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.)