmaster
who would often beat students who did not study or
did not learn their lessons properly:

[His] index-hand
Held forth the virtue of the dreadful wand;
His beavered brow a birchen garland wears,
Dropping with infant's blood, and mother's tears.
(lines 139-42)

The rod or sticks that teachers would beat their


students with were often made from birch trees. The
Educator wears a garland or crown made from the
branches of birch trees to symbolize his cruelty. Pope
also notes one boy who is pale with fear and shakes in
the presence of the Educator. The scared boy is
holding his breeches, the back of his pants, because he

10
has just received a whipping.
The Educator presents a speech to the goddess
Dulness in which he explains that he only allows rote
learning to take place in his school. Rote learning
refers to memorizing large amounts of information
without having the students really comprehend or
understand the information. He never allows the
students to use their "fancy" (line 156), their
imaginations. Instead, the Educator will "confine" their
thoughts. He will only allow them to memorize the
information that he feels is important. As the
Educator's metaphor explains, these teachers "hang
one jingling padlock on the mind" (line 162). In other
words, they try to lock up the minds of the students so
that the students will not think freely for themselves.
Of course, the Educator does not like poets. And he
regrets it deeply if he cannot eliminate any poetic talent
that a student may have (lines 163-65).
Pope obviously did not appreciate the
educational system in England. In the passage on the
Educator, the poet is explaining that people become
poets or great statesmen despite the educational system,
not because of it.

11
PURPOSE AND METHOD IN
THE RAPE OF THE LOCK

The story told in The Rape of the Lock is based


on a true incident or event. In a fashionable teahouse
in London, a man named Lord Petre cut off a lock of
hair (a curl) from a woman named Arabella Fermor.
Lord Petre did this as a joke and, perhaps, because he
was also attracted to the woman. Arabella Fermor,
however, did not find the matter amusing or funny at
all. She became quite angry with Lord Petre, and that
anger created a large conflict between her friends and
family and his friends and family. The conflict lasted
for some time. Alexander Pope, who personally knew
both Petre and Fermor, decided to write this poem as a
way to get them to see how ridiculous or silly their fight
was. Pope wanted them to become friends again. This,
then, was the primary purpose of the poem.
Pope was only partially successful in achieving
his purpose. At first both Lord Petre and Arabella
Fermor were quite pleased with the poem. But then a
number of people began to comment on the sexual
imagery in the poem. This imagery suggested that
there was something more than just a friendship
existing between Petre and Fermor. Then Petre and
Fermor began to have second thoughts. They were no
longer quite so pleased with Pope's work. Pope,
though, did have the best of intentions. He even
dedicated the poem to Arabella Fermor.
As time passed, the poem continued to be a
favorite among many people Pope knew. In fact, it was
so popular that Pope decided to revise it and improve it.
The first version, written in 1712, was only two cantos

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(or sections) long. The second version, completed in
1717, contains five cantos. This second version,
especially, established Pope (as some critics suggest) as
the master of "witty, urbane satire." Some critics even
add that it is "the most brilliant mock epic" in English
literature.
In the poem, the character of the Baron
represents Lord Petre. And the character of Belinda
represents Arabella Fermor. The primary setting is the
tearoom or teahouse. And the conflict, quite simply,
may be referred to as "the battle of the sexes." This is
the expression used to describe differences and
occasional conflicts between the two genders.
However, it is especially used to describe the conflict
between a man and a woman when their relationship
develops difficulties or even falls apart.
The student should especially note two poetic
devices or features. (1) Pope uses literary allusions or
references to the great epics of the past: The Iliad, The
Odyssey, The Aeneid, and Paradise Lost. (2) But perhaps
the most important poetic feature of this poem is
hyperbole (or exaggeration). The poet takes small,
unimportant, or trivial matters and makes them appear
to be great, grand, or epic. In this way the poet creates
his mock epic. Such literary works make fun of an
unimportant person or event by making that person or
event appear to be great (as if the person were equal to
the great Greek hero Achilles or as if the event were as
significant as the Trojan War).
The student should also note a theme
concerning innocence in the poem. In The Rape of the
Lock the word innocence can mean both (1) goodness and
(2) chastity. Pope is then using the word innocence as a

13
pun to suggest the sexual nature or quality of his
heroine, Belinda. The title also suggests, perhaps, the
sexual nature of the major characters. Generally
speaking, in this poem the word rape means "to take by
force." So, the literal interpretation of the title
indicates how the Baron (Lord Petre) takes a lock of
hair without the permission of Belinda (Arabella
Fermor). However, the title also can suggest another
meaning, a sexual one.

14
EPIC FEATURES

As mentioned, The Rape of the Lock is a mock


epic. The poet intends his poem to be humorous, but
at the same time the poet uses the same conventions
and characteristics of a real epic. However, the poet of
the mock epic will often present such conventions in a
manner that is ridiculous or opposite to the way they
are presented in a serious epic.
Before examining Pope's poem, the reader may
find it helpful to review the qualities of a serious epic.
Almost all epics contain the following six
characteristics:

1. THE HERO: The hero is a larger than


life figure. He is bigger, better, stronger,
and smarter than most other men. He
is important to his nation. He may even
be internationally famous. Usually, he is
often an important historical figure.
2. THE SETTING: The setting is
usually quite large or vast. The story is
usually set in many great nations.
Sometimes the setting may even include
the entire world, the heavens, or even
the underworld.
3. THE ACTION: The action of the
epic contains deeds of great valor,
wisdom, or superhuman strength.
4. SUPERNATURAL FORCES:
Supernatural forces, such as gods,
angels, demons, or monsters, usually
interfere in the lives of mankind.

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5. THE STYLE: The style is elevated or
grand poetry.
6. THE POET: The poet is mostly
objective. He does not give his
opinions on the topic or story of his
epic.

A number of other conventions or qualities


may also appear in the epic:

1. THE THEME: The poet begins his


epic by discussing his theme or themes.
2. THE MUSE: The Muses were nine
goddesses from Greek mythology.
They inspired artists and writers to
create great works of art or literature or
music. The poet usually invokes (or
calls upon) his muse at the beginning of
the epic. It is like a prayer. He is asking
his muse for inspiration. This is
sometimes referred to as "the
invocation of the muse."
3. IN MEDIAS RES: The Latin phrase
"in medias res" means in the middle of
things. The epic poet does not begin
his story at the very beginning. Rather,
he starts in the middle of the action.
For example, in The Iliad Homer tells
the story about the Trojan War. That
war lasted for ten years. However,
Homer begins his tale at the ninth year.

