The Poem

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Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467

Timothy Steele’s “An Aubade” uses and renews an ancient poetic form, the aubade. In a traditional aubade, the dawn comes to announce the separation of two lovers. In Steele’s poem, the lovers are already separated in the first stanza: She is in the shower and he is waking in the bed. In addition, there is no dawn announced or described in this stanza; there is, however, the “shine of earrings on the bedside stand.” There is also a light that comes from a “yellow sheet” covering him like a false dawn. Its “folds” are metaphorically described as a painting “from some fine old master’s hand.”

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The lovers are brought more closely together in the second stanza, although they are not united. He embraces the “pillow” that “Retains the salty sweetness of her skin.” The image is an interesting mixture of tastes, and it connects the lovers through imagery and memory although they are still physically separated. From this image, he can “sense her smooth back, buttocks, belly, waist.” One image of her body triggers other images that bring her closer to him. In addition, he retains the memory of their lovemaking and her “leggy warmth” which “laced/ Around my legs and loins, and drew me in.”

The lovers are connected by a sound image in the third stanza as he hears her “Singing among the water’s hiss and race.” Then the dawn comes, as “early light” reveals a scene of “perfume bottles” and a “silver flashlight” on the dresser. Significantly, this dawn does not separate the lovers but brings them closer. The flashlight and the bottles are other shining objects that substitute for the real presence of the beloved who has not yet arrived; these images seem to fill the room, although she is still in the shower.

In the fourth stanza, the male lover speaks not of his coming separation as the poetic tradition demands but of his “content.” He is so content that he can “forgive/ Pleasure for being brief and fugitive.” The male lover also suspends rising from the bed until the woman comes out of the shower and dries herself. This contrasts sharply with the enforced rising of the lovers that is a part of a traditional aubade.

The last stanza is one of description as the female lover finally comes forth. The speaker describes her delicately drying “this and now that foot placed on a chair.” This is followed by a detailed and loving inventory of her and her beauty: “Her fine-boned ankles, and her calves and thighs,/ The pink full nipples of her breasts, and ties/ Her towel up, turban-style, about her hair.” With this final revealing of her true self, she has asserted her body and her presence. This is the opposite of a traditional aubade.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416

“An Aubade” is written in a regular iambic pentameter throughout the poem. Steele uses a five-line stanza in this poem with an intricate abaab rhyme scheme. The lines, for the most part, run on and support the ongoing observation of the male lover who narrates the poem. This is especially so as the poem, and the view of the speaker, spills from line to line and object to object until the speaker lights upon the naked woman. The rhymes seem natural and are never forced. Steele wittily rhymes “hear her” and “clearer” in the third stanza. In the fourth stanza, there is a break in the rhyme scheme as “with” does not rhyme with “forgive” or “fugitive.” It does not seem to have any expressive purpose.

There is one simile in the poem, although it does not contribute as much as other elements to the overall effect of the poem. In the first stanza, the covers over the male lover are described in “folds as intricate as drapery/ In paintings from some fine old master’s hand.” This is another object that is precisely described in the poem, and it is a male image, contrasting with the feminine objects that dominate the poem.

The principal poetic element in the poem is the imagery. There are images of light, such as the “shine of earrings” and the “silver flashlight,” which take the place of the dawn in the usual aubade. There are images of other objects, such as the “perfume bottles” and the “shiny flashlight,” that define the place and its context. However, the images of the body seem to be most important in the poem. The first images are those of taste; the female lover is absent, but her presence can be felt in “the salty sweetness of her skin.” This leads to the tactile images of her “smooth back, buttocks, belly, waist.” Her legs are connected to a beautiful image of “leggy warmth.”

An image of “early light” clarifies the scene, but it is curiously less important in this aubade than the images of the body. In the last stanza, there is a long list of erotic and precise images of the body of the beloved, which announces her coming out and joining the male lover: “Her fine-boned ankles, and her calves and thighs,/ The pink full nipples of her breast.” The last image is an exotic and an erotic one in which the beloved is seen with a “towel up, turban-style, about her hair.”

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Themes