Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Blue Girls,” like most of Ransom’s best poetry, is a poem of antithesis, of an ideal, but impossible, world of beauty and joy in conflict with a real world of violence, decay, death, and pain. It focuses particularly on the contrast between the desirable but evanescent world of youth and beauty and the undesirable but inescapable world of age and decay. The tension of the two worlds of youth and age introduced briefly in stanza 1 with the phrase “Go listen to your teachers old and contrary” moves progressively to culmination in the final stanza, with the blue girls set in contrast with the once-beautiful woman with “all her perfections tarnished.” Though the speaker longs for that ideal world, experienced briefly, he resigns himself to the real world of degeneration. His detached resignation makes the feeling all the more poignant for the reader, who senses the deep emotion beneath the stoic surface, the pain masked by wit and irony.
Because the speaker urges the girls to practice their beauty, the poem is inevitably associated with the Horatian carpe diem tradition. Yet Ransom’s poem varies significantly from this tradition in that the speaker is not a young man who has a personal goal of seduction or pleasure in mind. Rather, he is an elderly man who, despite his urging the young girls to enjoy the moment, seemingly has only a casual relationship with them and is interested in them not as individuals but as representatives of youth and beauty.
The speaker does not seek any kind of personal relationship with the “blue girls.” In fact, he does not even promise, in the fashion of many Renaissance poets, to keep them forever young and immortal in his poetry. He vows instead to publish, write about Beauty, yet he does so with the clear knowledge that it is beyond his or anyone else’s power to “establish” beauty. He stoically accepts the frailty of beauty, the only way tension between the ideal world and the real world is resolved in Ransom’s poetry, but he continues to appreciate that beauty both as presently viewed in the young girls and as remembered from the past in the woman who once was “lovelier” than any of them.