16
4. CATALOG OF WARRIORS, SHIPS,
OR ARMIES: The poet often presents
a catalog or list in the epic. For
example, in an epic like The Iliad, a list
of all of the Greek kings and warriors
appears. Each king or warrior is also
briefly described. Part of the purpose
of an epic was historical. The epic
would record or preserve the names of
the great heroes from a nation's past.
5. FORMAL SPEECHES: The main
characters in an epic will usually make
formal speeches. For example, in The
Iliad the captains or leaders of both the
Greek and Trojan armies address or
speak to their troops in a formal
manner.
6. EPIC SIMILE: The epic simile is also
called the Homeric simile. It is longer
and more descriptive than a simple
simile that may be found in a short
poem. John Milton uses many epic
similes in Paradise Lost.

Many of these conventions or characteristics


appear in The Rape of the Lock. But they appear in a
comic manner or style. Pope mocks or makes fun of
his subject matter by employing these conventions in a
humorous way.

17
ROSICRUCIAN IMAGERY

As noted above, one of the prominent or


important features of an epic is the use of
supernatural forces. In The Iliad, the Greek gods, like
Zeus, Athena, and Apollo, take an interest in the Trojan
War and even become involved in the action. In
Paradise Lost, God, Jesus Christ, Satan, angels, and devils
all play a prominent role in the action involving Adam
and Eve. For his mock epic, Pope also decided to add
supernatural forces. But because he wanted to be
comical, Pope did not wish to use the gods of the
serious epics. So, instead, Pope decided to uses the
supernatural forces of the Rosicrucians.
If anything, the Rosicrucians were probably a
cult: a religious group with extreme or traditionally
unacceptable views. Some cults are even intentionally
bogus or fake. They are set up to cheat people out of
their money. In fact, people today are not even sure
that the Rosicrucians really ever existed. In the early
17th century two books were published (Fama
Fraternitatas in 1614 and Confessio Fraternitatis in 1615)
that claimed that a secret society had been in existence
since the 15th century. This society was called "the
brethren of the rosy cross" (or Rosicrucians). This
society, so the books state, claim to have secret
knowledge and magical powers. They claimed they
could turn cheap metal (like iron or copper) into gold
(alchemy). They claimed they could make people live
long, long lives. And they claimed they had power
over the elements and the spirits of the elements.
During the Middle ages, people belived there were four
principle elements: earth, air, water, and fire. The

18
Rosicrucians believed that there were spirits that were
connected to each of these elements. If one could
control these spirits, they stated, then one could also
control the elements.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the views of
the Rosicrucians spread across Europe and into
England. Many fashionable or affluent (rich) people
especially became fascinated by the Rosicrucian
promise of power and wealth. In a sense, the
fascination with the Rosicrucians became a kind of fad
or popular activity for many of the gullible (or easily
fooled) people of that time. Of course, the fascination
with Rosicrucian beliefs suggests a contrast to the
logical and practical views normally associated with the
people living during the Age of Reason.
Alexander Pope did not believe in the
Rosicrucian claims. However, the idea of elemental
spirits struck him as the perfect choice for the
supernatural creatures in his poem. In this way, Pope
not only finds a suitable poetic device for his mock epic.
But he also indirectly finds a way to satirize or make
fun of the Rosicrucians and all those people who
blindly accepted the Rosicrucian beliefs.
In the poem Pope describes the four elemental
spirits. But in his poem, these spirits are so tiny that
they are invisible to the human eye. They are also quite
comical. To add to the humor even more, Pope
invented a story to explain the origins of these comic
spirits (explained below).

19
THE STRUCTURE OF
THE RAPE OF THE LOCK

The story in The Rape of the Lock is a simple one.


Still, the student may find the following summary
helpful. The conflict concerns Belinda (the heroine)
and the Baron. The Baron cuts off a lock of Belinda's
hair because he is quite attracted to her. But Belinda
becomes angry and upset. And, so, Belinda and the
Baron quarrel or fight, and their friends also become
involved in the struggle.
As noted earlier, the poem has five divisions or
sections called cantos.

Canto 1 is set in Belinda's bedchamber.


Belinda is asleep. While she is sleeping, a sylph
appears. A sylph is a sprite or spirit of the air. The
name of this particular sylph is Ariel. Ariel is like a
guardian angel. His job is to protect Belinda. He flies
to the ear of Belinda and whispers to her. She hears
his voice in her sleep, but will later think the voice was
just a dream. Ariel tells Belinda all about the four kinds
of spirits -- the spirits of air, earth, fire, and water.
More importantly, Ariel warns Belinda that something
bad is about to happen to her. Ariel does not know
exactly what will happen, but he does know that the
bad event will involve a man. Later, when Belinda is
awake, she forgets the warning.

20
Canto 2 includes a scene at the Baron's house.
The Baron prepares a sacrifice to the God of Love so
that he can successfully cut off Belinda's two beautiful
locks of curly hair. Meanwhile, Ariel seeks the
assistance of other sylphs to help him so that he can
protect Belinda.

Canto 3 takes place at a fashionable


coffeehouse or teahouse. Belinda plays a card game
called Ombre against the Baron and one other man.
The Baron plays well, but Belinda defeats both him and
the other man. After the game there is a coffee break.
When Belinda is relaxed and least suspecting any
trouble, the Baron cuts off one of her curls.

Canto 4 introduces another supernatural


creature named Umbriel. Umbriel is a gnome, a spirit
of the earth. The gnomes are bad, though not quite
evil. They like to cause trouble. Umbriel visits the
Cave of Spleen, a kind of underworld, where the queen
there presents him with two magical gifts. These gifts
will cause Belinda and her friends to become even
angrier and to make the conflict get worse. In the
coffeehouse Belinda tries to get her curl back from the
Baron. Belinda also presents a speech, in which she
displays how angry and upset she is.

