Rape of the Lock

Canto III

Written by Alexander Pope - born May 21, 1688 and died May 30, 1744

Explanation: it is the mention of the card game Ombre, or Hombre, or The Man, which is of interest to the bridge player and the reason why this peom from Alexander Pope has been included. The game of ombre is a forerunner of the game of bridge, an ancestor, if the reader so wishes. It is early in the included poem, which is presented in its entirety, that together with the following clarification of the era and deed, that the card game is mentioned:

Belinda now, whom Thirst of Fame invites,

Burns to encounter two adventrous Knights,

At Ombre singly to decide their Doom;

And swells her Breast with Conquests yet to come.

From the Twickenham Edition of Pope's poems, the following explanation to and for the poem is published:

"The families concerned in the Rape of the Lock -- the Fermors, Petres, and Carylls -- were prominent members of that group of great intermarried Roman Catholic families owning land in the home counties, most of whom came within the circle of Pope's friends and acquaintances and to whom Pope considered his own family to belong. Some time before 21 March, 1712, when Pope sold his poem to Lintott, Robert, Lord Petre had cut off a lock of Arabella Fermor's hair, and John Caryll had suggested to Pope that he should write a poem to heal the estrangement that followed between the two families:

The stealing of Miss Belle Fermor's hair, was taken too seriously, and caused an estrangement between the two families, though they had lived so long in great friendship before. A common acquaintance and well-wisher to both, desired me to write a poem to make a jest of it, and laugh them together again. It was with this view that I wrote the Rape of the Lock.

The incident behind the poem has never been authoritatively tracked down to place and time. It is improbable, but possible, that it happened, as the poem states, at Hampton Court; and the counter-claims of the houses of the Fermors, Petres, or Carylls have never been substantiated." (Twickenham, Vol II, p. 83)

Was Belinda, as the poem hints, willing to marry the Baron? "Arabella may well have been considered as the possible bride for Lord Petre. The rape of the lock may well have been an incident in the period of circumspection -- how thorough such circumspection was likely to be may be gathered from the correspondence of Caryll during 1710-1711 when he was choosing a wife for his son. If two such families who 'had lived so long in friendship before' are estranged through a fairly trivial incident, it seems there is thunder in the air. All the fun of the poem read very differently when, less than two months before the poem was published, Lord Petre married Catherine Warmsley, a Lancashire heiress some seven or more years younger than Arabella and much richer." (Twickenham 93)

By the time Pope revised the poem in 1717, Lord Petre had died (of smallpox) and Arabella was married. Whatever the original purpose of the poem may have been, by the time Pope finished revising The Rape of the Lock the feud between the families was no longer particularly relevant.

A Summary of the poem follows:

Belinda arises to prepare for the day's social activities after sleeping late. Her guardian sylph, Ariel, warned her in a dream that some disaster will befall her, and promises to protect her to the best of his abilities. Belinda takes little notice of this oracle, however.

After an elaborate ritual of dressing and primping, she travels on the Thames River to Hampton Court Palace, an ancient royal residence outside of London, where a group of wealthy young socialites are gathering for a party. Among them is the Baron, who has already made up his mind to steal a lock of Belinda's hair. He has risen early to perform and elaborate set of prayers and sacrifices to promote success in this enterprise.

When the partygoers arrive at the palace, they enjoy a tense game of cards, which Pope describes in mock-heroic terms as a battle.

This is followed by a round of coffee. Then the Baron takes up a pair of scissors and manages, on the third try, to cut off the coveted lock of Belinda's hair. Belinda is furious. Umbriel, a mischievous gnome, journeys down to the Cave of Spleen to procure a sack of sighs and a flask of tears which he then bestows on the heroine to fan the flames of her ire.

Clarissa, who had aided the Baron in his crime, now urges Belinda to give up her anger in favor of good humor and good sense, moral qualities which will outlast her vanities. But Clarissa's moralizing falls on deaf ears, and Belinda initiates a scuffle between the ladies and the gentlemen, in which she attempts to recover the severed curl. The lock is lost in the confusion of this mock battle, however; the poet consoles the bereft Belinda with the suggestion that it has been taken up into the heavens and immortalized as a constellation.

