“Paradise Lost” By: John Milton and “The Rape of the Lock” By: Alexander Pope

“Paradise Lost” By: John Milton

Book 1

[The Invocation]

            Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit

Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe,

With loss of Eden, till one greater Man

Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,

Sing, Heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top

Of Oreb, or of Sinai didst inspire

That shepherd who first taught the chosen seed

In the beginning how the Heavens and Earth Rose out of Chaos… (Milton 1-10).

“Rape of the Lock” By: Alexander Pope

Canto I

            What dire offense from amorous causes springs,

What mighty contest rise from trivial things,

I sing– This verse to Caryll, Muse! Is due:

This, even Belinda may vouchsafe to view:

Slight is the subject, but not to praise,

If she inspire, and he approve my lays.

            Say what strange motive, Goddess! Could compel

A well-bred lord to assault a gentle belle?

Oh, say what stranger case, yet unexplored,

Could make a gentle belle reject a lord? (Pope 1-10).

Epic and mock epics are, generally, largely extended narrative poems. Conventionally epics begin with an invocation and tell of great battles and important occurrences using a mythical vehicle to add to the grandiosity of the event in question. John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is a prime example of such an epic poem. It is told using grand and majestic language to illustrate and celebrate the described Biblical deeds: “Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste/ Brought death into the world, and all our woe” (Milton 2-3). The language (syntax) is meant to enthrall us to this all important event. It is dramatic and dignified. A few lines later in the invocation “Sing, Heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top/ Of Oreb, or Sinai didst inspire…” (6-7) the speaker beseeches a Muse, the Greek Goddesses of the Arts and Sciences, to help with the telling of the heroic event they wish to share.  The tone of this poem is serious, almost demanding the same reverence experienced at a church sermon.

Conversely, “The Rape of the Lock” by Alexander Pope­­­– which by the title alone sounds serious enough– is a mock epic. Mock epics, though syntactically similar to epics in the usage of extravagant language and of myth, are basically a satire. It takes common events and attempts to make them larger than life. In the “Rape of the Lock,” where the focus of “Paradise Lost” was humankind’s falls from grace, the description of a beautiful girl, Belinda’s, hair being cut (while she is under the protection of a slew of mythical creatures) is placed at center stage. The speaker of the poem calls this a “…dire offense from amorous causes…” (Pope 1) and states that from this “… mighty contest rise from trivial things,” (2). The Muse is called, the ever important invocation presented but the tone can be seen as bordering on joking. The words are still extravagant but, they are juxtaposed against an inconsequential background, in this case an afternoon social tea where pranks abound. The main event, in true mock epic form, is treated as though it is a vitally important occurrence. The defiled lock is the epitome of controversy.

Works Cited List

Milton, John. “Paradise Lost.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Fifth Edition ed. New York: W.

W. Norton & Company, 2005. 276-280. Print.

Pope, Alexander. “The Rape of the Lock.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Fifth Edition ed.

New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. 357-374. Print.

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