Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” Canto I To IV Summary

“The Rape of the Lock” this poetic creation is composed by Alexander Pope. Following is its summary :


The poet begins his poem with an invocation to the goddess of poetry. He is surprised to find a gentle lady, Belinda, getting so much offended at a trivial thing like the cutting of a lock by a gentleman like Lord Petre. However, it is on the advice and request of his friend John Caryll that he is writing this poem which, he hopes, will be admired by Belinda herself.

Belinda dreamed of a young man in courtly clothes. It was Ariel. He told her that ladies of her like are always guarded and looked after by spirits or sylphs so that their chastity may be protected from the foolish mortals These sylphs are not bound by laws of the earth. They can change their shape and sex at their own will. Some of the spirits are gnomes since they belong to the earth, the others are arise lying in the air and some others are the spirits of the sea. These sylphs were previously beautiful women, but after their death they have been changed into spirits according to activities and temperaments in their previous earthly lives.

Ariel warns her that some calamity is to be fall on her. Therefore, she should be very careful in all her affairs, especially of the advances of a lover.

As soon as the spirit departed, Belinda opened her eyes and found a love letter in which she read the avowals (confessions) of a passionate lover. She was so charmed by the letter that she forgot all about the dream and the warning she had received from Ariel.

She got up from the bed and dressed at the toilet-table. Her dressing table was loaded with costly ornaments, powders, puffs, rouges, hair-pins, perfumes and other articles of toilet. It appeared to be an altar of a goddess of beauty. Her maid Betty, decorated and painted her. Her beauty was fully armed to conquer her lovers. The sylphs also took a keen interest in her decoration: they arranged the folds of her dress, adjusted her hair and set her head at the correct angle.


With this decoration and toilet work, she sailed on the river Thames in a well-varnished barge. She looked even more beautiful and bright than the early morning sun. A host of beaux (men) and belles (women) surrounded her: but she was the heroine among them, the commander-in-chief of the army of Beauties. She smiled at all her lovers equally, showing greater favour to none. She rejected their advances so beautifully that nobody felt offended.

She was a perfect beauty. Everything of hers was gay and charming. But the most attractive of all her beautiful things were her two locks. A baron, named Lord Petre, got enamoured of them. He wanted to possess them by hook or crook. So he worshipped the god of Love early in the morning. For his worship he also made an altar of twelve vast French ‘Romances’ on which he burnt the letters of his previous beloved as an offering to the beloved God. He prayed to him to grant him victory till his battle for winning Belinda’s locks, and to keep them in his possession forever. The heavens granted only the first half of his prayer, while the other half could not be heard by the heavens as it had been dispersed by a gust of wind.

Presently Belinda felt safe because all the spirits had been commanded by their commander to guard her strongly. Some of them were put to hard task of looking after Belinda’s petticoat. Although her petticoat was stiff with hoops and armed with rips of whale, yet every precaution was to be taken by these spirits to protect Belinda’s chastity. Ariel, their master warned these spirits (sylphs) that if anyone of them neglected his duty, he would be severely punished. He may be imprisoned in some vial (bottle), his wings may be clogged with gums, his body may be contracted by the use of alum coat, or he may be tortured like Ixion by being tied to the wheel of a chocolate-machine.

As soon as Ariel finished speaking, the sylphs undertook their charges of duties entrusted to them, and watched her in terror and confusion of the approaching event.

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Along with her companions, Belinda was sailing towards the Hampton Court on the banks of the river Thames. It was a splendid building where British statesmen often assembled to hold their consultations. Even Queen Anne graced some tea parties occasionally.

Belinda then reached the court. She and her company began to talk on various matters. Some of them praised the British queen, others praised at screen imported from India. There was a lot of ogling, chatting and singing which went on till the afternoon. Belinda then desired to play the fashionable card-game known as ombre, and challenged two of her companions to the game. She wanted to defeat them singlehanded and thus gain name and fame. a painted

Sometimes fortune favoured Belinda and sometimes her opponents. But finally, the victory fell to her. She shouted with joy and the walls of the buildings, and the woods around, echoed back her sound. This time Belinda was extremely happy; she did not know that very soon she would curse that victorious day..