Close by those Meads for ever crown'd with Flow'rs,

Where Thames with Pride surveys his rising Tow'rs,

There stands a Structure of Majestick Frame,

Which from the neighb'ring Hampton takes its Name.

Here Britain's Statesmen oft the Fall foredoom

Of Foreign Tyrants, and of Nymphs at home;

Here Thou, great Anna! whom three Realms obey,

Dost sometimes Counsel take--and sometimes Tea.

Hither the Heroes and the Nymphs resort,

To taste awhile the Pleasures of a Court;

In various Talk th' instructive hours they past,

Who gave the Ball, or paid the Visit last:

One speaks the Glory of the British Queen,

And one describes a charming Indian Screen.

A third interprets Motions, Looks, and Eyes;

At ev'ry Word a Reputation dies.

Snuff, or the Fan, supply each Pause of Chat,

With singing, laughing, ogling, and all that.

Mean while declining from the Noon of Day,

The Sun obliquely shoots his burning Ray;

The hungry Judges soon the Sentence sign,

And Wretches hang that Jury-men may Dine;

The Merchant from th'exchange returns in Peace,

And the long Labours of the Toilette cease ----

Belinda now, whom Thirst of Fame invites,

Burns to encounter two adventrous Knights,

At Ombre singly to decide their Doom;

And swells her Breast with Conquests yet to come.

Strait the three Bands prepare in Arms to join,

Each Band the number of the Sacred Nine.

Soon as she spreads her Hand, th' Aerial Guard

Descend, and sit on each important Card,

First Ariel perch'd upon a Matadore,

Then each, according to the Rank they bore;

For Sylphs, yet mindful of their ancient Race,

Are, as when Women, wondrous fond of place.


Behold, four Kings in Majesty rever'd,

With hoary Whiskers and a forky Beard;

And four fair Queens whose hands sustain a Flow'r,

Th' expressive Emblem of their softer Pow'r;

Four Knaves in Garbs succinct, a trusty Band,

Caps on their heads, and Halberds in their hand;

And Particolour'd Troops, a shining Train,

Draw forth to Combat on the Velvet Plain.


The skilful Nymph reviews her Force with Care;

Let Spades be Trumps, she said, and Trumps they were.


Now move to War her Sable Matadores,

In Show like Leaders of the swarthy Moors.

Spadillio first, unconquerable Lord!

Led off two captive Trumps, and swept the Board.

As many more Manillio forc'd to yield,

And march'd a Victor from the verdant Field.

Him Basto follow'd, but his Fate more hard

Gain'd but one Trump and one Plebeian Card.

With his broad Sabre next, a Chief in Years,

The hoary Majesty of Spades appears;

Puts forth one manly Leg, to sight reveal'd;

The rest his many-colour'd Robe conceal'd.

The Rebel-Knave, who dares his Prince engage,

Proves the just Victim of his Royal Rage.

Ev'n mighty Pam that Kings and Queens o'erthrow,


And mow'd down Armies in the Fights of Lu,

Sad Chance of War! now, destitute of Aid,

Falls undistinguish'd by the Victor Spade.


Thus far both Armies to Belinda yield;

Now to the Baron Fate inclines the Field.

His warlike Amazon her Host invades,

Th' Imperial Consort of the Crown of Spades.

The Club's black Tyrant first her Victim dy'd,

Spite of his haughty Mien, and barb'rous Pride:

What boots the Regal Circle on his Head,

His Giant Limbs in State unwieldy spread?

That long behind he trails his pompous Robe,

And of all Monarchs only grasps the Globe?


The Baron now his Diamonds pours apace;

Th' embroider'd King who shows but half his Face,

And his refulgent Queen, with Pow'rs combin'd,

Of broken Troops an easie Conquest find.

Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, in wild Disorder seen,

With Throngs promiscuous strow the level Green.

Thus when dispers'd a routed Army runs,

Of Asia's Troops, and Africk's Sable Sons,

With like Confusion different Nations fly,

In various habits and of various Dye,

The pierc'd Battalions dis-united fall,

In Heaps on Heaps; one Fate o'erwhelms them all.


The Knave of Diamonds now tries his wily Arts,

And wins (oh shameful Chance!) the Queen of Hearts.

