How would you analyze Elinor Wylie's "Let no charitable hope" in terms of structure, tone, imagery, and language?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wylie's poem is structured in three stanzas of four lines each. The rhyme scheme in each stanza is end rhyme in an abab pattern (e.g. stanza two: alone, beset, stone, get). The metrical structure is iambic tetrameter, although the first two lines incorporate syllabic variation and read more naturally like trimeter.

The tone of the poem shifts from gentle sarcasm in the first stanza to bitterness in the second stanza then to ridicule in the third stanza. The tone is revealed through subtle contradiction or paradox in the last two lines of each stanza, as in stanza one's "images / Of eagle and of antelope: / I am in nature none of these." We are surprised to learn the images of charitable hope are meant to reveal herself to her in the hope she will rise above her limitations; she contradicts the charitable hope declaring she is "in nature none of these."
 
Wylie's imagery uses concrete objects in surprising associations. Concrete images of eagle and antelope are associated with misguided charitable hope. A stone squeezed is associated with the provision of nourishment. The various outrageous and austere years she has lived are associated with no fear, but all are associated with her gently ridiculing smile: "And none has quite escaped my smile."
 
Regarding language, Wylie's diction is poetic diction in that she uses metaphor, imagery, and symbolism in poetic style. Her vocabulary is ordinary for a person who is educated, as she was, and she uses neither slang nor an elevated vocabulary.
 
An interesting point of language is that Wylie manages, through subtle conjunction of words, to turn "charitable hope" and years being smiled upon into expressions of sarcasm and ridicule. Charitable hope is followed by "confuse my mind," expressing the image that the "charitable hope" is misguided and unfounded, which we find to be true: "I am in nature none of these." "[M]y smile" is preceded by "none has quite escaped," expressing the idea that, could the years do so, they would have been glad to escape her loveless smile of ridicule.
 
It is also interesting that the opening stanza uses "none" in "I am none of these" (she is none of the images conjured, as of powerful eagle or graceful antelope), and the closing stanza uses "none" in "But none has merited my fear, / And none has quite escaped my smile." Wylie provides a closed circle of thought tied together by the "none" that seems to define her sense of being, even to the point where she feels she is "squeezing from a stone / The little nourishment I get."

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