Michael Ondaatje

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Compare the personas in Michael Ondaatje's "Elizabeth" and Elizabeth I's "When I was Fair and Young".

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The persona in Michael Ondaatje's "Elizabeth" experiences two significant transitions. She begins as a happy, pampered young girl who is joyful and carefree as she does commonplace things and goes to typical places with her father: they pick apples with Uncle Jack and they go to the zoo with Mrs. Kelly (scowling in the background). During these escapades, UncleJack and Daddy are building Elizabeth's skills and courage as well as entertaining her:

Catch, my Uncle Jack said
and oh I caught this huge apple

they put a snake around my neck
and it crawled down the front of my dress

The first transition comes when the poem introduces Tom, with whom Elizabeth has a delicately written about romance: "quick urgent love ... ." Here, Elizabeth leaves joyful, carefree childhood behind and enters the awe inspiring wonderment of young adulthood: "I kept his love in my palm ... ."

The second transition comes immediately after. Elizabeth undergoes the traumatic experience of witnessing the execution of Tom, during which he mimics the motions of "the [dance] steps of France," which he taught her while

turning
with the rhythm of the sun on the warped branches,

This transition leads to her end state, that of being a withdrawn woman who is content with other, lesser romantic involvement with "white young Essex" and the silent comfort of her "nimble rhymes."

By contrast, the persona in "When I was Fair and Young"--questionably authored by Queen Elizabeth I--is speaking as a mature woman who has already gone through the transitions written of by Ondaatje. In this shorter poem with repeated refrain, Elizabeth is reflecting back on her choice to reject all offers of marriage, a choice Ondaatje credits to her love for and traumatic loss of Tom. Elizabeth’s conclusion is that in her mature age, now no longer "fair and young," thus no longer sought after, she regrets her pride in saying to all suitors:

Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.

When he had spake these words such change grew in my breast,
That neither night nor day I could take any rest.
Then, lo!  I did repent, that I had said before
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.

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Compare the two personnas in the poem "Elizabeth" by Michael Ondaatje and "When I was Fair and Young" by Elizabeth I.

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How is Elizabeth I portrayed in the poem "Elizabeth" by Michael Ondaatje and in the poem "When I was Fair and Young" by Elizabeth I?

In "Elizabeth I," by Michael Ondaatje, Elizabeth socializes in the prestigious circles. Finding herself in such a regal state is not always favorable. Witnessing the execution of close friends is often part of the royal life.

Life is precious, but small details are even more to be cherished when you live a life of royalty. Privacy is never taken for granted. A saltless fishy kiss is a moving experience.

Details are the meaning of life. Playing catch with Dad is the highlight of one's day, especially since the ball is really an apple, an apple the color of Mrs. Kelly's burn. This ordinary game of catch is extraordinary when private moments are often nonexistant.

In "When I Was Fair and Young" by Elizabeth I, again, the simple things in life are often what make the best memories. The simple favor upon Elizabeth's life makes her a popular favorite among the pining men who would beg to have an opportunity to be with her.

Ekizabeth has the advantage of picking and choosing and then choosing none, until she confronts Venus' son, a sheer human god. He is the absolute fantasy of all fantasies.

No doubt, being royal has its perks. Then again, it has its extreme disadvantages. Nonetheless, the simple things in life are cherished. Nothing is taken for granted.                            

 

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