21
In Canto 5 another woman named Clarissa
also presents a speech. Clarissa is the Baron's friend.
In her speech she tells Belinda not to be so angry and
not to place so much value on physical beauty. Belinda,
however, is too angry to listen to her. Her argument or
fight against the Baron continues. Finally, Belinda takes
some tobacco and throws it at the Baron. The Baron
sneezes. When he does this, he drops the lock of hair.
Everybody looks for the lock, but they cannot find it.
Magically, the lock flies up into the night sky and turns
into a bright and shining star.

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CANTO 1

In the first twelve lines of his poem, Pope


introduces his topic and themes and also invokes (or
calls upon) his muse. The name of the muse is Caryll
(line 3), and the poet later refers to his muse as
"Goddess" (line 7). Pope is already introducing humor
into his poem at this point: he is already establishing
that his work is a mock epic. Caryll refers to John
Caryll, one of Pope's friends. Caryll was Pope's
inspiration because he casually suggested to the poet
that a poem should be written about the cutting of the
lock as a way to sooth the conflict between Arabella
Fermor (Belinda) and Lord Petre (Baron). Pope liked
the idea and agreed. Of course, the humor here is
Caryll is not only not a goddess, but he is also a male.
Pope explains that the subject matter of his
poem began with a small event: the cutting of Belinda's
curl or lock. Such an event is "trivial" or unimportant.
Such an event also occurred innocently, out of an act
of affection or love, an "amorous cause." However,
the reaction of Belinda turned this trivial or
insignificant act into something large or epic, into a
"dire offense" or a "mighty contest." These phrases
make the event seem grand or epic. Describing the
Baron as "so bold" and describing Belinda as having a
"mighty rage" also contribute to the epic quality of the
poem. The reader should note that Pope uses
descriptive language like this throughout poem in
order to make the small event appear as if it were epic.
This language is exaggeration or hyperbole.
The action of the poem begins (in line 13)
with the sun (referred to as "Sol," the sun god) coming

23
through the curtains in Belinda's bedchamber. The sun
has risen, and Belinda should be getting out of bed.
However, a sylph, a spirit of the air, uses magic on her
to keep her asleep (line 20). The name of the sylph is
Ariel, but this is not revealed until much later in the
canto (line106). Ariel presents a "morning dream" (line
22) to Belinda. As Ariel whispers into Belinda's ear,
Belinda dreams or envisions the things he talks about.
Most of Canto 1 is actually a speech: the
words spoken by Ariel to Belinda as she sleeps (from
line 27 to 114). Ariel tells Belinda that if she ever had a
vision of "airy elves" (line 31) or other supernatural
creatures that she had heard about from stories or fairy
tales, then she should "hear and believe" (line 35) what
Ariel is about to tell her. In other words, Ariel is
saying that such visions are real. There really are fairies.
Ariel is about to warn Belinda of some tragedy that will
afflict her. Thus, he knows it is important for Belinda
to believe him.
Ariel tells Belinda that the secrets of the
magical or supernatural world are only revealed to two
categories of humans: "maids" and "children" (line 38).
The word maids here refers to young women who are
still innocent, who are still virgins. Thus, Ariel is saying
that only the innocent ones are capable of hearing and
believing in the sylphs and other such creatures.
Indirectly, Pope is criticizing the Rosicrucians for their
beliefs in such fantastical creatures. Pope is suggesting
that their belief is childish and simplistic. This is an
example of social criticism.
Ariel further tells Belinda that when fair
maidens go to the theater ("the box" in line 44) or the
park ("the Ring") or anywhere else, numerous sylphs fly

24
around them and protect them. Ariel also explains the
origins of the supernatural creatures. He tells Belinda
that the sylphs were once beautiful maidens: "once
enclosed in woman's beauteous mold" (line 48). But,
when they died, they turned into supernatural creatures.
Ariel adds that when these women turn into sylphs,
they still enjoy the activities that they liked when they
were human. If they liked card games (such as Ombre)
or driving in chariots as women, then they would
continue to like such activities as sylphs (lines 51-56).
Of course, all of this is Pope's invention, not
Rosicrucian belief.
Ariel then explains that there are actually four
kinds of supernatural creatures, corresponding to the
four elements:

1. Salamanders: The Salamanders


correspond to the element of fire. Women
who always have a fiery or hot temper turn
into Salamanders. A "termagant" means a
noisy, quarrelsome, and shrewish woman.
(lines 59-60)

2. Nymphs: The Nymphs correspond to the


element of water. Women who have soft
or weak minds turn into Nymphs. The
expression "elemental tea" refers to water.
(lines 61-62)

25
3. Gnomes: The Gnomes correspond to the
element of earth. Women who are prudes
(excessively proper or righteous) and who
are always causing trouble turn into
Gnomes. (lines 63-64)

4. Sylphs: The Sylphs correspond to the


element of air. Women who are always
flirting with men ("coquettes") turn into
Sylphs. (lines 65-66)

Pope is not only mocking or making fun of the


Rosicrucian belief in elemental spirits. He is also
jokingly contributing to the "battle of the sexes" by
suggesting that there are only four kinds of women:
shrews, soft-minded females, prudes, and flirts. This is
just part of Pope's humor.
Of the four categories, Pope is especially
critical of the prudes (the Gnomes). Through the
character of Ariel, Pope criticizes the prudes at some
length (lines 79-90). Ariel explains that the prudes are
too full of pride and always taking pleasure in turning
down offers of love from men. Further, the prudes are
always rolling their eyes as if they are too good or
superior to everything and everybody. Apparently,
Pope probably knew several ladies who were like this.
And, so, the poet added this piece of social criticism in
order to ridicule or mock them.
Ariel tells Belinda that the job of the Sylphs is
to protect maidens from men (lines 71-78 and lines 91-
104). The Sylphs do not want the women to lose their
innocence (or virginity). If a woman loses her

26
innocence, the Sylphs can no longer protect her. So,
the Sylphs constantly work to keep the maidens from
giving too much attention to any one man. As Ariel
expresses it, "They shift the moving toyshop of their
heart" (line 100). This is a metaphor. The heart is a
moving toyshop for these fickle coquettes, these
flirtatious young women, because they quickly move
from one man to another just as a child might quickly
move from one toy to another in a toyshop.
The main reason why Ariel speaks to Belinda,
though, is to warn her. Ariel explains that he saw an
omen in the stars that some "dread event" (line 109)
will happen to Belinda. Once again, Pope is using
hyperbole here. Ariel tells Belinda that he is not
exactly sure what the event will be. But he does tell her
this:

Beware of all, but most beware of Man!


