Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 355
I Knew a Woman is a highly sensual poem written in adoration of a man's beloved. Therefore, the two characters are the narrator and the woman whom he praises.
We know that this woman fascinates the narrator with her every movement and curve. He relates that "when she moved, she moved more ways than one," creating an image of confidence and grace. She seems to have some sexual experience herself in the lines, "How well her wishes went!" followed by images of this woman stroking the narrator, teaching him a few "turns" of her own, and having the narrator nibbling from her hand. Interestingly, she seems to be the one in control through this imagery. The word choice of "nibbling" instead of eating combined with the adverb "meekly" suggests that the woman is the one in charge of this scene, having her wishes fulfilled exactly as she desires. But the narrator doesn't just admire her "full lips" and "flowing knees." He also comments that she is "lovely in her bones." This could be another sexual reference, but it could also suggest that she is more than physically captivating. She seems to possess inner beauty and a personality that captivates the narrator as well. Later in the first stanza, the narrator comments on her "choice virtues" which only gods should speak of. The narrator admires this woman on every level. She fulfills him physically and mentally.
The other character, of course, is the narrator. Besides his adoration of this woman, the reader knows that he is willing to be led by this woman. In several places, we see his willingness to follow her lead. Even "coming behind her" is only for "her pretty sake," suggesting that he is in a position of submission. The narrator is not a young man, commenting on his "old bones" which only exist to learn the ways of this woman. (Interestingly, the idea of "bones" both begins and ends the poem—first in reference to the woman and at the end referring to himself. This really brings the poem full circle and makes the two seem to be a joined pair.)