« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
One of his famous poems (many think it his best) is the
Rape of the Lock, a lively story in verse. The incident is
the stealing of a lock of hair from the head of a belle by
one of her admirers. The subject, which is rather arti-
ficial, suits Pope's style ; there is no other of his poems
in which both style and subject are so in harmony, and
this, no doubt, is one reason of its success. The heroine,
Belinda, has been warned by a sylph of the air, her guar-
dian, who superintends her toilet, that some dread event
is to happen; but, undisturbed by the warning, she begins
to dress for an excursion up the Thames to Hampton.
Her toilet is thus described :
“And now unveiled the toilet stands displayed,
Each silver vase in mystic order laid,
First, robed in white, the nymph intent adores,
With head uncovered, the cosmetic powers.
A heavenly image in the glass appears ;
To that she bends, to that her eyes she rears.
The inferior priestess, at her altar's side,
Trembling begins the sacred rites of pride.
Unnumbered treasures ope at once, and here
The various offerings of the world appear ;
From each she nicely culls with curious toil,
And decks the goddess with the glittering spoil.
This casket India's glowing gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder box.
The tortoise here and elephant unite,
Transformed to combs, the speckled and the white.
Here files of pins extend their shining rows,
Puffs, powders, patches, Bibles, billets-doux.
Now awful beauty puts on all its arms;
The fair each moment rises in her charms,
Repairs her smiles, awakens every grace,
And calls forth all the wonders of her face;
Sees by degrees a purer blush arise,
And keener lightnings quicken in her eyes.
“Not with more glories, in the ethereal plain,
The sun first rises o'er the purpled main,
Than, issuing forth, the rival of his beams,
Launched on the bosom of the silver Thames.
Fair nymphs and well-dressed youths around her shone,
But every eye was fixed 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 'em all.
“ This nymph, to the destruction of mankind,
Nourished two locks, which graceful hung behind
In equal curls, and well conspired 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.
“The adventurous baron the bright locks admired;
He saw, he wished, and to the prize aspired.
Resolved 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 attained his ends."
The Rape of the Lock is a poem of society, witty, sparkling, and without earnestness. The poetical essays are in a different vein, and the Essay on Man is full of sound philosophy. You may judge of it by this extract :
“Heaven from all creatures hides the book of fate,
All but the page prescribed, their present state :
From brutes what men, from men what spirits know;
Or who could suffer being here below?
The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to-day,
Had he thy reason would he skip and play?
Pleased to the last, he crops the flowery food,
And licks the hand just raised to shed his blood.
Oh, blindness to the future, kindly given,
That each may fill the circle marked by Heaven ;
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish or a sparrow fall,
Atoms or systems into ruin hurled,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world.
“ Hope humbly, then, with trembling pinions soar,
Wait the great teacher, Death, and God adore.
What future bliss he gives not thee to know,
But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be, blessed.
The soul, uneasy, and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates on a life to come.
Lo, the poor Indian ! whose untutored mind
Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;
His soul proud science never taught to stray
Far as the solar walk, or milky way;
Yet simple Nature to his hope hath given,
Behind the cloud-topped hill, an humbler heaven, -
Some safer world in depth of woods embraced,
Some happier island in the watery waste,
Where slaves once more their native land behold,
No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold.
To be content's his natural desire,
He asks no angel's wing, no seraph's fire,
But thinks, admitted to that equal sky,
His faithful dog shall bear him company."
The measure of Pope's verses is almost always the same, - in rhymed couplets like these that I have quoted. He has written, however, a few lyrics, and the best-known of these, The Dying Christian to His Soul, we will read as an example of his style in the ode:
You will notice in reading Pope for the first time how many familiar lines are found in his poetry,— lines, perhaps, which you have heard without knowing whence they came. There are few writers so much quoted; I think that a volume of Pope furnishes more familiar quotations than any other in our language except the Bible or Shakespeare. Lines so even and flowing, and so witty and full of point, are doubly apt to stick in the memory.
Pope's influence on his own age and on the whole century in which he lived was very great. During his life he was a poetical oracle, and he put poetry into a bondage from which it was not freed for a hundred years. Almost every poet up to the last of the eighteenth century was a follower of Pope. During all these years poetry kept a dead level of correctness, until a few men of strong and original genius arose who broke its bonds and gave it again some of the free and untamed spirit that had inspired it in the Elizabethan age.
ON PRIOR, GAY, AND PARNELL.
AR below Pope in rank come Prior, Gay, and Parnell,
all of whom were his friends or acquaintances. MATTHEW PRIOR, a man of the world and a
1664-1721 politican who held several fat offices, found leisure to write a great deal and in a variety of styles, lyrics, narrative poems, epitaphs, epistles, and odes.
He wrote a dull poem on Solomon, or the Vanities of the World, and another, equally tiresome, called Alma, or the Progress of the Mind. We shall probably never get farther in our knowledge of these than the titles.
His best poenis are his shortest ones, and I shall dismiss Prior with one of the prettiest of these short lyrics: —
“The pride of every grove I chose,
The violet sweet and lily fair,
The dappled pink and blushing rose,
To deck my charming Chloe's hair.
“At morn the nymph vouchsafed to place Upon her brow the various wreath, – The flower less blooming than her face, The scent less fragrant than her breath.
“ The flowers she wore along the day,
And every nymph and shepherd said
That in her hair they looked more gay
Than glowing in their native bed.
“ Undressed at evening, when she found Their odors lost, their colors past, She changed her look, and on the ground
Her garland and her eye she cast. “That eye dropped sense distinct and clear As any muse's tongue could speak, When from its lid a pearly tear Ran trickling down her beauteous cheek.
Dissembling what I knew too well,
My life, my love,' I said, 'explain
This change of humor; prithee tell ;
This falling tear, — what does it mean?'
“She sighed, she smiled ; and to the flowers
Pointing, the lovely moralist said,
"See, friend, in some few fleeting hours,
See, yonder, what a change is made.
“« Ah! me, the blooming pride of May
And that of beauty are but one ;
At morn both flourish bright and gay,
Both fade at evening, pale and gone.
“« At dawn poor Stella laughed and sung;
The amorous youth around her bowed ;
At night her fatal knell was rung.
I saw, and kissed her in her shroud.
«« Such as she is who died to-day,
Such I, alas ! may be to-morrow.
Go, Damon, bid thy muse display
The justice of thy Chloe's sorrow.'