The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Opening with a reference to music, a garden, and grief, the first of the poem’s sixteen lines places a man and a woman in a romantic setting, as seen from the woman’s point of view. She is recollecting a meeting with a friend, and the mood is sorrowful, perhaps because of the music, which provides an emotional context as well. By mentioning the music, the poet hints at unspoken suffering. It is suggested by the music, or the music prompts sad memories, here unexpressed, in her own past. Abruptly, another detail is remembered. The second pair of lines uses the image of “oysters in ice,” whose smell reminded the poet of the sea. The couple is at dinner at a seaside restaurant—the title suggests a romantic time of day—and the memory is rich in sensory detail: the sound of sad music, the smell of the sea brought in by the oysters. The mood is bittersweet.

The second stanza continues the romantic moment, the poet recalling what her friend said and his simple gesture of touching her dress. The next two lines dwell on the peculiar quality of his touch, which the poet remembers as “unlike a caress.” The negative comparison interrupts the romantic mood that has so far been sustained. Its significance captures her attention for the moment as she begins stanza three. She compares the man’s touch to stroking a small, delicate creature—a cat, for example, or even a bird. Leaping further in an imaginative comparison, the next line compares the...

(The entire section is 522 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The primary devices of the poem are somewhat unconventional to the lyric. As the poem opens, it appears to be a love poem focusing on a fond recollection of a meeting between two lovers, but after the speaker mentions “Oysters in ice,” music ringing out with “inexpressible grief,” she focuses on the man’s seemingly casual gesture for five of the poem’s sixteen lines. The man’s comment that he is the poet’s “true friend” suggests that something other than love is in question or on his mind, perhaps only loyalty, not the passion of a lover. The poem’s drama, then, unfolds in a series of details that hint at something other than what is directly expressed in the poem. Juxtaposing images, the poem invites inference while seeming to deliver a simple recollection of a meeting between two friends, if not lovers. The poet remembers signs of emotions—sorrowful music, tranquil eyes—without appearing to feel any herself. Her attention seems to be deflected from any direct recognition of her own emotions toward more distant elements, letting the reader surmise rather than see.

The poem develops in a way that is reminiscent of the haiku, using juxtaposed images that create, by means of their interaction, a significant perception. The poem surprises the reader with its placement of detail and imaginative leaps. The third stanza illustrates these effects most clearly as the poet associates the man’s touch with stroking a cat, or a bird,...

(The entire section is 526 words.)