Tuesday, April 11, 2006

“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.

William Wordsworth

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?


Anonymous Anna said...

I don't know! I try to visualize this poem being addressed to me and... my knees start jerking, my heart starts melting, the little dormant volcano in my brain starts sputtering, and the whole machine goes... crashing. What a mess. But a beautiful one. hahaha

10:58 AM, April 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anna said...

And the last thing you hear of me is a whooshing sound!

11:11 AM, April 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anna said...

But then, I suffer from a chronic, acute form of 'romantichissima'. The Italian in me? So, do not push it further - or - you will be killing me!

11:30 AM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger Sham said...

This one brought me back to school days - I remember us reading this in our English Literature Class.

12:48 PM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Anna, Thanks. You are definitely a romantic at heart...Hahaha, which woman doesn't want a guy who still falls in love with her many years after the first time.

Sham, hope this brought back good memories. It's good that some form of literature component is being reintroduced in our Malaysian schools, though I have heard 'stories' of some teachers not really inspiring students with the joys of reading it, or worse, some just giving them the answers to why the poem is so, and not encouraging them to discover it on their own.
BTW, you can e-mail me the poems u want to share and I will see how well either Leon, Sharon or myself can fit it in. :)

9:54 PM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger Spot said...

I like this type of rhyming poetry. The jaunty beat really allows for lots of room for dramatic (like how I imagine the lines in Midsummers Night Dream would sound) interpretation when reading it aloud.

I didnt think of this as a love poem though. It's kind of like the poet is describing seeing, for the first time, an innocence from a simpler time, in a woman he knows. A woman whom he's always regarded as strong and perhaps very pragmatic.

Then suddenly, he sees a fairie character in her, like a woodland nymph. But it's all very fleeting glimpse, hence the spirit/phantom metaphor. He basically sees her in new light thereafter.

I'm probably way out there with this image, a flight of fancy...but there ya go.

I love this line - A Traveller between life and death - to describe the human condition.

7:12 PM, April 13, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Spot, I think you are spot on once again. :) Why, your reading of the poem is equally valid, if not better. In fact, the idea of a sudden glimpse of this woman as a kind of fairy and nymph is exactly the type of experiences Wordsworth records in much of his poetry (at least that is what I was told). It's a sublime moment where poet's inner vision transfigures the things before him, lifting him up above and beyond the materiality of himself and his world.

Spoy, I love your comments, so pls continue commenting, as I embark on this journey of learning with the other commentators here as well.

10:57 PM, April 13, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

i am sorry i have taken so long to reply to this posting

truth is ... that although i know i ought to love wordsworth ... i don't
(apart from the preludes) ... maybe it's becasue i feel more at home with contemporary poetry ... maybe it's because i come out in an angry rash when i hear or see "daffodils" with its tumpty little imbic tertrameters (thanks for the v. clear explanation)and this reminds me of it ...

i think he's also taking a nasty swipe at the women in his life in the final stanza "To warn, to comfort, and command" - bet he got bossed about something rotten by his sister dorothy

*sigh* men ... want to put women on a pedestal and have a had time reconciling themselves to the truth

12:42 PM, April 16, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Hahahaha... Good to have a different opinion of Wordsworth here, and who's to say that all should love wordsworth - it's all a matter of having different tastes, really. I myself enjoy 'dark' poetry with its 'morbid' fixation on sombre themes and subjects.

Yes, there is a possibility that Wordsworth still has the final say on the woman (sly snide, maybe?) he describes; after all, it is he who gives voice to her rather than her own self (a kind of feminist reading) However, I am of the persuasion that there is more fondness than griping...

Good to have these discussions.

7:23 PM, April 16, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

oh dear i meant "iambic" - don't think i'm an ignorant so and so

yes, there is for sure more fondness ... i'm just being difficult here

talking about wordsworth and his attitude to women, have you come across this poem by Lynn Peters? it really made me laugh. :


'I wandered lonely as a . . .
They're in the top drawer, William,
Under your socks –
I wandered lonely as a –
No not that drawer, the top one.
I wandered by myself –
Well wear the ones you can find,
No, don't get overwrought my dear,
I'm coming.'

'I was out one day wandering
Lonely as a cloud when –
Softboiled egg, yes my dear,
as usual, three minutes –
As a cloud when all of a sudden –
look, I said I'll cook it,
Just hold on will you –
All right, I'm coming.

'One day I was out for a walk
When I saw a flock –
It can't be too hard, it had three minutes.
Well put some butter in it.
– This host of golden daffodils
As I was out for a stroll one –

'Oh you fancy a stroll, do you.
Yes, all right William. I'm coming.
It's on the peg. Under your hat.
I'll bring my pad, shall I, in case
You want to jot something down?'

From The Virago Book of Wicked Verse edited by Jill Dawson.

10:44 PM, April 16, 2006  
Blogger Spot said...

Dreamer - Thanks for your lovely comments. I think I'm more a novice than you in these matters, though!

Don't know much about poetry (nor history, actually) in terms of style, technicalities and even who's who when it comes to poets.