(line 114)

When Ariel leaves, the little dog named Shock


wakes Belinda up. One of the first things that Belinda
does is to read a love letter ("a billet-doux") from an
admirer. As soon as she does so, she forgets Ariel's
dream and warning (line 120).
The last part of Canto 1 concerns Belinda
putting on her make-up or cosmetics in order to get
ready for the day's activities. The student should be
careful here that the word toilet here (line 121) refers to
the dressing table where Belinda keeps her cosmetics.
This word is often spelled as toilette today. The
student should also note that the word nymph here
(line 123) is used differently from way Pope used it

27
earlier. The word refers to the minor but beautiful
nature goddesses frequently appearing in Greek
mythology. Pope uses the word here to praise Belinda,
to say that she has the beauty of one of these
goddesses. Pope is also using hyperbole in this section
of the poem to describe a simple activity. Not only
does Belinda become a goddess, but also her maid or
servant becomes an "inferior priestess" (line 127).
Further, Pope describes the actions of applying make-
up as "sacred rites" (line 128).
The student might wonder why Pope devotes
so many lines to Belinda's make-up procedures. The
answer is that this scene is a parody of related scenes
in epics. One of the most common scenes in epics
(and in some medieval romances) involves the arming
of the hero. The student may recall how Sir Gawain,
in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, prepared himself
before going out to seek the Green Knight. In that
romance the poet devoted several long passages to the
way Gawain dressed himself. The poet named and
described each article of clothing and each piece of
armor. In Pope's mock epic, the dressing scene
parallels this oral formula. But here the hero is not a
brave knight: rather, the hero is a young coquette. And
here cosmetics (or make-up) become the armor that
Belinda uses as protection against the dangers that she
will face.

28
CANTO 2

The second section or canto of Pope's mock


epic begins with a scene set on the Thames River. On
this river, which circles through London, Belinda gets
on board a boat that will take her to the tea or
coffeehouse. The primary purpose of the first two
stanzas (lines 1-28) is to describe and praise Belinda's
beauty. However, the reader might also note that
Belinda wears a necklace with "a sparkling cross" (line 7)
attached to it. This, perhaps, is her emblem in the
same way that the pentangle was the emblem for Sir
Gawain. In fact, the use of sun imagery also
connects Belinda to Sir Gawain. Pope uses the
following simile to describe Belinda:

Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike,


And like the sun, they shine on all alike.
(lines 13-14)

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the hero dresses in


shining gold armor. And even his horse, Gringolet, is
finely decked out in gold array "that glittered and
glowed like the glorious sun" (SGGK, Part 2, line 604).
So, the Gawain poet also uses a sun simile. However,
Belinda is not going out to face her death, as Gawain
did. Instead, she is going out to drink coffee and play
cards. Still, like Gawain, Belinda will encounter danger
(sort of) from an enemy. Of course, her enemy only
wants to cut her hair, not her neck.
Pope devotes several lines to describing the two
prized curly locks of hair that hang down the back of
Belinda's neck. Pope also uses several metaphors to

29
describe these locks: for example, "labyrinths" (line 24)
and "chains" (line 25). Belinda's locks of hair are a trap
for all men because, when a man stares at them, he falls
hopelessly in love with her. Thus, he is trapped in his
love for Belinda; but she will never return that love. So,
the trap is a deadly one.

In epics of the past, especially in both The Iliad


and The Odyssey by Homer, the heroes and other
characters would often offer sacrifices to the gods.
Ancient man believed that if he would burn an animal
as a sacrifice, the gods up in the heavens would smell
the wonderful aroma and would be pleased. Therefore,
ancient man would hope that the gods would then help
him in the future. Before battle, warriors would always
sacrifice animals to the powerful gods like Zeus,
Poseidon, Apollo, or Athena. Of course, the men
hoped these gods would help them to defeat their
enemies.
A similar sacrifice occurs in Pope's mock epic.
But here the purpose of the sacrifice is not to achieve
victory in battle. And here the god involved is not a
powerful figure like Zeus or Athena. Instead, the
purpose is to take, to cut, the locks from Belinda's hair.
And, so, the god involved is Love or Cupid.
Pope, then, is once again making fun of an epic
feature. In this scene (lines 29-46) the Baron prepares a
sacrifice to Love. Instead of a regular altar or
sacrificial table, the Baron has a stack of 12 French
romances (storybooks about love). On this "altar" the
Baron has placed garters and gloves and other items
that women have given to him as tokens or gifts of
their love for him. These are the items that the Baron

30
will burn as his sacrifice. In fact, he even uses a "billet-
doux," a love letter, to start the fire. The scene
suggests that the Baron will give up or "sacrifice" the
love of all other women if he can obtain the two
beautiful curls on the back of Belinda's neck. Of
course, this implies or symbolizes that the Baron
wants to give up the love of all other women because
he is in love with Belinda.
The gods up in the heavens may not always
respond to the sacrifice, but in this case the poet
informs the readers (foreshadowing) about the result:

The powers gave ear, and granted half his prayer.


(line 45)

The Baron prays to get Belinda's two locks of hair. So,


if the gods or powers above grant only half of his
prayer, that means he will get only one of the locks.
The reader should also make note of the
literary allusion in these stanzas. Before the Baron
prepares his sacrifice to the God of Love, he thinks
about how he should get Belinda's hair:

Resolved to win, he meditates the way,


By force to ravish, or by fraud betray.
(lines 31-32)

So, the Baron is trying to decide whether to take


Belinda's hair directly, by force, or to cheat or trick her
in some way. This choice should remind the reader of
a similar situation in Paradise Lost by John Milton. In
that modern epic Satan, after he and his followers are
defeated by God, must decide whether to use fraud or

31
force in his future struggles against God. Pope's
literary allusion, then, comically links the Baron to
Satan. Of course, the difference in goals between
Satan and the Baron is tremendously vast. Satan wants
to hurt God by damning all of mankind. The Baron,
on the other hand, only wants two locks of hair. The
absurdity of the comparison makes it humorous.
There is, however, one other major difference between
Satan and the Baron. Satan decides to use fraud in his
struggle against God, but the Baron decides to use
force to obtain the two locks of hair.

