Explain the following form Pope's The Rape of the Lock.But when to Mischief Mortals bend their Will,How soon they find fit Instuments of Ill!  The Rape of the LockCanto IIICoffee [...]Sent up in...

Explain the following form Pope's The Rape of the Lock.

But when to Mischief Mortals bend their Will,
How soon they find fit Instuments of Ill!

 

The Rape of the Lock
Canto III
Coffee
[...]
Sent up in Vapours to the Baron's Brain
New Stratagems, the radiant Lock to gain.
Ah cease rash Youth! desist ere 'tis too late,
Fear the just Gods, and think of Scylla's Fate!
Chang'd to a Bird, and sent to flit in Air,
...

But when to Mischief Mortals bend their Will,
How soon they find fit Instuments 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 Fingers' Ends;
This just behind Belinda's Neck he spread
As o'er the fragrant Steams she bends her Head:
[...]

The Peer now spreads the glittering Forfex wide,
T' inclose the Lock; now joins it, to divide.    
Ev'n then, before the fatal Engine clos'd,
[...]
The meeting Points the sacred Hair dissever
From the fair Head, for ever and for ever!

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kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

The quote in question is only understandable in reference to the stanza that precedes it. The Baron had been contemplating schemes for attaining a lock of Belinda's perfectly curled and styled hair. Over the meal they all shared, the coffee aroma sent vapors of inspiration to his brain, after all, according to Pope, coffee is what makes the politicians wise:

Coffee (which makes the Politician wise,
And see through all things with his half-shut Eyes)
Sent up in Vapours to the Baron's Brain

These fragrant vapors inspired "New stratagems," new plans, for gaining Belinda's lock of hair. At this point in the narrative, the third person poetic speaker intrudes to warn and reprimand the foolish Baron of what dire consequences might occur:

Ah cease rash Youth! desist ere 'tis too late,
Fear the just Gods, and think of Scylla's Fate!

In a classical allusion, the speaker warns the Baron about being changed into a bird like Scylla, Nisus's daughter, was after she cut off her father's sacred purple lock of hair. (Of course, Pope is being satirical and ironic in this passage.) This, now, is where the quote in question comes in.

The Baron won't take heed of Scylla's plight. He continues to concoct scheming plans. He finds an accomplice. The poetic speaker is watching all this go on and figuratively shrugs his shoulders and raises his hands in remorse as he says that when humans decide to will to do "mischiefs," it is very soon that they find the ways and means to do it!

But when to Mischief Mortals bend their Will,
How soon they find fit Instuments of Ill!

The truth of the statement is borne out because next the Baron takes Clarissa's scissors "from their shining Case" and very slowly edges over behind Belinda--despite the efforts of the Sprights and Sylphs and Ariel himself--and cuts off her lock!

The Peer now spreads the glittering Forfex wide,
T' inclose the Lock; now joins it, to divide.
[...]
The meeting Points the sacred Hair dissever
From the fair Head, for ever and for ever!

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