I found Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" a delightful, amusing poem. Throughout the poem, trivialities are compared with events and objects or consequence and the insignificant is treated with utmost importance. Its very title gives the reader an immediate clue; "rape" and all its connotations bring to mind a heinous crime of physical and spiritual violation. Perhaps this description could apply to the theft of a lock of hair, but only in a world where normal morals are perverted. This skewed scale of values is shown repeatedly throughout the poem, and supporting this alternate world are the sylphs. As the souls of former coquettes, the sylphs exist solely to preserve and perpetuate Belinda's beauty and coquetry. As I read the piece, I was delighted by the absurdity of Belinda's world and the effort expended by the sylphs in maintaining this environment of inconsequence.
Delightful in and of itself is the explanation of the sylph-forming process. Sylph Ariel says to Belinda, "Think not, when woman's transient breath is fled, / That all her vanities at once are dead: / [...] The light coquettes in sylphs aloft repair" (1.52-53, 65). Thankfully, once a woman dies, the flirt lives on. We may all be assured of the miraculous triumph of the inconsequential. Ariel continues, "Her joy in gilded chariots, when alive, / And love of ombre, after death survive" (1.55-56). Pursuing these temporal pleasures is not the only pastime of the sylph; maintaining the coquettish way of life is equally important.
Ariel refers to Belinda as "Fairest of mortals, thou distinguished care/ Of thousand bright inhabitants of air" (1.27-28). Belinda is the center of the univers...
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Oh, had I rather unadmired remained
In some lone isle, or distant northern land;
There kept my charms concealed from mortal eye,
Like roses that in deserts bloom and die. (3.153-158)
Such a romantic image: a beautiful young woman in isolation, with no one to appreciate that beauty (but no one to mar it, either).
Belinda, I suppose, learned to move past her life's tragedy, and hopefully thereafter her sylphs redoubled their efforts in guarding her locks. I liked this poem. I liked flamboyant exaggeration of little things and acts of little consequence, and the comparisons between things small and great. I enjoyed how the sylphs lived to perpetuate these ideas.
Pope, Alexander. "The Rape of the Lock". The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams et al. 6th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1993. 2234-2254.
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