As Belinda is sailing peacefully down the


Thames River toward the coffeehouse, the poet shifts
the readers' attention to Ariel. Ariel is worried about
the omen and the terrible event that will soon happen
to Belinda. So, Ariel summons or calls an entire army
of Sylphs to help him protect Belinda (line 55). Nearly
half of Canto 2 is devoted to another speech (lines 73-
136). In this speech Ariel instructs the other Sylphs
about their individual duties, about what each one
should do in order to protect Belinda. The speech also
contributes to the mock epic quality of the poem
because the speech is similar to the way a captain or
general would address his soldiers in Homer's The Iliad.
Ariel begins his speech by naming the different
ranks or groups of Sylphs: Sylphs, Sylphids, Fays,
Fairies, Geniis, Elves, and Daemons (lines 73-74). This
is also a literary allusion to Paradise Lost. When Satan
addresses the other devils, he begins by naming their
ranks: Powers, Thrones, Dominions, and so forth.
Again, Pope adds this allusion for contrast and humor.
The Sylphs, after all, are tiny creatures, smaller than

32
insects. Also, their powers are not so very great. Once
again, Pope is taking something very small and making
it appear grand and epic.
Like the devils in Hell, the Sylphs also seem to
have their own occupations. In fact, Pope even
provides a catalog or list of these occupations:

1. Sylphs who play (lines 77-78)


2. Sylphs who guide the planets (lines 79-80)
3. Sylphs who chase the shooting stars (lines
81-82)
4. Sylphs who control the mists or rains (line
83)
5. Sylphs who watch over boats (line 84)
6. Sylphs who start tempests or storms (line
85)
7. Sylphs who distribute the rain on fields (line
86)
8. Sylphs who watch over humans (lines 87-
88)
a. Royal family (line 89-90)
b. Fair maidens (line 91-92)
c. Children (not listed)

This list is also used for the purpose of humor -- to


make these tiny creatures appear to be grand, epic,
significant, and important.
Ariel admits that his own job is not as
important as the job of protecting the Royal family:

Our humbler province is to tend the Fair,


Not a less pleasing, though less glorious care.
(lines 91-92)

33
Ariel finds his job of protecting Belinda to be a
pleasing one. He then goes on to explain that most of
his duties concerns how Belinda puts on her make-up
or how she arranges her hair (lines 93-100). In other
words, he has an easy job most of the time.
Ariel then tells his companions about the omen,
about the "dire disaster" that will soon happen to
Belinda. Ariel discusses the possibilities of what might
happen. The reader should note the use of
juxtaposition (placing side by side for the purpose of
contrast) here (in lines 105-09). The disaster could be
quite serious or trivial (relatively insignificant):

Serious Possibilities Trivial Possibilities


1. Break Diana's law 1. Break a china jar
2. Stain her honor 2. Stain her dress
3. Forget her prayers 3. Forget to attend a
party
4. Lose her heart 4. Lose a necklace

The reader should notice the mythological allusion to


Diana, the Roman goddess of chastity. To break
Diana's law means that Belinda will lose her virginity.
Ariel also mentions another possibility: Shock,
Belinda's little dog, could die (line 110). For Ariel and
for Belinda, this would also be a serious event.

34
More humor occurs at the end of Canto 2 as
Ariel assigns specific tasks to each of the Sylphs (lines
112-15). The reader should note that Pope creates
names for these Sylphs that relate to their jobs:

Sylph Job Meaning of Name

Zephyretta Guard the Fan zephyr: a gentle


breeze

Brillante Guard the brilliant: full of


Diamond Earrings light, shining; or a
gem, especially a
diamond

Momentilla Guard the Watch moment: a brief


period of time

Crispissa Guard the Locks crisp: having small


curls

35
Ariel himself will guard Shock. Further, Ariel
assigns fifty Sylphs to guard Belinda's petticoat (lines
117-18). A petticoat is a skirt or underskirt. During
the Neoclassic Period such garments could be quite
elaborate. Ariel describes Belinda's petticoat as having
seven layers of cloth ("that sevenfold fence") and
having a framework of hoops made of bone ("ribs of
whale") that will cause her dress to extend out in a
circular fashion around her lower body. The reason
why Ariel assigns so many Sylphs to guard the petticoat
is another example of sexual symbolism. The
petticoat, of course, covers Belinda's sexual parts.
Thus, Ariel is once again suggesting that Belinda may
lose her virginity or chastity.
Ariel ends his speech by warning the other
Sylphs that if they do not do their jobs properly, they
will be severely punished. The imagery of these
punishments also contributes to the humor of the epic.
These punishments (lines 126-36) are a mock
equivalent to the punishments found in Hades as
described in The Iliad by Homer or The Aeneid by Virgil.

Catalog of Punishments
1. Being trapped in a jar
2. Being pinned down (like a butterfly)
3. Being submerged in dirty water
4. Being stuck inside the eye of a needle
5. Having his wings glued together
6. Becoming thin like a dried flower
7. Being tied on a moving wheel (like Ixion)
8. Being submerged in hot chocolate

36
The reference to Ixion is, of course, another
mythological allusion. Ixion is a figure from Greek
mythology who was punished eternally in Hades. He
was tied to a large wheel that would constantly move
and constantly crush him.

37
CANTO 3

Pope begins the third section of his mock epic


by describing the Hampton (the coffeehouse or
teahouse), where Belinda will play cards and drink
coffee. Once again the reader should note the use of
juxtaposition as Pope humorously describes the
events that occur inside the coffeehouse:

Serious Event Trivial Event

1. British officials discuss 1. British officials


the possible fall of discuss the possible
foreign tyrants fall from virtue (the
loss of virginity) of
various women

2. Queen Anne (r. 1702- 2. Queen Anne takes


1714) takes counsel tea
(meets with her
advisors).

