Last Updated September 5, 2023.
One of the main themes of the poem is sexual attraction. The speaker comments heavily on the alluring physical and spiritual beauty of the object of his attraction and the way her every action and movement allures him and makes him worship her more. She is physically beautiful with "full lips" and is lovely even "in her bones." Her spirit is entrancing as well, for she has a compassion and connection with all of God's creatures. When the birds "sigh," she communicates back with them in understanding. The speaker says his eyes are mesmerized by her body. Whether it be her "flowing knees," the movement of "one hip," or her "several parts" in perfect stillness, he is full of adoration and sexual longing. He finds joy in watching her, describing his wonder when he compares her to a "bright container" whose changing "shapes" hold him awe-struck.
Another theme that this poem reveals is the nature of dominance versus servitude. The speaker's attraction to this woman makes him a willing follower of her instructions. In many ways, she is his teacher. Some speculate that her teachings are on the art of making love. He humbly follows her instructions and, in doing so, finds himself a metaphorical slave to her attentions. He is clearly not in a position of equality with the object of his love, as she teaches him "turn and counter-turn, and stand." He obeys her wishes and accepts whatever attentions and responses she feels inclined to give. This can be seen when the speaker says he "nibbled meekly from her proffered hand." Words such as "nibbled" and "meekly" hint at the speaker's inferior position to his love interest. The subservience of his position in the relationship can also be seen when he describes himself as "poor," meaning he has no power to control himself when it comes to his love. He also mentions that he is "behind her for her pretty sake." This reveals that she prefers to be in a position of power, and the speaker willingly obeys. He sacrifices his own ego and identity to be what she wants him to be. This can be seen when he admits that he is a "martyr" to her will, giving up his own identity to please his love. His only goal is to worship and follow his love, as he says that he "lives[s] to learn her wanton ways." This clearly hints at the power that a woman can have over a lover, changing his very nature and making him abandon any ambitions but his desire to serve the woman who has captured his heart and receive her affections.