But as has been said before on this blog, anyone can appreciate some form of poetry. So far so good! :)

10:15 AM, April 17, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Sharon, thx so much for sharing that verse...I really had a good laugh. I am really glad that you offered a different reading of Wordsworth, because poetry would be of little value if it did not stir different ideas and feelings in different epople, and your reading brings a unique perspective to the gender issues in the representation of women by men.

Interestingly, my lecturer (Gosh, how I greatly miss academia) pointed out the gender dynamics involved in Wordsworth's Daffodil poem, which was nicely parodied there. The class read Dorothy's notebook entry on the day they were at a field of daffodils and later discussed Wordsworth's poem contra Dorothy, as well as Dorothy's literary merits on her own. So, you have a very cogent point there. Thanks for pointing it out to me. :)

6:17 PM, April 17, 2006  
Blogger madcap machinist said...

I just thought to note that Wordsworth wrote this poem for his wife Mary, and 'to warn, comfort, and command' might give us some insight on his married life ... :)

Spot's getting it spot on so much that we're gonna have to find something else to pun on.

1:56 AM, April 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this poem, "She was a Phantom of Delight." But I do have a question and a problem to comment on. In the second stanza:

"A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;"

I take it by Sweet records, promises as sweet, Wordsworth means they've had a good history and the future looks to be as sweet. Am I correct on that?

Now comes the problem: I imagine William reading his love poem aloud to his wife. He's worked on this baby for a couple of months, polishing and refining. I'm seeing a Sunday morning alone in the living room. And I'm certain he has expectations by the time his presentation is complete, know what I'm sayin'? Then he gets to this couplet:

A creature not too bright or good
For human nature's daily food;

I imagine the faraway look in her eyes turning to anger as she turns her face slowly to him and her tears of happiness suddenly dry. "What did you say to me? A creature not to bright or good? So you're saying I'm stupid and that I'm not good, or just not good enough for you? You didn't have any problem with that slut in France, did you? I guess I'm not good enough to share your bed, so you can sleep on the couch tonight and for the rest of the month. And you can be in charge of getting the meals on the table and the ironing and taking care of the books." And on and on. See what I'm sayin'? LOL.

Finally, as she's storming out of the room she stops and turns, "And when did you think 'food' rhymes with 'good'? Did you suddenly get a tin ear? Thinking I'm not too bright, became not too bright yourself?" Finally she departs, slamming the door behind her and never gets to hear his closing crescendo when, with so few words, he eloquently elucidates all of her finest qualities:

"The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort, and command;"

Is this a problem for anyone else? It's a major stumbling block for me. What was he thinking to include this derogatory and inconsistent sentiment in a love poem? And how do we reconcile it? How could any woman overlook that?

I'm anxious to hear your replies,




3:07 AM, July 08, 2010  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Hi Jamie, thanks for visiting this blog and leaving your comments, though we have been inactive for quite a while (fault is mine).

Yes, you are right about the line “Sweet records, promises as sweet;"

As for your major stumbling block, it could be interpreted in a number of ways, and perhaps you may have a point about him not expressing his positive views at that point in the poem. But, if you look at the punctuation and the lines:

…..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.

Did you see the semicolon at the end of “daily food;”? So, it goes “A Creature not too bright or good/For human nature's daily food;” – not that she is not good for him, but not good for what he calls “human nature's daily food”. He's not talking about meals, but what could be the 'food' of human nature? In a sense, what sustains our lives or what forms the daily part of us as human creatures? The next lines partly offers clues. It's the everyday experience of life in both its joys and sorrows – “Praise, blame, love...tears, and smiles.”, or alternatively you could argue, it's the human toils that he has in mind. In this respect, he wants to place her beyond human struggles, beyond human failings, which is in line with his earlier stanza, idealising her as Spirit, or as someone else has pointed out, as some beautiful fairy or nymph.

The third stanza has him turning slightly from his idealisation of her to rooting his thoughts and feelings for her in reality, in his knowledge of her as a person, and also a recognition that she being a human is “A Traveller between life and death”, that his delight in her is one that will also pass away in time, not something ethereal that is above and beyond the human (even while retaining part of that earlier vision).

I hope the explanation helps... but I would also add, as a kind of 'tempering' remark, that Wordsworth like all other persons (and poets, for that matter) are only human, with shortcomings aplenty. And in this blog, if you read on, will discover some really dark poetry, but all expressions of what makes us human in our loves and hates, faults and all. In a way, we do not seek the ideal in poetry, although as in this poem, that is part of what we seek – this tension, this gap between the ideal and the falling short would be, in my opinion, part of what poetry is. (Just some thoughts).

Anyway, since you like this poem, I thought I would leave you a nice modern love poem, and from a woman's perspective. Cheers.

Flowers by Wendy Cope.

Some men never think of it.
You did. You'd come along.
And say you'd nearly bought me flowers.
But something had gone wrong.

The shop was closed. Or you had doubts –
The sort that minds like ours
Dream up incessantly. You thought.
I might not want your flowers.

It made me smile and hug you then.
Now I can only smile.
But, look, the flowers you nearly bought.
Have lasted all this while.

4:20 PM, July 08, 2010  

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