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Background of the Poet
- Elinor Morton Wylie was an American poet and novelist popular in the 1920s and 1930s.
- She was famous during her life almost as much for her ethereal beauty and personality as for her melodious, sensuous poetry.
Structure and Rhyme Scheme
- 3 stanzas which are all quatrains.
- Alternate rhyme scheme. Orderly, progressive and systematically structured.
- Why? She talks about the years going past in ‘…single file’ in the 3rd stanza, therefore we could infer that an orderly stanza progression could denote the systematic evolution of life and how her life is progressing. Alternatively, the orderly structure could denote how she is understands with the patriarchal standard of 20th Century contemporary society and by employing a systematic structure she can more effectively communicate her feminist ideals which is explored throughout this poem.
- I would say this is relevant to the wisdom explored throughout this poem of women being ‘…hard beset’. Therefore, it is almost a warning perhaps or a lesson where she is communicating that she is not in need of any ‘charitable hope’, which basically means that she is not in the need for social or mental welfare from anyone.
- This is also the first line of the poem, therefore setting the title as the official beginning context of the poem and therefore she further expands on the idea of letting no charitable hope and her contemporaneous reality.
- Wisdom and age.
- She has reached a period of disenchantment where she understands her position in society as essentially inferior to men and she expands on this in the 2nd stanza.
- She does not want her mind ‘Confused’ as seen in the 2nd stanza, and this is essential in developing the idea of her being disillusioned from the idea that equality prematurely or traditionally exists — as a result we can see her aptly exploring the reality of femininity in the early 20th Century.
Language Analysis and Critical Appreciation
- ‘…images / Of eagle’: Uses enjambment. This is to emphasise the amount of images that people try to confuse the poet with — and they’re in excess.
- ‘…eagle and of antelope’: An almost juxtaposition where the antelope is a prey, and an eagle as a predator. This is to show two extremes and possibly this can be inferred as an example of an eagle resembling males (where they are traditionally denoted to be fearless), and women as antelopes (where they are traditionally described to be submissive). Alternatively, she could be referring to how these are traditional standards of extremes however she is not willing to conform to such ideals where she is either one or the other. This is further proven and explained via the following line.
- ‘…by nature none of these’: She is saying that her very nature or the essence of her existence is built such that she is neither a predator nor prey, i.e. neither holds the traditional traits associated with each sex, however due to her feminism-driven mind, she does not see herself as either and therefore does not concede to anachronistic customs which were arguably endorsed upon both men and women in the early 20th Century via socialisation, coercion, societal expectations, values, and so on.
- ‘I was, being human, born alone;’ Uses asyndeton to denote the idea of how everyone ultimately stands alone and to therefore further explore the idea of being human and ultimately being a woman. She seems to be a realist and seems to have a theme of reality attached to what she is saying — essentially trying to say that at the end of the day we are born alone and we will die alone — perhaps she is trying to say that life is a journey that we must travel through and face by ourselves—back to the selfishness of individuals and motive of incentive?
- ‘I am, being woman, hard beset;’: Asyndeton again. She qualifies herself from human to being a woman, however we see that being alone and a woman that she is ‘…hard beset’ — why does she say this? We see her exploring the feminist ideals of the 20th Century where she sees her at the mercy of patriarchy and a male-dominated society. This is what makes her hard beset and we see her acknowledging this. This also adds to the level of disenchantment that she feels throughout the poem. Additionally, you can comment on the caesura used by the poet.
- ‘…squeezing from a stone’: Okay so firstly adds a level of imagery where she is ‘squeezing’ something. The stone could be a metaphor for her life: where it is set in stone almost and how she is unable to change her situation or position in the social strata of society. In addition, she uses conceit where we could interpret this as an exaggerated metaphor where she is squeezing from a stone, however we know that, stone being a solid, is unable to be squeezed physically.
- Also she uses enjambment ‘…stone / What little…’: This could denote how hard she is squeezing or progressively the amount of effort she is investing in squeezing this stone, i.e. trying to change her position in society, such that this emotion or line carries on to the next line. Alternatively, she talks about getting ‘…little nourishment’, therefore we see firstly that she is motivated to get what she sees as her very humanistic right. Secondly, we commend her for her unstoppable effort to gain this right. Thirdly, we see that she progressively keeps trying even though she has been condemned to achieving little. Fourthly, this could be a reference to paid employment where this is disparity between men and women in material wages and annual incomes, where the latter is the disadvantaged.
- ‘…masks’: Could be talking about how people are two-faced. Alternatively, the patriarchal masks that men where in order to appear strong and to fit in the values propagated by society.
- ‘…single file’: Each year goes by one by one.
- ‘…merited my fear’: No year or no circumstance has earned her fear, as if her fear being a mark of respect perhaps.
- ‘…quite escaped my smile’: So this could be either that she has enjoyed living through the years nonetheless, despite her subservient or subjugated position in society as a woman. Alternatively, this could be a satirical line employed by Wylie where she is being sarcastic in where she laughs at men trying to dominate women, in addition to where at the end she does not feel subservient to men but instead acknowledges herself as being deviant in a plight for equality.