Original poem reprinted online here: "Beauty" by Elinor Morton Wylie
Originally read: January 16, 2013
More information about the Poet: Elinor Morton Wylie
So I read this poem after "She Walks in Beauty" by Lord Byron; however, I don't remember if I analyzed them at the same time. Judging by the line marks, I'm pretty sure no. Anyway, reading the poem and then thinking about what Byron wrote brought a new perspective for me.
Form first, this poem is written in quatrains with an alternating rhyme scheme (rhyme scheme similar to Byron), and still the technique. There's something separate and off in the poem.
Let me write down what I first thought about the poem:
"Summary time! If stanza 3 was put in place in stanza 1 -- I think the poem would be less of a definition of beauty but how beauty is defined."
Although I don't agree with past me, I do see the point. If I looked at this poem as a definition poem (title being the word to be defined) then I would need to know a context. The warning at the end of the poem takes a natural progression and is predictable, and, at the time, I probably thought the first stanza was (filled with images) should end the poem.
However, past me didn't like the first stanza as well:
"The bird metaphors don't fit for me -- don't call her beatuiful like a dove because she's wild like wings of a gull?"
The focus for me back then was on "wing" rather than "gull," but still the whole double bird metaphor doesn't work for me. And if I keep looking at the notes then past me really didn't like this poem.
But context changes and time passes. I'm not saying that I did a 180, but I look at the poem in a different context.
Men define beauty. And what can be defined can be encapsulated, enslaved, and put on display.
So even though the poem has this weird denying tone to it like a child philosopher, and the images aren't that great, and the rhyme scheme isn't that strong, at least it's a push back against an established definition.
"Say not of beauty she is good"
I wrote in the beginning "beauty =/= good." I can't help but look at me being cynical. I read the first line, now as a serious argument. -- good (not in attitude) but good (in worth). The idea of worth is followed through in stanza where her worth as in if her beauty is loved too much rather than the self it's much worse.
Then the last stanza fits in a didactic (maybe overly) way. Trying to cage her in the definition of beauty will kill her (a smidge too much of hyperbole).