Compare the two personas in the poem "Elizabeth" by Michael Ondaatje and the poem "When I was Fair and Young" by Elizabeth I.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The persona in Michael Ondaatje's "Elizabeth" experiences two significant transitions. She begins as a happy, pampered young girl who is joyful and carefree as she does commonplace things and goes to typical places with her father: they pick apples with Uncle Jack and they go to the zoo with Mrs. Kelly (scowling in the background). During these escapades, UncleJack and Daddy are building Elizabeth's skills and courage as well as entertaining her:

Catch, my Uncle Jack said
and oh I caught this huge apple

they put a snake around my neck
and it crawled down the front of my dress

The first transition comes when the poem introduces Tom, with whom Elizabeth has a delicately written about romance: "quick urgent love ... ." Here, Elizabeth leaves joyful, carefree childhood behind and enters the awe inspiring wonderment of young adulthood: "I kept his love in my palm ... ."

The second transition comes immediately after. Elizabeth undergoes the traumatic experience of witnessing the execution of Tom, during which he mimics the motions of "the [dance] steps of France," which he taught her while

turning
with the rhythm of the sun on the warped branches,

This transition leads to her end state, that of being a withdrawn woman who is content with other, lesser romantic involvement with "white young Essex" and the silent comfort of her "nimble rhymes."

By contrast, the persona in "When I was Fair and Young"--questionably authored by Queen Elizabeth I--is speaking as a mature woman who has already gone through the transitions written of by Ondaatje. In this shorter poem with repeated refrain, Elizabeth is reflecting back on her choice to reject all offers of marriage, a choice Ondaatje credits to her love for and traumatic loss of Tom. Elizabeth’s conclusion is that in her mature age, now no longer "fair and young," thus no longer sought after, she regrets her pride in saying to all suitors:

Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.

When he had spake these words such change grew in my breast,
That neither night nor day I could take any rest.
Then, lo!  I did repent, that I had said before
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.

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