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This poem gives a picture of a real woman - a woman's body with all its natural imperfections, as opposed to the idealized, beautified images of women so often advertised and which so many women themselves strive to achieve. This is where the girdle of the title becomes significant, as a piece of underclothing designed to help women achieve a better figure. But this poem literally and metaphorically strips the woman of all disguises. It is a private image, of a woman undressing to reveal the real imperfections of her body which normally are hidden to the outer world. The imagery and word choice deliberately emphasizes the sense of imperfection, with prosaic descriptions like ‘sags’ and ‘slops’ and comparisons of thighs to ‘young pigs’ and the belly likened to a ‘pudding’. Such comparisons play up the sense of the look and feel of actual female flesh, which is not particularly flattering, as opposed to the more romantic descriptions of women’s bodies often to be found in poetry.
Most of the poem is taken up with the physical description of the woman’s body, but the final five lines signal a change. These lines describe the woman straightening up after taking off the girdle, and suddenly a more positive note comes into the whole picture. The woman now stands tall and proud in her own skin – the reference to God and the use of the word ‘redeeming’ makes her ageing, sagging body appear sanctified, holy, a thing of beauty in its own way, not the idealized false beauty of the adverts and romantic poetry, but natural, real beauty, ungirdled. There is the sense that this is what woman has always been, from ancient times, before the time of Alexandria, even (Alexandria being a famous city of Ancient Egypt), and this is what woman will always be.
A final point to consider about this poem is that it is written in the second person, which imparts a confidential, intimate tone, strongly suggesting that is written only for women, and emphasizing the sense of a private space where the woman in the poem, imagined as the reader herself, can reveal her true self.
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