Explain Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" canto 1 in detail.summary

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kc4u | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Pope's occasional poem in 2 cantos was enlarged into a full-fledged mock-heroic, The Rape of the Lock, in 5 cantos.

Canto 1 begins on a mock-solemn tone parodying the Enunciation and Invocation typical of an epic. The subject is some 'dire offence' which is nothing but the cutting off of the lock of hair of young Belinda by Lord Peter. The poet invokes his friend John Caryl as the 'Muse' which is a comic deflation of Homer's invocation to the Classical Muse or Milton's invocation to the 'Heavenly Muse'.

The narrative commences with the 'timorous' rays of the sun entering through the white curtains of Belinda's bed-chamber at the midday-noon. As fair Belinda wakes and so does her lap-dog, Shock, Belinda is again induced to sleep by her guardian sylph, Ariel, who appears in her dream gorgeously dressed as 'a birth-night beau'.

Ariel discloses to Belinda how the sylphs, a band of aerial sprits hovering as 'a light militia of the lower sky', are dedicated to the task of protecting the fashionable maidens like Belinda. They are unlike the other categories of the Roscicrucian spirits such as the gnomes, nymphs & salamanders, and extremely committed to the girls like Belinda.

Ariel has received some alarming premonition that a disastrous event would happen to Belinda before the sunset on that day, and so he has come to warn her as well as assure her total protection by the sylphs.

As Belinda's 'morning dream' dissolves, she gets up to find a love-letter which she reads and forgets all about the dream. She immediately sits before her dressing -table for her toillette, her 'sacred rites of pride'. The episode of Belinda's elaborate make-up is a wonderful mockery of the self-arming of Hector in Homer's epic. Assisted by the 'inferior priestess', i.e. her maid Betty, Belinda--robed in white--engages herself in a beauty-worship, and her image increasingly gains in superior beauty on the mirror of her dressing-table. Select items of make-up culled from the vases arranged in 'mystic order', combs of tortoise-shells & ivory, hair-pins, perfumes etc. contribute to the making of the goddess called Belinda as worshipped by the superior priestess of the same identity.

Canto 1 ends with Belinda's make-up and self-adoration as she gets prepared for a journey by boat across the river Thames on her way to the Hampton Court.

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