“The Young Woman of Beare” is based on a tenth century Irish poem, “The Old Woman of Beare.” In both poems the woman recollects her love of the world and of men. Though both are presumed to be dramatic monologues, neither poet indicated the identity of the person who does not speak; again, presumably, the other person does not share the speaker’s passions and may even disapprove. In the tenth century original, the speaker is at the end of her life, defiantly rejecting the admonitions she has heard from clerics. In “The Young Woman of Beare,” the speaker is in the fullness of youth, so caught up in her delights that such admonitions as she hears are of no consequence. She is luxuriously describing her life, not justifying it.
“The Young Woman of Beare” is a long poem written in ten-line stanzas that contain a variety of repeated sounds: rhyme, assonance, consonance. The repetitions are irregular, and they give the poem a musical, dreamy air. The young woman is in her room, comfortable and drowsy, reflecting on her lovers and rejecting any moral, religious, or political concerns that might lessen or censure her life of pleasure. She is content to consider herself “the bright temptation” the clergy censures.
As the poem develops her character, she emerges as a woman committed to seizing the day, rather than living for an uncertain future, either in this life or the afterlife. She recalls a lover: “Sin-fast—we can enjoy/ What is allowed in marriage.” She continues with this meditation by describing herself in metaphors usually reserved for the clergy’s use in condemning sinners, calling herself “the dark temptation” and acknowledging the clergy’s view.
As she daydreams into nightfall, she mentions her foreign face, though does not indicate whether she is from another country or simply of another moral view. By taking the terms of admonition as recognition of her power, she establishes a moral order separate and different from that of Ireland in the late sixteenth century, the setting for the poem. Such a rejection of Christian ethical codes appears throughout the poetry and prose of Austin Clarke.