Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The title “Auspice of Jewels” prepares the reader for a prophecy, since auspice actually means prophecy. The prophecy is that significance is inner for those women who know that they are human beings of significance and genius. In her life and writing, Riding never questioned either her significance or her genius.

In contrasting inner and outer reality, “Auspice of Jewels” adheres to a basic concern of Modernism. As Virginia Woolf noted in her essay “Modern Fiction,” the popular writers at the beginning of the twentieth century adhered to a view that limited reality to physical characteristics. Since those characteristics were often of dress and accoutrements, social and economic class were presented as the major determinants of identity. The jewels in this poem illustrate that view. The inner value of a person is the proper concern of the artist.

Such a tendency to look inward was prevalent in the generation that emerged after World War I, since so many artists of that time, Riding among them, had viewed the horrors of that war and come to reject the ideals that were used to justify it. In Goodbye to All That (1929), Robert Graves wrote of his rejection of the society and culture that he viewed as responsible for the war.

Though Riding was certainly aware of such views as those held by Woolf and Graves, her views are her own. They are part of the awareness of the inner world that had been brought about by the writings of Sigmund Freud. They are also a response to the political activity of women at the time, whose efforts had earned for women the right to vote.

Riding believed, as have many others, that her poems spoke with power of a truth that is greater than the historical moment. “Auspice of Jewels” is a poem that ends with a reference to medieval times, when there were knights and ladies. With this reference, Laura Riding clearly moves her concern with significance and value from the momentary to the universal.