At this, the Blood the Virgin's Cheek forsook,

A livid Paleness spreads o'er all her Look;

She sees, and trembles at th' approaching Ill,

Just in the Jaws of Ruin, and Codille.

And now, (as oft in some distemper'd State)

On one nice Trick depends the gen'ral Fate.

An Ace of Hearts steps forth: The King unseen

Lurk'd in her Hand, and mourn'd his captive Queen.

He springs to Vengeance with an eager pace,

And falls like Thunder on the prostrate Ace.

The Nymph exulting fills with Shouts the Sky,

The Walls, the Woods, and long Canals reply.

Oh thoughtless Mortals! ever blind to Fate,

Too soon dejected, and too soon elate!

Sudden these Honours shall be snatch'd away,

And curs'd for ever this Victorious Day.

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.

From silver Spouts the grateful Liquors glide,

And China's Earth receives the smoking Tyde.

At once they gratify their Scent and Taste,

While frequent Cups prolong the rich Repast.

Strait hover round the Fair her Airy Band;

Some, as she sip'd, the fuming Liquor fann'd,

Some o'er her Lap their careful Plumes display'd,

Trembling, and conscious of the rich Brocade.

Coffee, (which makes the Politician wise,

And see thro' all things with his half shut Eyes)

Sent up in Vapours to the Baron's Brain

New Stratagems, the radiant Lock to gain.

Ah cease rash Youth! desist e'er 'tis too late,

Fear the just Gods, and think of Scylla's Fate!

Chang'd to a Bird, and sent to flit in Air,

She dearly pays for Nisus' injur'd Hair!

But when to Mischief Mortals bend their Will,

How soon they find fit Instruments of Ill!

Just then, Clarissa drew with tempting Grace

A two-edg'd Weapon from her shining Case;

So Ladies in Romance assist their Knight,

Present the Spear, and arm him for the Fight.

He takes the Gift with rev'rence, and extends

The little Engine on his Finger's Ends:

This just behind Belinda's Neck he spread,

As o'er the fragrant Steams she bends her Head:

Swift to the Lock a thousand Sprights repair,

A thousand Wings, by turns, blow back the Hair,

And thrice they twitch'd the Diamond in her Ear,

Thrice she look'd back, and thrice the Foe drew near.

Just in that instant, anxious Ariel sought

The close Recesses of the Virgin's Thought;

As on the Nosegay in her Breast reclin'd,

He watch'd th' Ideas rising in her Mind,

Sudden he view'd, in spite of all her Art,

An Earthly Lover lurking at her Heart.

Amaz'd, confus'd, he found his Pow'r expir'd,

Resign'd to Fate, and with a Sigh retir'd.

The Peer now spreads the glitt'ring Forfex wide,

T'inclose the Lock; now joins it, to divide.

Ev'n then, before the fatal Engine clos'd,

A wretched Sylph too fondly interpos'd;

Fate urg'd the Sheers, and cut the Sylph in twain,

(But Airy Substance soon unites again)

The meeting Points that sacred Hair dissever

From the fair Head, for ever and for ever!

Then flash'd the living Lightnings from her Eyes,

And Screams of Horror rend th' affrighted Skies.

Not louder Shrieks to pitying Heav'n are cast,

When Husbands or when Lap-dogs breath their last,

Or when rich China Vessels, fal'n from high,

In glittring Dust and painted Fragments lie!

Let Wreaths of Triumph now my Temples twine,

(The Victor cry'd) the glorious Prize is mine!

While Fish in Streams, or Birds delight in Air,

Or in a Coach and Six the British Fair,

As long as Atalantis shall be read,

Or the small Pillow grace a Lady's Bed,

While Visits shall be paid on solemn Days,

When numerous Wax-lights in bright Order blaze,

While Nymphs take Treats, or Assignations give,

So long my Honour, Name, and Praise shall live!

What Time wou'd spare, from Steel receives its date,

And Monuments, like Men, submit to Fate!

Steel cou'd the Labour of the Gods destroy,

And strike to Dust th' Imperial Tow'rs of Troy.

Steel cou'd the Works of mortal Pride confound,

And hew Triumphal Arches to the Ground.

What Wonder then, fair Nymph! thy Hairs shou'd feel

The conqu'ring Force of unresisted Steel?