The coffee time was nearing; the cups and spoons were being laid on the table and hot fragrant coffee was poured into the cups of the assembled lords and ladies. Coffee was the fashionable but very popular drink of the day. It used to inspire Lord Petre with a clever plan to sever the lock of Belinda Clarissa gave the lord a scissors so that he may achieve his end. The spirits made their best efforts to protect Belinda from rape of her lock. They twitched her ear rings three times to look back, undoing the attempts of the Lord. Ariel himself was sitting in her bosom. He found that she loved human being. Therefore, when the Lord got himself closer to her, he flew away leaving her alone. The spirits could not guard a lady who loved an earthly lover. So the Lord succeeded in raping the lock of Belinda.

No sooner did Belinda know about this, than she began to shriek. No lady could cry louder than she even when a husband or a lap-dog died or some China-piece broke. The Baron, on the contrary, was puffed up with pride and joy at his exploit. He felt that he had committed a brave deed and that his name and fame should live forever. He told Belinda that she should not feel grieved at the loss of her hair for steel, (e.g., scissors, sword) destroyed everything. It could destroy even the works of gods.


Belinda’s anger and grief were immense. In fact, all her melancholy or anger was caused by a mischievous gnome, Umbriel. He had been to the cave of Spleen in the depths of the earth and had been granted by Spleen the power to vex and annoy Belinda.

The goddess Spleen was sleeping when he approached her. She was sighing with melancholy. She suffered from constant pains and headaches. The maid servants attended her. One was Ill-nature, old and wrinkled. The other was affectionate, young and beautiful. A dark vapour grew constantly over the cave of Spleen. Whenever this mist cleared a little strange scenes and sights were visible. The goddess of Spleen had changed people into strange shapes to tea-pots and jars. Some of them imagined that they were children, others fancied themselves to be bottles without corks.

After passing through this assemblage, Umbriel went to the goddess and prayed to change Belinda’s nature by making her melancholy and ill natured. The goddess granted him his prayers. She gave him two caskets. One was full of melancholy sighs, sobs, passions and tears. The other was full of ill-nature or anger.

Umbriel, the gnome (a spirit of the earth) came to Belinda with these two caskets. He found that a woman named Thalestris was trying to console Belinda. He immediately opened the bag of anger over their heads. The result was that Belinda burned with more and more anger, and Thalestris further incited that.

Thalestris spoke so loudly that her voice echoed in the walls and woods around. She sympathised with Belinda. She reminded her how many pains and troubles she had taken to nourish the lock, and how it had been snipped off her head in such a brutal manner. She told Belinda about the consequences of the rape of the lock. This rape, in her opinion, would bring her disgrace and dishonour because the Baron will display it to others. Others will begin despising her, nobody will drink to her health then. This affair would scandalize her name; people would doubt her relations with Lord Petre. She would be the talk of the day and of the town. Every Tom. Dick and Harry would speak about her.

Having expressed her resentment against the Baron and her sympathy for Belinda, she turned to her own lover, Sir Plume and begged him to demand the lock from Lord Petre. Sir Plume, who was proud of his snuff-box and his cane, requested the Baron to return the lock. But the Baron politely, though firmly, rejected his request. He told Sir Plume that the lock had been severed and could not decorate the fair head of Belinda ever again. He would keep the sacred lock with him as long as he lived and would wear it on his hand.

Umbriel, the naughty gnome did not want to end the affair at this juncture yet. So he opened the other casket of melancholy over Belinda’s head. As a result of this Belinda began to curse the day her lock was cut off. She wished rather she had not come to the court of Hampton. It would have been better for her to remain all alone. How good it would have been, had she not been in the company of these admirers and beaux. She cursed her beauty also. Several omens since that morning had indicated that some misfortune might befall her, but alas she did not care for them. Even she forgot the dream. She would not have minded much, if the Baron had robbed her of any other hair but that, her favourite lock. She went on weeping and cursing in this way.



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