The coffeehouse is a gathering place for


fashionable (and usually wealthy) members of society.
In the coffeehouse Belinda plays a card game called
Ombre against the Baron and one other man. As
Belinda plays, the Sylphs fly around her to protect her.
But they are also interested in watching the game.

38
The reader does not really need to know how
Ombre is played to follow the game. Belinda has many
spades (as opposed to clubs, diamonds, or hearts) in
her hand. Since she is the first to play, she gets to
declare which suit of the four suits of cards will be
trumps. That is, she gets to declare which suit will be
the strongest. Of course, she chooses spades (line 46).
Each player holds nine cards. The player then presents
a card from his or her hand. The player with the best
card gets to take the other two cards. This action
continues until all nine cards are played.

The game proceeds as follows:

1 Belinda plays the ace of spades (called Spadillo)


and takes two other cards, both of them also
spades.

2 Belinda then plays the two of spades (Manillo,


also a high card in Ombre) and takes two more
cards (again both spades) from her opponents.

3 Belinda then plays the ace of clubs (Basto, also a


high card) and takes one spade and one other
lesser card from her opponents.

4 Belinda then plays the king of spades (line 56)


and takes the jack of spades ("the rebel Knave")
and the jack of clubs from her opponents. The
poet calls the jack of clubs the "mighty Pam"
because, in another card game called Loo, the
jack of clubs is the highest card. But in Ombre
the jack of clubs is not so powerful.

39
Belinda wins the first four hands, but now the Baron
starts to win a few hands:

5 The Baron plays the queen of spades and takes


the king of clubs from Belinda (lines 67-74).

6 The Baron plays the king of diamonds and wins


the hand.

7 The Baron plays the queen of diamonds and wins


the hand.

8 The Baron plays the jack of diamonds and takes


the queen of hearts from Belinda.

The ninth and last hand will decide the winner of the
game:

9 The Baron plays the ace of hearts (a good card),


but Belinda holds the king of hearts (a better
card) and beats the Baron.

40
The reader should make a special note about
two aspects of this game. First, Pope uses military
imagery throughout his description of the game. The
military words are quite numerous: band, troops,
combat, war, leaders, unconquerable, captive, yield,
victor, saber, rebel, engage, armies, warlike, host,
powers, conquest, and battalions. The card game in
Pope's mock epic thus becomes the equivalent of a
mighty battle between the Greeks and the Trojans in
Homer's great epic. Once again, Pope takes something
trivial (a card game) and makes it seem grand or epic in
scale.
The second point the reader should note is the
symbolism suggested in the last two hands of the
game. Belinda loses the queen of hearts. The
symbolism suggests that she loses her heart to the
Baron. That is, Belinda falls in love with the Baron. So,
Belinda blushes: "the blood the virgin's cheek forsook"
(line 89). She blushes because of her emotions, not
because she has lost a card.

41
As soon as Belinda wins the game, she shouts
in excitement and triumph (lines 99-100). But then the
poet interrupts his story to comment on the action
(authorial intrusion). The poet notes that Belinda
should not be so quick to celebrate because fate often
has a way of turning good luck into bad. The student
may recall how fate is also referred to as a strong but
usually negative force in Anglo-Saxon poetry and
especially in Beowulf.
As Belinda is drinking her coffee, the Baron
begins to make his move. Another woman named
Clarissa loans the Baron a pair of scissors (line 127).
She does this because she apparently likes the Baron
very much. As the Baron moves closer to Belinda,
hundreds of Sylphs try to blow the curl away from the
Baron. Other Sylphs unite to make Belinda's earring
twitch or move slightly. When Belinda feels the twitch,
she turns around. So, the Baron has to stop. He
cannot get close enough to Belinda to cut her hair.
But then Ariel reads Belinda's mind (lines 139-
46) and discovers that Belinda is in love with the Baron:
"an earthly lover lurking at her heart." This is bad news
for Ariel. He can only protect Belinda as long as she is
innocent and pure and not thinking sexually about any
man. So, he must leave her. Once again the reader
should note the use of symbolism here. Ariel's
abandoning Belinda symbolizes her sexual interest in
the Baron.
With her guardian Sylph now gone, the Baron
is able to approach Belinda and cut one of her two
locks of hair. One of the other Sylphs tries to stop the
scissors, but he instead gets cut in half himself.
Fortunately, this is not too serious for the Sylph. Since

42
he is made of air, he can easily put himself back
together again. Belinda, on the other hand, is not so
fortunate. She will never be able to put her lock of hair
back on her head.

Belinda shouts "screams of horror" to the skies


(line 156). She becomes hurt and angry that the Baron
could have ever done such an act to her.
The Baron, on the other hand, is quite pleased
with himself. He feels that his act has brought honor
to himself and that people will praise his act for all
eternity -- as if it were an act of defeating a monster or
fierce enemy in an epic.
In the final lines of the canto (lines 161-78), the
Baron presents a short speech on his glorious deed.
The reader should especially note the use of
metonymy in the second stanza of this speech. In
these lines the Baron glorifies the power of "steel,"
which, he claims, is stronger than time, stronger than
the works of the gods, and stronger than the gates and
towers of Troy. Of course, the humor here is that the
word steel is usually a metonymy (a kind of metaphor)
for a sword. But the Baron is actually referring to the
pair of scissors, which is also made of steel. Thus, the
scissors becomes the Baron's special weapon. And his
act of cutting the hair is like striking a monster dead
with his sword.

