The Rape of the Lock, by Alexander Pope

Canto IV.

But anxious cares the pensive nymph oppress’d,

And secret passions labour’d in her breast.

Not youthful kings in battle seized alive,

Not scornful virgins who their charms survive,

Not ardent lovers robb’d of all their bliss,

Not ancient ladies when refused a kiss,

Not tyrants fierce that unrepenting die,

Not Cynthia when her manteau’s pinn’d awry,

E’er felt such rage, resentment, and despair,

As thou, sad virgin! for thy ravish’d hair.

For, that sad moment, when the Sylphs withdrew,

And Ariel weeping from Belinda flew,

Umbriel, a dusky, melancholy sprite,

As ever sullied the fair face of light,

Down to the central earth, his proper scene,

Repair’d, to search the gloomy cave of Spleen.

The Cave of Spleen
The Cave of Spleen

Swift on his sooty pinions flits the Gnome,

And in a vapour reach’d the dismal dome.

No cheerful breeze this sullen region knows,

The dreaded east is all the wind that blows;

Here in a grotto, shelter’d close from air,

And screened in shades from day’s detested glare,

She sighs for ever on her pensive bed,

Pain at her side, and Megrim at her head.

Two handmaids wait the throne: alike in place,

But differing far in figure and in face.

Here stood Ill-nature like an ancient maid,

Her wrinkled form in black and white array’d;

With store of prayers for mornings, nights, and noons

Her hand is fill’d; her bosom with lampoons.

There Affectation, with a sickly mien,

Shows in her cheek the roses of eighteen;

Practised to lisp, and hang the head aside,

Faints into airs, and languishes with pride;

On the rich quilt sinks with becoming woe,

Wrapp’d in a gown, for sickness, and for show.

The fair ones feel such maladies as these,

When each new night-dress gives a new disease.

A constant vapour o’er the palace flies,

Strange phantoms rising as the mists arise;

Dreadful, as hermits’ dreams in haunted shades,

Or bright, as visions of expiring maids.

Now glaring fiends, and snakes on rolling spires,

Pale spectres, gaping tombs, and purple fires:

Now lakes of liquid gold, Elysian scenes,

And crystal domes, and angels in machines.

Unnumber’d throngs on every side are seen

Of bodies changed to various forms by Spleen.

Here living teapots stand, one arm held out,

One bent; the handle this, and that the spout:

A pipkin there, like Homer’s tripod walks;

Here sighs a jar, and there a goose-pie talks;

Men prove with child, as powerful fancy works,

And maids turn’d bottles, call aloud for corks.

Safe pass’d the Gnome through this fantastic band,

A branch of healing spleenwort in his hand.

Then thus address’d the power —‘Hail, wayward Queen!

Who rule the sex to fifty from fifteen:

Parent of vapours and of female wit,

Who give the hysteric, or poetic fit,

On various tempers act by various ways,

Make some take physic, others scribble plays;

Who cause the proud their visits to delay,

And send the godly in a pet to pray;

A nymph there is, that all thy power disdains,

And thousands more in equal mirth maintains.

But oh! if e’er thy Gnome could spoil a grace,

Or raise a pimple on a beauteous face,

Like citron-waters matrons’ cheeks inflame,

Or change complexions at a losing game;

If e’er with airy horns I planted heads,

Or rumpled petticoats, or tumbled beds,

Or caused suspicion when no soul was rude,

Or discomposed the head-dress of a prude,

Or e’er to costive lapdog gave disease,

Which not the tears of brightest eyes could ease:

Hear me, and touch Belinda with chagrin,

That single act gives half the world the spleen.’

The goddess with a discontented air

Seems to reject him, though she grants his prayer.

A wondrous bag with both her hands she binds,

Like that where once Ulysses held the winds;33

There she collects the force of female lungs,

Sighs, sobs, and passions, and the war of tongues.

A vial next she fills with fainting fears,

Soft sorrows, melting griefs, and flowing tears.

The Gnome rejoicing bears her gifts away,

Spreads his black wings, and slowly mounts to day.

Sunk in Thalestris’34 arms the nymph he found,

Her eyes dejected and her hair unbound.

Full o’er their heads the swelling bag he rent,

And all the furies issued at the vent.

