Alexander Pope: The Poetry of Allusion

By Reuben A. Brower | Go to book overview
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What dire Offence from am'rous Causes springs,
What mighty Contests rise from trivial Things . . .

WE can imagine the amusement with which Pope and his fellow Scriblerians might overhear a discourse on the Rape of the Lock and heroic tradition. The Key to the Lock and the Art of Sinking in Poetry show what they might do with the theme -- sufficient warning to any critic 'who delights to trace the mind from the rudeness of its first conceptions to the elegance of its last'. However much we may learn from such a study about the growth of the poem and the richness of its texture, we cannot, as Valéry reminds us, confuse the process of composition with poetic effect. For the critic, as for the common reader, the Rape of the Lock must be the final 'elegance', the 'easy art', the wit and good nature that Pope praised in Voiture:

In these gay Thoughts the Loves and Graces shine,
And all the Writer lives in ev'ry Line;
His easie Art may happy Nature seem,
Trifles themselves are Elegant in him.

The Epistle to Miss Blount, With the Works of Voiture, from which these lines come, and which is so close in tone and subject to the Rape of the Lock, was completed only a year or so before Pope wrote the first version of his 'Heroi-Comical Poem'

Pope's poetry of wit in the Rape of the Lock is probably most perfect in the passage on the ceremony of afternoon coffee and the cutting of the lock:

For lo! the Board with Cups and Spoons is crown'd,
The Berries crackle, and the Mill turns round.
On shining Altars of Japan they raise
The silver Lamp; the fiery Spirits blaze.


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Alexander Pope: The Poetry of Allusion


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