Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Steele is usually identified as one of the New Formalists. His poetry is nearly always in regular accentual meters and rhyme. He makes good uses of these formal devices in “An Aubade” to show the wit and sensuous detail that is the mark of his poetry. In addition, he uses an ancient poetic form: the aubade. He is not content to merely reproduce the form but rather renews it in the context of his own time; it is not a completely modern aubade. The poem does reveal much irony, however. The male lover is awakened not by the dawn but by the sound of the woman “showering.” In addition, he “postpones” arising until she gets out of the shower. He never gets out of bed to join the beloved, in an amusing revision of a traditional aubade.
Another feature of the poem is its appeal to the senses. The images comprise nearly all the senses. There are visual, auditory, olfactory images first of objects and then of the female; significantly there are no tactile images, since the lovers do not touch. The meaning of the poem is contained in the loving descriptions of things associated with her and the final revelation and description of her beauty and her overwhelming presence. This description, in the present tense, is both imagined and a real description of her drying her body and revealing it.
The themes of “An Aubade” are focused on the attitude of the male speaker, which is somewhat distant as he is content to remain only an observer. He can remain in bed and be perfectly content about his closeness to her despite her physical absence. For example, he speaks of being so “content” that he is willing to forgive “Pleasure for being brief and fugitive.” He acknowledges the fading of sexual pleasure and is still willing to accept it rather than demand its immediate renewal. This focus on observation rather than sexual desire is also found in his reaction to the beauty of the woman as she comes forth to announce and reveal herself. It is an admiring and loving description of her being and presence after a curiously long delay before her arrival.