The Poem

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 468

“Auspice of Jewels” is a poem in free verse that is divided into eight sections of irregular length. Although the title alludes to jewelry, the poem actually concerns the source of power, of luminescence, for women. In fact, the language of the poem is charged by the metaphor of light.

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There are two groups of personae in the poem: “us” and “them,” women and men. Laura Riding contrasts the two. Men believe they give significance to women by giving them objects of value. Actually, the significance of women is repressed or obscured by the gifts. In abandoning gifts, women become active rather than passive: “We have passed from plaintive visibility/ Into total rareness.”

The poem begins with the assertion that men have weakened women through subterfuge: “They have connived at those jewelled fascinations.” With constant shifting from “they” to “us,” the poem leads the reader to realize that the speaker of the poem assumes an adversarial role as she comes to realize the extent to which she, as representative of women, has been repressed, compromised by the attention of men. This attitude is similar to that of Virginia Woolf, who classified a type of woman as “the angel in the house” in her essay “A Room of One’s Own.” Both writers contend that men, probably consciously, have belittled women by treating them as decorative objects rather than as human beings who, in their own right, possess intelligence and genius.

One can understand why Robert Graves so admired Laura Riding, his companion from 1926 to 1940. Throughout most of his writing, Robert Graves asserted the superiority of women to men and devoted much of his writing to correcting what he regarded as patriarchal corruptions of the literature of the matriarchy. Riding appears in the poem as a writer and a person who would elicit such a response.

The first three sections of the poem present women as compromised in a male-dominated society. Sections 4 and 5 begin with the words “Until now,” signaling that a change has occurred. The luminescence of women in the present of the poem is no longer merely reflected; it comes from within the women. Section 7 begins: “For we are now otherwise luminous,” indicating that the source of luminosity has moved from without to within. The poem ends with section 8, a parenthetical comment on the “Gemmed ladies” who are still attended by those whose light they reflect. Riding did not expect the dominance of male history and tradition to change because women had seen the light, but she did expect change to occur in women (and men) who chose to live according to what she regarded as honest attention to life and truth. She thought of such people as living on the “inside,” not simply on the outside. Such insiders, she believed, had the power to cause change.

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 276

References to jewels, the women who wear them, and the men who give them create the central metaphor of the poem. The metaphor causes the reader to consider whether women, like jewels, have significance only because of their assigned value, or whether their innate significance is no less valuable than that of those men who regard them as decorative.

The metaphor shifts in the fourth section to the unreflected luminosity of women, leading the reader to see that jewels have distracted women from their own power and worth. By using light as a metaphor, Riding evokes resonances that go far back into history and myth. In the Bible, God says: “Let there be light.” In Greek mythology, Prometheus was punished for giving fire (light) to human beings, and Artemis was the Greek goddess of the moon. Light has been generally associated in religion with power and creativity; for example, Apollo, the god of poetry, drives his chariot, the sun, across the heavens.

In her light metaphor, Riding contests the idea that women have only reflected light (power). She uses words such as “brilliance,” “obscure,” “twinkling,” “gloom,” “luminous,” and “snuffed lanterns” to give the poem light, and to make the reader aware of the metaphor. The poem ends with a dreamlike stanza that tells the reader one last time that the language is figurative, not literal.

The contrast between “them” and “us” increases the metaphoric force of the poem by showing the recipients of the jewels to be passive. Those who are not bejeweled have their own power. This difference illustrates that the poem is concerned with the possession of power, not with the giving of gifts.

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