Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 934
“Beauty,” a poem by the English writer John Masefield (1878-1967), is written in an accessible style and is clearly indebted to the English Romantics in its tone and theme. The poem begins by using balanced phrasing to stress the breadth of the speaker’s knowledge of the natural world. He has seen not only “dawn” but also its opposite, “sunset,” just as he is familiar both with flat “moors” and with “windy hills.” Line 1, then, shows the influence of Romantic poetry in its emphasis on natural change (from “dawn” to “sunset”) and on natural landscapes.
In line 2, the speaker employs a simile and perhaps also personification when he describes the dawn and sunset “Coming in solemn beauty like old tunes of Spain”; consequently, the first two lines emphasize both natural beauty and the beauty of music created by human beings. Lines 3 and 4 develop a metaphor and personification; April is a lady who brings daffodils, "springing grass," and "soft warm April rain." Notice the pattern of progression: Line 1 emphasizes natural beauty; line 2 emphasizes beauty created by humans; and line 3 combines the two emphases by describing April as if it were a woman creating the beauty of spring.
The word “Bringing” that begins line 4 echoes the word “bringing” in line 3. These words, in turn, are echoed by (and internally rhyme with) the adjective “springing” that appears later in line 4. Thus a poem celebrating the beauty of music in the reference to the “slow old tunes of Spain” becomes explicitly musical itself, playing with multiple sound effects that deliberately call attention to themselves. The tone of the opening stanza is sensual, appealing to sight, hearing, and touch; in mentioning daffodils and spring rain, it perhaps also appeals to the sense of smell. The reference to Spain adds an exotic element to the stanza, but otherwise it seems to be a familiar piece of English Romanticism and could just as easily have been written by Wordsworth as by Masefield.
Sound effects are created in the ways already mentioned, but sound techniques also are employed in other instances. The phrase “I have seen” is repeated in lines 1 and 3. The "S" sound alliterates in "seen," "sunset," "solemn," and "Spain." In the phrase "slow old tunes," each word is a single syllable that receives deliberate, heavy emphasis; stressing each syllable slows down the line just as the speaker explicitly mentions slowness. In all these ways, the beauty of nature is matched by the beauty of the poem’s own sounds.
In the opening of the second stanza, the speaker twice more employs personification, describing flowers and the sea as if they were capable of singing. Here, as in the first stanza, he implies not simply a bond between man and nature but a unity: In line 5, he claims to have “heard the song of the blossoms” (emphasis added). The line highlights the beauty of nature, but it also emphasizes once again the timeless beauty of music; the “old chant of the seas” echoes the earlier reference to the “old tunes of Spain." Moreover, the beauty of the land ("blossoms") is balanced by the implied beauty of the ocean, a pattern repeated in line 6 with the reference to “strange lands” seen from ships under sail. The allusion to "strange lands" subtly echoes the exoticism of the “old tunes of Spain.” Also significant is that the ships have "arched white sails," a beautiful and romantic image that suggests an earlier and romantic century.
In the first six lines, the speaker emphasizes the beauty of nature and music. In line 7, however, a key transformation in the poem is signaled by the word “But.” The speaker briefly alludes to a beneficent God, the creator of nature’s beauties, and then turns his attention in line 8 to the beauty of one particular woman. Using a rhetorical device known as polysyndeton (which involves a repetition of conjunctions), he speaks of “her voice, and her hair, and eyes, and the dear red curve of her lips” (emphasis added). Here the repetition of "and" slows down the rhythm of the line, forcing us to pay attention to each separate and unique aspect of the woman’s beauty. However, the speaker's repetition is not monotonous because he varies the pattern slightly by omitting “her” before “eyes” and by devoting the entire second half of the line to the particular beauty of the woman’s lips.
In the movement from “voice” to “hair” to “eyes” to “lips,” the line becomes progressively more erotic, especially since her lips are described in such detail. Also, the key word—“lips”—appears only at the very end of the line, giving it maximum emphasis. Notice, in fact, how it is carefully set apart in sound from the words that precede it, words that are bound together by a kind of alliteration from which the final word abruptly departs: “dear red curve of her lips.” Notice, too, how the eroticism of the reference to the woman’s lips is slightly toned down by the inclusion of the adjective “dear.” The word implies gentle, genuine affection, not simply the strong sexual attraction suggested by the words that follow it. The woman is not only the object of sensual desire but also the focus of the speaker’s sincere love.
Just as the final line of the poem is developed through the progression of specific images, so is the essential theme of the poem itself. After noting the many specific images of beauty he has beheld, the speaker arrives at the conclusion that the woman's features are "the loveliest things of beauty God ever has showed to me."