The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

An eighteenth century Englishwoman walks through an elegantly patterned garden. The carefully arranged garden paths and flower beds cause her to reflect that her society has similarly arranged her, seeing to it that she will passively endure her stiff, brocaded gown, her powdered hair, and a jewelled fan after the fashion of the day. Although her pink and silver gown and high-heeled ribboned shoes are decorative, the woman feels imprisoned, sealed off from the softness and passion of her heart, her true self.

At first she feels that both she and the flowers are locked into rigid patterns, but she begins to realize that her situation is mocked by the wider liberty of nature. Inspired by the greater freedom of the flowers and trees, she passes a marble fountain and sees herself bathing nude in the basin, all the while imagining that her lover is hiding in the nearby hedge, observing her. Continuing the fantasy, she imagines the water sliding over her body as would her lover’s hand. The sensuality of summer makes her wish to shed her restrictive, conventionally feminine clothing for a newly liberated body whose nudity expresses a more desirable combination of pink and silver.

She imagines herself running fluidly through the maze of paths, laughing, pursued by her lover, who will eventually catch and embrace her, the buttons of his military uniform pressing sensuously against her flesh, allowing her to achieve the erotic release she has been...

(The entire section is 496 words.)