‘A Certain Lady’ is a clever and moving poem by Dorothy Parker. In the text, Parker uses clear and easy to understand language, allowing her speaker to express herself without engaging any sort of elevated facade (unlike she does when she’s talking to the person she loves). Her emotional state is clearly presented, and readers are left to wonder what they’d do in the same situation, one that has surely existed for centuries and will continue to do so into the future.
Explore A Certain Lady
Summary of A Certain Lady
In both stanzas of ‘A Certain Lady,’ the speaker admits that she puts on a facade whenever the person she loves comes around. She wants this person to spend as much time as possible with her, so she lets them tell her about the exploits they engage in. This person brags about the women they’ve been with and is completely blind to the fact that she cares so much for them. She hides her sorrows until after they’re gone.
In ‘A Certain Lady, ’ Parker engages primarily with the theme of unrequited love. Her speaker describes the emotional nature of her relationship with the person she loves and the complex facade she has to put on so as to not drive them away. If she showed her true self and her true emotions, it’s clear that she believes that this person would reject her, and that’s not something she can handle. Instead, she suffers through stories of their sexual exploits with other women pretending to be entertained by them.
Structure and Form
‘A Certain Lady’ by Dorothy Parker is a two stanza poem that is separated into sets of twelve lines. These lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD, changing end sounds as the lines and stanzas progress. The poet also chose to structure the poem in the most common metrical patterns used in English poetry, iambic pentameter. This refers to the number of beats per line and where the stresses occur. In this case, the majority of the lines contain five sets of two beats for a total of ten syllables. The first of each pair of beats is unstressed, and the second beat is stressed. There are a few moments in which the stresses rearrange themselves, though. Plus, the last line of each stanza is much shorter than the others, with only four beats, or two sets of two.
Parker makes use of several literary devices in ‘A Certain Lady.’ These include but are not limited to imagery, anaphora, and caesura. The latter refers to pauses that a poet inserts into the middle of lines. These can be created either through pauses in the meter or through punctuation. For example, line seven of the first stanza reads: “And you laugh back, nor can you ever see,” or line seven of the second stanza: “Thus do you want me — marveling, gay, and true.”
Anaphora is a type of repetition, one that occurs when the poet repeats a word or phrase multiple times at the beginning of lines. For example, “And” starts ten lines in the poem. Additionally, readers should note, “Oh, I can,” which starts the first line of both stanzas.
Imagery is an important device that occurs when the poet uses vibrant details and interesting phrases that are meant to engage a reader’s senses and imagination. For example, these lines from stanza one: “And drink your rushing words with eager lips, / And paint my mouth for you a fragrant red.”
Analysis of A Certain Lady
Oh, I can smile for you, and tilt my head,
And drink your rushing words with eager lips,
And paint my mouth for you a fragrant red,
That I am gay as morning, light as snow,
And all the straining things within my heart
You’ll never know.
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker starts to allude to the nature of the relationship she has with the person she loves. She describes her own appearance and how this person sees her compared to how she actually feels inside. While this person talks about their exploits with other women, she sits and laughs, acting as though she’s “light as snow” and “gay as the morning” These similes suggest that she’s actually neither of these things. She isn’t happy or entertained by this person’s stories. She’s putting on this facade so that this person will never know the “straining things” inside her heart. She suffers when she hears what this person does with others.
All the while, she smiles and tilts her head and acts like many women of her time, or for that matter, any time might act when trying to appear relaxed and happy.
Oh, I can laugh and listen, when we meet,
And you bring tales of fresh adventurings, —
Of ladies delicately indiscreet,
Of lingering hands, and gently whispered things.
And what goes on, my love, while you’re away,
You’ll never know.
The following stanza is quite similar to the first. There are some examples of repetition in these lines when the poet repeats words like “Oh, I can” at the start of the poem, as well as the use of “And” at the beginning of lines. The speaker explains how she might laugh and listen when the person she loves describes the various adventures they’ve gotten up to with “ladies delicately indiscreet,” but that’s not how she truly feels. She only acts this way so that this person will continue to regard her in a positive light. They continue to come back to her to tell her of their “late delights.” It’s through this odd relationship that she’s able to stick close to this person.
Despite the time they spend together, this person doesn’t seem to have any idea how hurt the speaker is by these stories. They have no idea what “goes on” while they’re “away.” This suggests that as soon as this person leaves, the speaker is overcome with sorrow and lets her true emotions show.
Readers who enjoyed ‘A Certain Lady’ should also consider reading some of Dorothy Parker’s other poems. For example:
- ‘The Choice’ – initially appears to be a love sonnet, but as the poem progresses,, she adds a cynical and witty twist.
- ‘One Perfect Rose’ – was published in 1926 that alludes to the speaker’s exhaustion with the tired cliches of love. She wants more out of life that these cliches can give her.
- ‘A Dream Lies Dead’ – is a sonnet in which the poet describes the process of a dream’s death and the emotions of those who are watching on as the dream falls apart.