The Rape of The Lock: Canto 1 - Line by Line Summary

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      Lines: 1-6. I shall tell, in this poem, how love affair sometimes cause great offense and trifling incidents lead to serious quarrels. O Muse, this poem is written at the suggestion of Caryll and even Belinda may condescend to go through it. The subject of the poem, no doubt, is a trifling one, but it may justly win great praise if Belinda should inspire my verse and my friend Caryll speak in approval of it.

      Lines: 7-12. Tell me, O goddess (The Muse of Poetry), what strange motive promoted a cultured lord, Lord Petre, to take liberties with a gentle lady to the extent of offending her, and what was the strange reason, not yet found, that a gentle and fashionable lady rejected a nobleman. It is a really surprising that small men can be so bold (as to cut off a lock of a noble lady's hair) and charming young ladies so furious and indignant (as Miss Arabella).

      Lines: 13-26. The timid sun threw a beam of light through the white curtains of Belinda's bedroom and opened those eyes, whose brightness was sure to throw even the brightness of the sun into the shade. The lap-dogs awake at that hour and move their limbs to shake off sleep and drowsiness. Lovers, who cannot have sleep till late in the night, awake at mid-day. Belinda rang her bell thrice but getting no response from her maid, knocked the ground with her slipper. She pressed the spring of her repeating watch to know what the last hour was that had struck. Belinda still rested her head on a soft pillow, and a sylph, the guardian spirit in attendance upon her, lengthened the refreshing sleep. It was this sylph who had called silently by the side of her bed the morning dream that was hovering over her head. This sylph had assumed the form of a youngman, looking more handsome than a fashionable courtier, who puts on his best dress in the evening when a king's or a queen's birthday is celebrated. Even in her sleep, he caused a blush on her cheeks. He seemed to lay his charming lips to ear and whispered thus:

      Lines: 27-35. O loveliest of all the ladies on earth, you are an object of the special care of thousands of bright spirits of the air, i.e., the Sylphs. If ever any of the stories of fairies, whose presence is detected by the shadows formed by the moonlight, as they dance, or by the silver penny left by them in the shoes of maids or by the discolored circles or rings formed on grassy plots after dewy nights told in your infancy by your nurses: or if ever any of the stories of virgins who are visited by angels, wearing golden crowns and garlands of the flowers of paradise, told by your priest, ever impressed your mind, then listen to me and believe what I say.

      Lines: 35-40. Know your own importance and do not confine your thoughts to the things of this world. There are some truths which are kept secret from proud scholars and philosophers but are revealed to young maidens and children. It does not matter if sceptically inclined people do not give them any credit; beautiful girls and innocent children shall always have faith in them.

      Lines: 41-50. You should know, therefore, that innumerable spirits fly around you. These are the airy bands that inhabit the lower regions of the sky; i.e., the air. Though they remain invisible, they are always hovering in the air. They hand over your box in the theatre and fly round you as you drive for pleasure in the Hyde Park or sit in your chair to witness a race. They are always in attendance upon you. Realize what a splendid body of attendants you have in the air in the form of these spirits; and look down with contempt, therefore, on the two pages and the sedan chair (that you have got on earth). We also were once beautiful women like yourself now; but, by a gentle change, leaving the earthly frame, we have come to possess these arial forms.

      Lines: 51-66. Do not think that when the short period of a woman's life comes to an end, all her vanities also end. She watches with interest the vanities of the succeeding generation of women. Though she can no longer play herself, she enjoys watching others play. Her love of fashionable chariots, and of Ombre, when alive, continue even after her death. When beautiful ladies die in the prime of their beauty and youth, their souls return to the original elements of which they were composed. The souls of fierce and unruly women go back to their element of fire, and they are called Salamanders,

      The souls of the women of gentle, and submissive nature pass into water, and instead of the tea which they drank on earth i.e., when alive, they now sip water, the element of which they are composed, with the sea-nymphs i.e., they become water spirits or sea-nymphs. The soul of a woman who pretends to be very modest, takes the inferior form of a gnome and wanders about on earth always in search of some new mischief. The souls of flirts go up the air and take the forms of sylphs, and play and fly about in the fields of air.

      Lines: 67-78. You should know further still that a beautiful and chaste lady who rejects all human lovers is embraced by some sylphs, (Spirit of the air), because spirits are free from all those laws which govern human beings, and they can, very easily, assume any shape and sex they please. What is the power which protects the chastity of maidens who are likely to yield to their passion when they attend courtly balls and masked dances at midnight? What saves them from their false friends and daring young gallants, from the sinister glances of people in the day time and their whispering conspiracy in the night? What helps them to preserve their virginity when favorable opportunities excite their amorous feelings, soft music inclines them towards love, and dancing fires their passions? People here, down on earth, in their ignorance think that it is the sense of honor in these ladies that saves them from all those dangers. But the heavenly beings know better. They know that it is their guardian sylphs who guard and protect them.

