Pope's Poems and Prose

Pope's Poems and Prose Summary

The Rape of the Lock

Belinda, a young aristocratic woman, rises to prepare for the day’s social engagements at Hampton Court Palace, a royal residence outside of London. Ariel, her guardian Sylph, warned her in a dream that some disaster will befall her during the day and promises to protect her. Upon waking, however, she forgets his warning. After completing her toilette, she travels to Hampton Court, traveling by boat on the Thames River. She meets with a group of fashionable friends who have gathered at the palace for a day of courtly amusement. Among them is the Baron, who has resolved to steal a lock of Belinda’s hair. He even rose early that morning to pray for success. The group indulges in a discussion of the latest gossip. Then Belinda, the Baron, and another young man sit down to a game of cards; Belinda wins. Following the game, the evening’s coffee is served. While the party enjoys the coffee, Clarissa provides the Baron with a pair of scissors with which he cuts Belinda’s hair. Overcome by fury and despair, Belinda retires to a separate chamber to cry. Umbriel, a mischievous Gnome, descends to the Cave of Spleen to procure a bag of sighs and a vial of tears from the Goddess of Spleen. He returns and upends the bag and vial on Belinda, fanning the flames of her outrage. Clarissa attempts to calm Belinda, urging her to renounce her anger in favor of good sense. The moralizing lecture fails to soothe Belinda, and she initiates a scuffle between the ladies and gentlemen in an attempt to recover the stolen curl. The lock is lost in the confusion, but the poet pacifies Belinda with the assertion that her hair was immortalized as a star.

An Essay on Man

As Pope states from the outset, An Essay on Man takes up Milton’s ambition in Paradise Lost and attempts to “justify the ways of God to men” (Paradise Lost, I.26). It consists of four epistles, written in heroic couplets. Epistle I examines the nature of man and his place in the universe; Epistle II, man as an individual; Epistle III, man’s place in society; and Epistle IV, man’s pursuit of happiness. Pope attempts to warn man against excessive pride, explaining that he is not the center of all things. Though not overtly Christian, the poem champions elements of Christian doctrine, in particular the salvation of man and the greatness of God. To that end, Pope sets out to demonstrate that despite the seeming inscrutability and disharmony of the universe, it does function according to a natural order as a perfect work of God. Man’s perception of the world is simply limited by his imperfect state. Man should therefore accept his place in God’s order, which can lead to happy and virtuous lives. On the whole, An Essay on Man is an affirmative poem of faith and takes an optimistic view of the world.