Belinda burns with more than mortal ire,

And fierce Thalestris fans the rising fire.

‘O wretched maid!’ she spread her hands, and cried,

(While Hampton’s echoes ‘wretched maid!’ replied)

‘Was it for this you took such constant care

The bodkin, comb, and essence to prepare?

For this your locks in paper durance bound,

For this with torturing irons wreath’d around?

For this with fillets strain’d your tender head,

And bravely bore the double loads of lead?

Gods! shall the ravisher display your hair,

While the fops envy, and the ladies stare?

Honour forbid! at whose unrivall’d shrine

Ease, pleasure, virtue, all our sex resign.

Methinks already I your tears survey,

Already hear the horrid things they say,

Already see you a degraded toast,

And all your honour in a whisper lost!

How shall I, then, your helpless fame defend?

’Twill then be infamy to seem your friend!

And shall this prize, the inestimable prize,

Exposed through crystal to the gazing eyes,

And heighten’d by the diamond’s circling rays,

On that rapacious hand for ever blaze?

Sooner shall grass in Hyde-park Circus grow,

And wits take lodgings in the sound of Bow;

Sooner let earth, air, sea to chaos fall,

Men, monkeys, lapdogs, parrots, perish all!’

She said; then raging to Sir Plume35 repairs,

And bids her beau demand the precious hairs:

(Sir Plume of amber snuff-box justly vain,

And the nice conduct of a clouded cane.)

With earnest eyes, and round, unthinking face,

He first the snuff-box open’d, then the case,

And thus broke out —‘My Lord, why, what the devil?

Z— ds! damn the lock! ‘fore Gad, you must be civil!

Plague on’t! ’tis past a jest — nay, prithee, pox!

Give her the hair’— he spoke, and rapp’d his box.

‘It grieves me much’ (replied the Peer again)

Who speaks so well should ever speak in vain;

‘But by this lock, this sacred lock I swear,

(Which never more shall join its parted hair;

Which never more its honours shall renew,

Clipp’d from the lovely head where late it grew)

That while my nostrils draw the vital air,

This hand, which won it, shall for ever wear.’

He spoke, and, speaking, in proud triumph spread

The long-contended honours of her head.

But Umbriel, hateful Gnome! forbears not so;

He breaks the vial whence the sorrows flow.

Then see! the nymph in beauteous grief appears,

Her eyes half-languishing, half-drown’d in tears;

On her heaved bosom hung her drooping head,

Which, with a sigh, she raised; and thus she said:

‘For ever cursed be this detested day,

Which snatch’d my best, my favourite curl away!

Happy! ah, ten times happy had I been,

If Hampton Court these eyes had never seen!

Yet am not I the first mistaken maid,

By love of courts to numerous ills betray’d.

Oh, had I rather unadmired remain’d

In some lone isle, or distant northern land;

Where the gilt chariot never marks the way,

Where none learn ombre, none e’er taste bohea!

There kept my charms conceal’d from mortal eye,

Like roses that in deserts bloom and die.

What moved my mind with youthful lords to roam?

Oh, had I stay’d, and said my prayers at home!

’Twas this the morning omens seem’d to tell:

Thrice from my trembling hand the patch-box fell;

The tottering china shook without a wind,

Nay, Poll sat mute, and Shock was most unkind!

A Sylph too warn’d me of the threats of Fate,

In mystic visions, now believed too late.

See the poor remnants of these slighted hairs!

My hands shall rend what ev’n thy rapine spares:

These in two sable ringlets taught to break,

Once gave new beauties to the snowy neck;

The sister-lock now sits uncouth, alone,

And in its fellow’s fate foresees its own;

Uncurl’d it hangs, the fatal shears demands,

And tempts, once more, thy sacrilegious hands.

Oh hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize

Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!’


VER. 11. All the lines from hence to the 94th verse, that describe the house of Spleen, are not in the first edition; instead of them followed only these:—

While her rack’d soul repose and peace requires,

The fierce Thalestris fans the rising fires.

And continued at the 94th verse of this canto.

33 ‘Winds:’ see Odyssey.

34 ‘Thalestris:’ Mrs Morley.

35 ‘Sir Plume:’ Sir George Brown.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59