Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 391
The woman referred to by the poem's title is, apparently, everything to the speaker of the poem. They evidently have a deep emotional connection as well as an intense physical and sexual connection. Of her, he initially says,
I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
In other words, this woman is so beautiful to him that he believes her beauty to go as deep as her bones; it is not merely superficial skin-deep beauty but, rather, the kind of beauty that is both external and internal. Even creatures in nature seem to recognize this, and she has some kind of communion with them. That being said, however, she must be incredibly physically beautiful, as she is referred to as a "bright container" that can contain wonderful and miraculous different shapes. Further, of her internal beauty, he says,
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek . . .
Thus, most human beings are not even capable of describing her virtues, but only the gods could do so faithfully. Or, it is possible that poets who have studied the ancients could handle it. She is elevated, however, to the mythic level, as though her beauty is the stuff of legend, like that of Helen of Troy.
Moreover, the speaker says,
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand;
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin . . .
Here, he seems to detail their sexual relationship to some degree. He is drawn to her skin, to the things that she can and does teach him, and they seem quite compatible sexually. He says that he "nibbled meekly from her proffered hand," as though he is like an animal with her, she leading him and he following her. Even her knees seem to "dazzle" his eyes.
He so enjoys his time with her that he "count[s] eternity in days"—despite knowing that he will have all the time in the world with her, he wants to enjoy each single day of it. He measures time, he says, not by days but "by how a body sways." He seems to live for her, for her beauty and her body and her virtues.
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