      Lines: 79-90. There are some ladies who are too conscious of their beauty. The fate of such ones are under the charge of the gnomes all their lives through. And they (gnomes) so influence them that they begin to imagine that they have bright matrimonial prospects, and become puffed up and conceited. The result is that they refuse good offers of marriage and reject love suits. Under the influence of these gnomes, their foolish and idle heads are filled with vain, and glittering visions. They think of nothing but great lords and dukes, and their large retinues; they think only of various glittering orders of knight-hood that that Lords wear and of their coronets. They imagine themselves to be duchesses already addressed by people in very gentle and respectful tones: "Your Grace." It is these gnomes who spoil girls when they are still quite young and make flirts of them by teaching them to cast languishing looks, to affect to be modest by getting up insincere, and artificial blushes and by making their youthful hearts throb with pleasurable excitement at the idea of a smart, and fashion lover.

      Lines: 91-104. Often when people think that young ladies are deserting the path of virtue and going astray, the truth is that the sylphs lead them with safety through the many intricate paths of a world of pleasure and fashion. They prevent lovers from taking undue liberties with them by getting for them new lovers. A young lady would have certainly been conquered by the entertainment given to her by her first lover, had its effect not been neutralized by a ball given by another lover. A maiden would not be able to resist the offers of Florio, had Damon not been there to press his own love-suit. Thus, these flirts, with their ever-changing frivolities, i.e., by diverting their affections constantly to new, and frivolous objects of desire, which these lovers offer them, transfer their attention from one lover to another. Thus, their hearts are like a moving toy-shop. Fashionable youths, wearing wigs and carrying swords, compete with one another to win their hearts. One gallant displaces another; and the attraction felt for one lover's coach-and-six drives out another; and so it goes on. People, who mistake things and do not know the truth, ignorantly attribute all this to frivolity and inconstancy in the young ladies; but, in fact, it is all the doing of sylphs, who thus, manage to save young ladies from falling victims to the passion of their lovers.

      Lines: 105-110. "I am one of these sylphs and I claim the honor of being your protector and guardian. I am a vigilant spirit and my name is Ariel. Lately, as I was flying through the transparent limitless expense of the air, I read with pain, in the star that governs your destiny; that some calamity was to befall you before sunset today.

      Lines: 111-114. But, what exactly this misfortune is, how it would happen and where, has not been revealed. Thus, warned by me, O virtuous lady, be on your guard. All that I can tell you is that you should beware of everything; but most particularly, you should guard yourself against man."

      Lines: 115-120. Thus, Ariel concluded his talk. Then Shock, Belinda's lap-dog, who thought that his mistress had slept for quite a long time, jumped up and waked her by licking (her hand probably). It was then that Belinda got up, and if the rumor is correct, the first thing that she saw on waking up was a love letter. It contained the conventional love phraseology of such a letter, i.e., the lover's protestation of how Cupid had inflicted wounds on his tender heart, how her exquisite beauty had cast a spell on him and how he burned with the fire of love, and so on. No sooner had she finished the letter than she forgot all about her dream.

      Lines: 121-148. The dressing table was then uncovered and it lay exposed to the view. The various silver boxes of paints and powders were arranged in an order, not intelligible to a layman. First of all, dressed in a white garment and with her head uncovered, the lady very earnestly worshipped the divinities that preside over female adornment, i.e., paints, powders, etc. She saw the image of a goddess in the mirror. She bends her eyes in order to see the lower portion of her body and then she raises her eyes in order to see the upper portion of her body. The inferior priestess, Belinda's maid, Betty, stood by the side of the altar. Trembling, she began the sacred ceremony of dressing up her proud mistress. Caskets containing treasures, sent as tributes to the goddess by various countries of the world, opened before the altar. She selected from each of these articles of adornment, with fastidious taste and great care and skill, and with these bright cosmetics, she adorned the goddess.

      In one of these caskets, there were bright jewels, imported from India, and in another, all the best perfumes from Arabia. In a third box, the spotted combs made of tortoise shell and white ones made of ivory lay together. Another box contained shining pins of different sizes, arranged in glittering rows. There were also seen puffs, powders, black patches, Bible and love letters. The awe-inspiring lady put all her weapons. She grew more and more beautiful every moment. She mended her smiles and made them more effective, assumed every grace and made her face charming in every possible way. She gave to her cheeks a glowing rosy hue with the help of rouge and painted her eyelashes to make her glances brighter. The watchful sylphs surrounded the dear object of their protection. Some of them adjusted her head to give it the right pose and some others attended to her hair, combing and putting them in proper order. Some folded the sleeves of her garment and some others plaited her gown.

      The credit for this fine toilet went to the maid Betty, though the sylphs had contributed a lot to it.

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