Pope's Poems and Prose

Puffs, Powders, and Pillars: The Strength of Form and Unresolved Tension in The Rape of the Lock College

The verse of Alexander Pope often succeeds in conveying far more meaning than its words, taken at face value, might suggest. In The Rape of the Lock particularly, what at first seems like a light-hearted ribbing of upper class preoccupations, soon reads like a multi-layered meditation on class, religion, and social priorities. Certain tensions become clear to the careful reader, certain ironies and couched critiques are found to result from the way the poet has manipulated the form. These individual tensions rarely see resolution and it is these perpetually competing ideas that keep the poem relevant and worthy of continued consideration. Pope’s heroic couplets, using techniques such as unexpected emphasis, antithetical rhyme, and purposeful redundancy, engineer a construct of tensile force upon which he is able to build complex webs of multiple meaning. He creates a suspended series of intricate tensions that are never resolved, but which instead push against and counteract one another eternally. It is these everlasting pillars of competing ideas that ensure the poem’s legacy.

In the early part of the eighteenth century, the heroic couplet “was far and away the dominant verse form in Anglophone poetry and perhaps the...

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