A Lady by Amy Lowell

A Lady’ by Amy Lowell is a two stanza poem which is separated into one set of thirteen lines and one of four. Lowell has not chosen to structure this piece with either a rhyme or rhythm scheme. The text is written in free verse with a variety of end words, line lengths, and two stanzas of very different lengths. 

A reader should take note of the speaker and the intended listener of this piece. The speaker is a younger woman who uses the text to describe the appears of an older woman. The first stanza contains the young speaker’s impressions of the old listener and the second describes the actions the speaker would like to take after seeing this woman.

 Additionally, the first stanza was written almost entirely without the speaker referring to herself. The final four lines are dedicated to the opposite, she freely uses first-person pronouns. 

A Lady by Amy Lowell

 

Summary of A Lady

A Lady’ by Amy Lowell contains a speaker’s analysis of the life, appearance, and worth of an old woman.

The poem begins with the speaker telling her listener, an older woman, that she is both “beautiful and faded. “ She uses the next lines to compare the listener to an “old opera tune” and “sun-flooded silk.” The opera is out of date and suffering from a change in musical preference, but it is still lovely. This is emphasized by the fact it is played on a harpsichord.

The following lines are dedicated to how the woman smells. She carries on her person the scent of all her previous days. It is made real through a comparison to “sealed spice-jars.’ 

In the final quatrain, Lowell’s speaker explains how she will dedicate her “vigour” to the old woman. She refers to herself as a “new-minted penny” without intrinsic value or history. The speaker is willing to let her own naive, youthful “sparkle” entertain the older woman. 

 

Themes in A Lady

‘A Lady’ by Amy Lowell contains the theme of old age and the poet compares it to certain things of antiquity. The poet can see much more in an old person. In the poem, it seems that the person referred to as “you”, might be an acquaintance of the poet. It gives the poet utter pleasure when she thinks about the old tune “played upon a harpsichord”. After seeing the person, she gets a similar kind of pleasure. She sometimes refers to homely images, sometimes she chooses to be grand while describing the worth of the old person. The description and the images used in the poem hint that the poet is referring to an old woman.

However, the idea is old age does not bring drooping and disease-ridden pictures in the poet’s mind. She reveres an elderly woman’s naturally perished beauty as well as their valuable experience. Along with that she also pleases to be with them. In this way, Amy Lowell using the image of an old woman glorifies old-age as a whole in her poem.

 

Structure of A Lady

‘A Lady’ by Amy Lowell contains two stanzas. There are a total of 16 lines in the poem. The first stanza is longer than the second one and it contains 12 lines. This stanza reflects the main idea of the poem. The following stanza captures the poet’s reaction. There is not a specific rhyme scheme in the poem. There are several lines which tend to rhyme using an imperfect rhythm. However, it is for the sake of the poem’s dramatic flow.

The metrical structure of the poem is also unconventional. There is not any regularity in the syllable count. Some lines are longer than the lines adjacent to it. That’s why it is hard to decide what should be the major meter in the poem. Whatsoever, there are certain feet in the poem that are iambic and some are trochaic. The poem contains a happy coexistence of both. It makes the poem wonderful to read. Sometimes, this rhythm breaks too. But it’s for the best not for the worst.

 

Tone and Mood of A Lady

‘A Lady’ by Amy Lowell is written in a positive tone and the mood of the poem is also very pleasant. Although the poet talks about old-age, there are not any references to the stock images of it. Amy Lowell uses a direct and subjective tone while describing the inner beauty of the old woman. While providing the description the mood of the poem also heightens gradually. In the end, it reaches something spiritual and amusing.

The metaphors and images in the poem tell that the poet is actually using a tone of eulogy to make the mood of the poem grand. Yet, the poet does not lose touch with reality. She uses a realistic tone with her grand eloquence side by side to make this poem more appealing to the readers.

 

Analysis of A Lady

Stanza One

Lines 1-5

You are beautiful and faded 

Like an old opera tune 

Played upon a harpsichord; 

Or like the sun-flooded silks 

Of an eighteenth-century boudoir. 

The first stanza of ‘A Lady’ contains thirteen lines and begins with the speaker addressing her intended listener. As stated above, the majority of the lines in this stanza do not refer to the speaker at all. They are solely used to describe the appearance of the old woman 

In the first lines, the speaker tells the woman that she is “beautiful and faded.” These two things are not mutually exclusive. The speaker compares her appearance to the sound of “an old opera tune.” It is still as complex and melodic as when it was written, but it is out of date. 

This is emphasized by the fact that the tune is “Played upon a harpsichord.” The harpsichord was popular in the Renaissance and Baroque periods of music. Since then it has disappeared from common use. Nowadays, it is only played during performances of older music. 

In the next two lines, the woman is described through a second metaphor. This time she is compared to “silks” which have been damaged by the sun in a woman’s private sitting room, or “boudoir.” 

 

Lines 6- 13 

In your eyes 

Smoulder the fallen roses of out-lived minutes, 

And the perfume of your soul 

Is vague and suffusing, 

With the pungence of sealed spice-jars. 

Your half-tones delight me, 

And I grow mad with gazing 

At your blent colours. 

When the speaker looks into the woman’s eyes she can see the imprint of memory. The old woman’s past is still there, appearing to the speaker like “fallen roses.” The innumerable experiences of her life have mostly passed. There is more in her eyes than in her future. 

The second half of the stanza contains references to smell. There is the smell of roses, as well as that of “Sealed spice-jars.” Both the woman’s eyes and smell contain her history. It is all there for the speaker to interpret. 

In conclusion, the speaker refers to herself for the first time. She is experiencing the two sides of the woman, her “half-tones,” and enjoying what she senses. The old woman is made of so many “colours” the younger feels like she will go mad. 

A reader should take note of the fact that as this speaker is analyzing the woman she is not alarmed or at all bothered by the future she represents. The speaker is easily able to find beauty in age. 

 

Stanza Two 

My vigour is a new-minted penny, 

Which I cast at your feet. 

Gather it up from the dust, 

That its sparkle may amuse you. 

In the second stanza, which is only four lines, the speaker brings the narrative around to herself. It was clear from the first stanza that she does not feel worried about aging. This is emphasized in these lines with the speaker describing how she wishes to dedicate herself to helping the older woman. 

The help she is offering is not traditional in nature. She intends to “cast” herself at the woman’s “feet.” It is her “vigour” most of all she is helping to share. The younger woman realizes the benefit of her own position as, she states, “a new-minted penny.” 

In the final two lines of A Lady, she asks that the older woman “Gather” the penny up from the “dust” and let its “sparkle amuse” her. Lowell chose this metaphor to show the lack of worth in youth. It is nothing but “sparkle” and no more valuable than a penny when compared to the complexities of age. 

It is clear from these lines that the speaker deeply admires the older woman. She is looking at the person she might become one day and finding important meaning in all the experiences she will have. 

One should also note the contrast this ‘A Lady’ represents. Within modern society older women are generally valued less than younger. It is the youth of a woman who is often the defining factor of her worth. Lowell has chosen to turn this feature of life on its head and highlight the glorious parts of the age. 

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  • Avatar jimenez0523 says:

    where is the shift of tone?

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I’d say from “in your eyes” onwards. She still uses positive comments but her words could all have slight negative connotations. It’s very subtle.

  • Avatar Zoe says:

    What is the tone and mood of this poem?

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I would say it is upbeat and positive.

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