Merits & Limitations in The Rape of The Lock

Also Read

      The Rape of the Lock is the finest poem written by Pope, and is also the finest poem of what is called the artificial school of poetry. In its own sphere— viz., the sphere of artificial life—The Rape of the Lock stands unmatched by its wit and fancy, its diction and versification. As a mock-heroic poem again, it has no rival in the English language. All the devices of epic poetry are here, but they are all used to dignify the trivial in a mocking spirit. The theme is trivial—the 'rape' or snipping of a curl of hair; the persons in the poem are trivial—empty headed fashionable ladies and gentlemen but the treatment is exalted from the beginning to the end, so that the whole poem is pervaded by an atmosphere of satire and irony. The introduction of the supernatural machinery not only heightens the mock-heroic effect, but imparts an airy lightness to the action of the poem.

      The Rape of the Lock is a picture of contemporary fashionable life. It is the best society poem ever written; it reveals the follies and vanities of the fashionable people. No writer, says Leslie Stephen, reflects so clearly and completely the spirit of his own day, as Pope has done in The Rape of the Lock. The fashionable gentlemen and ladies of the time led artificial lives, and were engaged only in the trivialities of existence. The toilet was the main business of the life of a lady; and the gentlemen were futile, empty-headed people, who cared only for amorous intrigues. Pope knew of this futile, flimsy life of the smart set, and depicted it completely in The Rape of the Lock with all his wit and ingenuity and power of satire.

      The Rape of the lock is a masterpiece of construction. It is the most exquisite specimen of filigree work ever invented. The action of the poem turns round the cutting off of a curl of hair; a more trivial theme cannot be imagined. Yet, says Hazlitt, no pains are spared, no profusion of ornaments, no splendor of poetic diction to set off the mean thing. "It is the triumph of insignificance, the apotheosis of foppery and folly." The story; such as it is constructed with great skill—from the awakening of Belinda to the transformation of the lock of hair to a constellation. The machinery in the poem is a beautiful work of fancy; and the aerial beings are exactly adapted to the action and the atmosphere of the poem.

      Lastly, the diction of the poem and its versification give it an abiding charm. The diction is remarkable for its wit and fancy, and the thought is expressed with utmost clarity and brevity. The poem is written in heroic couplet, and Pope can be truly called the master architect of this meter. The heroic couplet of The Rape of the Lock is fitted to the mock-heroic character of the poem, for it combines dignity with triviality.

      Limitations of "The Rape of the Lock." The Rape of the Lock in spite of its various excellences, cannot be called a great poem, for it deals with something that is trivial and ephemeral. It satisfies us by its workmanship, by its fineness of detail, by the aptness of diction, but it is flimsy and superficial. Pope said: "The proper study of mankind is man," but The Rape of the Lock depicts mankind as seen only in the small society of the city. There is no wide study of mankind in it-none of universal human nature. Perhaps it does exist-but how little a piece of humanity. "A pretty rag, no thought, no passion in it. It is a small picture of life and that also artificial and insignificant."

      Another fault that is to be found with the poem is, as Stopford Brooke points out, that it is overworked, that even its exquisite technique is too plainly technical; in fact, it is even more artificial than the society it treats of. Pope, when he wrote it, was much more in love with his own skill than with his subject. "Pope, while writing The Rape of the Lock was extremely punctilious about the construction of the poem. He imitated the epic manner accurately in all its details, from the invocation to the rising of the lock to the heaven as a constellation. The poet seems to be more attentive to the construction of the poem than to its subject-matter." We miss that ease or spontaneity which is the mark of great poetry. There is everywhere the mark of labor and artifice. Hence, Brooke rightly says that the poem is "overworked". The fault of the poem lies in its faultlessness.

Previous Post Next Post