43
CANTO 4

In Pope's mock epic the poet has both good


supernatural creatures and bad supernatural creatures.
The bad supernatural creature is Umbriel. Umbriel is
a Gnome. He is made of earth. Naturally, he is kind
of dark and dirty. Therefore, he has dark and dirty
thoughts. Umbriel is not exactly evil. But he is a
mischievous sprite, a kind of troublemaker. In a way,
he is not too unlike the fairy Puck (also called Robin
Goodfellow) who appears in A Midsummer Night's
Dream by William Shakespeare. When Ariel leaves
Belinda, Umbriel soon appears and recognizes that the
time is right to cause trouble.
In several great epics of the past, the hero
descends into the underworld, the realm of the dead.
Such an event occurs in both The Odyssey and The Aeneid.
In fact, when Beowulf descends into the pond or lake
to fight against Grendel's mother, that journey too is
like a descent into the underworld.
Pope decides to mock this underworld scene by
having Umbriel take a journey to the Cave of Spleen.
The spleen is an organ in the body located on the left
side below the diaphragm. Today people know that the
spleen filters and stores blood in the body. But in
earlier ages many people believed that human passions
(especially negative passions like depression or anger)
came from the spleen. Pope does not clearly state
whether this Cave of Spleen is inside Belinda or
somewhere else.
But the poet does describe the interior of the
Cave in specific detail. The Queen of Spleen -- a
goddess who is equivalent to Hades, the Greek god of

44
the underworld -- lies on a bed in a melancholy or
depressed state. Many allegorical figures (abstract
qualities that are personified) attend the Queen. Pain
stands by her side, while Megrim (or Headache) stands
by her head. Two other allegorical attendants who are
standing near the Queen are Ill-Nature (having a bad or
nasty temper) and Affectation (having a phony or
artificial manner of behavior).
The Cave is filled with heavy vapors or mists,
and ghosts are floating everywhere. The most unusual
and most humorous passage contains a description
(imagery) of the odd spirits who dwell there:

Here living teapots stand, one arm held out,


One bent; the handle this, and that the spout.
(lines 49-50)

Pope is thus describing one spirit who looks exactly like


a teapot. One of his arms is bent to form a handle.
The other arm is held straight out to form a spout.
Other spirits take the shapes of flowerpots, jars, or
bottles. In this strange and crazy underworld, men can
even become pregnant (line 53).
A short speech also appears in this underworld
scene (in lines 57-78). Umbriel addresses the Queen of
Spleen to request that she may use her magic to cause
Belinda to feel "chagrin" (ill humor, anger, or a bad and
nasty temper: line 77). In making his request, Umbriel
may remind the reader of Beowulf when Beowulf first
speaks to the king of the Danes. In order to prove that
he is worthy to face the monster named Grendel,
Beowulf lists his accomplishments, such as slaying sea-
monsters and giants.

45
Similarly, Umbriel lists his accomplishments
(lines 67-76):

1 Spoiling the graceful appearance of women


2 Causing a pimple to form on a woman's face
3 Causing women to become angry when losing a
game
4 Causing married women to have affairs (and
thus turning their husbands into cuckolds)
5 Interfering with women while they are in bed
6 Causing suspicion when there is no reason for it
7 Making prudish women look silly or undignified
8 Causing lap dogs (like Shock) to become sick in
order to upset their female owners

Umbriel also lies to the Queen. He tells her that


Belinda "disdains" or ridicules the power of the Queen
(line 65) because she is constantly in mirth (happy or
pleasant). Of course, that is not true. When Umbriel
left her, she was shrieking "screams of horror." The
reader might also note that once again Umbriel refers
to Belinda as a nymph. Here he means the word to
suggest the minor Greek goddesses of nature, who
were always described as being exceptionally beautiful.
He is basically saying that Belinda is a beautiful maiden.
He is not referring to the Nymphs (Canto 1, lines 61-
62), the Rosicrucian spirits made of water.
The Goddess of the Underworld (the Queen
of Spleen) grants Umbriel’s request. She gives the
Gnome two special gifts: (1) a bag full of sighs, sobs,
and passions from young women and (2) a vial or small
bottle full of sorrows, griefs, and tears. Umbriel is to

46
open these gifts over the heads of Belinda and the
others in the coffeehouse in order to make them
extremely angry and upset. The reader should note the
mythological allusion to Ulysses (the Roman name
of Odysseus; line 82). In The Odyssey the hero receives
a bag of winds from Aeolus, the god of winds.
Odysseus needs this gift to make his sailboat move
when there are no winds on the sea.
Umbriel returns to the coffeehouse (in line 89)
and finds Belinda crying in the arms of another woman
named Thalestris. Umbriel breaks the magical bag over
their heads. Thalestris tells Belinda that the Baron's act
will cause her to be the victim of malicious gossip, and
that such gossip will cause Belinda to lose her "honor"
(line 110). Such a comment also suggests a loss of
virtue, a loss of virginity. Thalestris also tells Belinda
that the Baron will enclose the lock of hair in a crystal
and set it in a ring to wear on his finger (line 114).
Finally Thalestris goes to her friend, Sir Plume, for help;
but Sir Plume can only stutter and stammer.
The Baron is still happy over his victory and
claims that he will wear the ring (containing the lock)
on his hand forever (line 138). Umbriel then opens his
second gift, the vial, over Belinda's head (line 142).
Belinda begins to sigh and cry.
The fourth canto ends with a speech spoken by
the heroine (lines 147-76). This is the speech on ill
humor. Once again Pope is mocking the more serious
speeches of genuine epics. Belinda cries that she
wishes she had never been to the coffeehouse in
Hampton Court. In fact, she even wishes that she had
never ever been in the company of men. She even
states that there were omens (line161) that warned her

47
about some approaching evil: (1) her cosmetic box fell
three times, (2) the china tea set shook, (3) Poll, the
parrot, would not speak, and (4) Shock misbehaved.
Then Belinda remembers her dream and Ariel's
warning. But it is too late!

48
CANTO 5

The final section of the poem begins with the


reaction of Belinda's audience, who "melt in tears" as
they look at the heroine. After a few more
mythological allusions (to Jupiter or Zeus, to Fate, and
to Aeneas and Dido), Pope then presents another
speech.
Clarissa is the speaker of the speech on good
humor (lines 9-34). This speech is, obviously,
presented as a direct contrast to Belinda's speech. It
also provides the author's viewpoint regarding the
entire situation. Basically, Clarissa compares and
contrasts beauty with virtue. Clarissa states that a
woman who has achieved the praise of men because of
her beauty has really achieved nothing "unless good
sense preserve what beauty gains" (line 16). In other
words, Clarissa is implying that the praise will vanish as
the woman gets older and begins to lose her beauty.
The speaker adds that beauty has no real power in itself.
It cannot cure diseases, like smallpox, or stop people
from becoming old (line 20). But "frail beauty must
decay" (line 25). As a woman gets older, her beauty
disappears. Clarissa then moves to her main point:

What then remains but well our power to use,


And keep good humor still whate'er we lose?
(lines 29-30)

Essentially, Clarissa is stating that since a woman will


lose her beauty, she should at least try to keep her good
humor. The expression "good humor" refers to
keeping one's passions (especially negative emotions)

49
under control. Moreover, the expression suggests the
use of reason. A reasonable woman knows that her
beauty will fade. Therefore, she will not place so much
emphasis on that particular quality. Clarissa ends the
speech with these final words of advice:

Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.


