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Resistless, overwhelming. Horrors seize
The mariners; death in their eyes appears;
They stare, they lave, 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
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 de. veloped, 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 cha. racters 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 t' assault a gentle belle?
O say what stranger cause yet unexplorid,
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
Laur:ch'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 admird;
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 altends,
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 disso!v'd in light,
Loose to the wind their airy garments Alew,
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 Alings,
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 ;