“She was a Phantom of delight”
She was a Phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A lovely Apparition, sent
To be a moment's ornament;
Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;
Like Twilight's, too, her dusky hair;
But all things else about her drawn
From May-time and the cheerful Dawn;
A dancing Shape, an Image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and way-lay.
I saw her upon nearer view,
A Spirit, yet a Woman too!
Her household motions light and free,
And steps of virgin-liberty;
A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;
A Creature not too bright or good
For human nature's daily food;
For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles.
And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A Being breathing thoughtful breath,
A Traveller between life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright
With something of angelic light.
Note: “machine” as used then refers to a complete organism.
For my turn, I have chosen Wordsworth, a familiar poet who is much read and well loved. Being a very poor shadow of the other well read contributors, I hope you will pardon me for not introducing new poets and poems as I revisit familiar ones instead in the coming months ahead.
This week’s poem is a love poem of sorts, written in a style that has been unconsciously or unknowingly adopted by many (very) young, aspiring Malaysian poets out there. The ‘flowery’ descriptions and sentiments expressed are very much characteristic of Wordsworth’s poetic language, which was not just a language of emotion, but the language of the ordinary people (as opposed to the witticisms of the poets who preceded him). Structurally, this poem is a three stanza iambic tetrameter, rhyming aabbccddee (each letter for each rhyme).
[Though I am not at all well versed (pun unintended) with poetic rhythm, for the benefit of some readers, I have included a short section on iambic feet].
This poem can be said to capture the experience of falling in love, as the speaker is suddenly struck at the sight of a beautiful lady. However, the past tense “was” indicates that it is a memory of his first seeing his lady love. Indeed, he still lovingly recalls how beautiful she looked then in his descriptive praise of her natural beauties. The words “gleamed”, “Dawn”, “Twilight”, “stars” and also in an indirect way “Delight” all serve to give the imagery and impression of the visionary captivation she held over him, and like the sun of both the dawn and twilight, as a light unto his world.
In the second stanza, as the speaker ‘moves’ to a closer view and acquaintance, she ‘becomes’ a real person and individual, but still retains her “Spirit”-like nature for him, an ethereal being whom he feels should be above and free from the inescapable earthly joys and pains of human life. The speaker’s idealisation of his lady love is very much in evidenced here, and although the third stanza shows that he is still rooted in reality, the speaker’s love powerfully colours and shapes his perception of her.
What is also interesting for me in this poem is that some of the positive qualities of the lady described in the third stanza can be said to have been less associated and attributable to women than men during that time; and for Wordsworth to name these qualities, he probably must have had an enlightened view of women, not as a weaker sex, but one who equally possesses “reason firm”, “Endurance”, “foresight” and “strength”.
For the ladies reading this, would you be flattered if a guy wrote such a verse of you?