(line 34)

She means that although a man may be attracted to a


woman because of her beauty, such beauty will not win
his love. When the woman's beauty fades (and if that
is the only quality that the man likes about her), the
man will leave her. But a man who loves the merits or
virtues (the internal qualities) of a woman will continue
to love that woman even after her beauty has left her.

None of the people in the coffeehouse,


however, seem to agree with Clarissa. The people in
the coffeehouse then begin to take sides: some for
Belinda, some for the Baron. Just as The Iliad ends with
a large epic battle, so too does Pope's mock epic. Here
also Pope uses battle imagery and language and
mythological allusions in describing the "battle" in
the coffeehouse.
The battle in the coffeehouse, though, is not a
physical one. Rather, the action is comprised of
frowns and dark looks. For example, Thalestris storms
through the coffeehouse and "scatters death around
from both her eyes" (line 58). That is, she gives angry
looks at the men who side with the Baron.

50
In Greek mythology there is a force more
powerful than the gods. That force is Fate. To know
what Fate demands, Zeus, the mightiest of the Greek
gods, would hold up a scale. Fate would determine the
outcome of a serious event like the Trojan War.
In Pope's epic Jove (or Jupiter, the Roman
equivalent to Zeus) holds up a scale (lines 71-74). Fate
determines that Belinda's side should win the war. In
other words, the Baron will not be able to keep the lock
of hair.
The war ends with the battle of the two
champions, a typical device or formula in epic
literature. Here Belinda encounters the Baron directly
just as Achilles encountered Hector in The Iliad.
Belinda's weapon, though, is a pinch of "snuff" (line 82)
a small amount of tobacco that fashionable people in
London would sometimes inhale. Belinda throws the
snuff at the Baron, and that causes him to sneeze: "the
high dome re-echoes to his nose" (line 86). What the
reader does not find out until later, though, is that
when the Baron sneezes, he loses the lock of hair.
Belinda does not know either. So, she pulls out
a "bodkin," a long, sharp hairpin. The word bodkin can
also refer to a dagger or knife. So, this hairpin becomes
Belinda's deadly weapon.
In some medieval stories, a warrior's sword
might actually have a history of its own. The metal
that the sword is made out of may have come from
another weapon or armor that belonged to some
ancestor or famous hero. In Pope's mock epic,
Belinda's hairpin also has a history. Pope jokingly
provides the history of this bodkin or hairpin. The
metal was used in the following items:

51
1 a ringed ornament for a necklace belonging to
Belinda's great-great grandfather
2 a large belt buckle for her great-great
grandmother
3 a whistle and bells for her grandmother when
the grandmother was a child
4 a hairpin belonging to her mother

Pope then returns to his story. The Baron


submits to Belinda and declares (in mock epic language)
that death does not scare him. He only fears losing
Belinda (line 100). Belinda, though, only demands that
he return the lock of hair to her. At that point they
discover that the hair is missing (line 108).
The people in the coffeehouse look for the lock
of hair but cannot find it. They try to figure out what
happened to it. Some of them even think it is on the
moon, "the lunar sphere" (line 113). According to an
old and silly superstition, everything that is lost ends up
on the moon.
Pope's muse, Caryll, however, sees what really
happens to the lock (line 124-32). Apparently, when
the Baron lost it, it flew up into the skies like a
shooting star and became a fixed star in the heavens.
This is similar, as Pope alludes to an Egyptian story.
Berenice, the wife of Ptolemy III, the ruler of Egypt,
presented a lock of her hair to the gods in return for
her husband's safe return from war. The hair was
turned into a constellation (a group or cluster of stars).
Pope also explains that the Sylphs were also
quite happy to see Belinda's hair fly upward, and they

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chased after it. Pope then adds (in line 135) that the
new star looks even brighter than the planet Venus (the
planet of love named after the Roman goddess, an
equivalent to the Greek Aphrodite). So, thereafter,
lovers from the earth will look and think that the light
from the planet of love is shining on them.
Pope concludes by directly telling Belinda to
stop her crying for the lock because now part of her is
immortal. The lock will continue to blaze for countless
generations and will be a lasting memorial of Belinda's
beauty and fame.

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THE CHINA JAR IMAGERY

A number of critics have pointed out that the


imagery of the china jar used throughout this poem
is significant and symbolic. The following lines include
such imagery:

1 Or some frail china jar receive a flaw


(Canto 2, line 106)

2 While China's earth receives the smoking tide


(Canto 3, line 110)

3 Or when rich china vessels fallen from high,


In glittering dust and painted fragments lie!
(Canto 3, lines 159-60)

4 The tottering china shook without a wind


(Canto 4, line 163)

The china jar (or cup), according to psychoanalytical


critics and Freudians, can be a symbol for the female
vagina. Thus, these symbols also suggest that the loss
of the lock also represents a loss of virginity.
Pope's poem, then, seems to work on two
entirely different levels. On the one hand, the poem
presents a comic situation as Alexander Pope attempts
to persuade Lord Petre and Arabella Fermor that the
entire incident is trivial or unimportant. This level is
connected to the theme of good humor. Pope hoped
to restore good humor or positive feelings to the two
opposing individuals.

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On the other hand, the poem also presents a
serious theme: the fall from innocence to
experience. Some critics note that such a theme is
common to literature and even includes the fall of Eve
from the Garden of Eden. The imagery of the broken
china jar as well as the other references to virginity and
sexuality contributes to this more serious theme.
Because the poem does also operate on this level,
Pope's intended purpose, to get Lord Petre and
Arabella Fermor to reconcile and become friends again,
did not entirely succeed.

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