In ‘Myself’ Harriet Monroe explores themes of self-perception and self-empowerment, as well as myth and legend. The poem contains a wide variety of historical and mythical references. It encourages the reader to consider both the character of the speaker and the character traits of all those she relates herself to. The mood and tone are both powerful and determined.
Summary of Myself
The poem takes the reader through a variety of comparisons in which the speaker relates herself to figures from the Bible, such as Mary, Judith, and Deborah. She also finds dramatic and deeply tragic connections to loss and love as seen through Cleopatra and Antony. The final stanzas see the speaker depicting herself as poor, rich, wise, and youthful. She has within her connections to all ways of being.
Structure of Myself
‘Myself’ by Harriet Monroe is a six stanza poem that’s separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD, changing end sounds as the poem progresses.
There are also examples of half-rhyme in this poem as well. Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For example, “I” and “dies” in stanza six and “veiled” and “undefiled” in line two of stanza five.
Poetic Techniques in Myself
Monroe makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Myself’. These include caesura, alliteration, and enjambment. The first, caesura, occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text.
A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might proceed an important turn or transition in the text. The first line of the poem is a solid example. It reads: “What am I? I am Earth the mother”. Or, for another example, a reader can look to line three of the second stanza. It reads: “For knowledge; nor begrudged the price”.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For instance, “braving” and “begrudged” in stanza two and “brave bliss” in stanza six.
Monroe also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. The reader can see examples in stanza one where “And” begins two lines and in stanza three where “I” starts two lines.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are several examples in this piece, including the transitions between lines two and three of the second stanza and lines three and four of the sixth.
Analysis of Myself
What am I? I am Earth the mother,
With all her nebulous memories;
And the young Day, and Night her brother,
And every god that was and is.
In the first stanza of ‘Myself,’ the speaker asks the question “What am I?” This frames the entire poem. Every line that follows is in response to that question. The first thing she determines about herself is that she is “Earth the mother”. She comes from the earth, and just like earth she has “Day, and Night” as her brother as well as “every god that was and is”. She is connected to the planet in a way that relates to the traditional comparison of women to the fertile planet.
As Eve I walked in paradise,
Dreaming of nations, braving death
For knowledge; nor begrudged the price
When the first baby first drew breath.
Next, she refers to herself as someone who walks as Eve did in Paradise. She has the same dreams. Her mind is turned towards “nations” and “knowledge”. She’s willing to brave death, or damnation, in order to better herself. The next phrase relates to Eve’s punishment. After eating from the tree she was damned to the pains of childbirth. Monroe speaks to this directly, saying that when she suffered the same pain she knew that it was worth the cost.
I sang Deborah’s triumph song;
I struck the foe with Judith’s sword;
‘Twas I who to the angel said,
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord!”
The first line of the third stanza of ‘Myself’ refers to Deborah and the Song of Deborah. The latter is a victory him sung by the woman after the defeat of the Canaanites by the tribes of Israel. Next, she brings in another Biblical figure, Judith. She is best known for slaying Holofernes, an Assyrian general. The speaker is both of these figures, she’s able to channel their determination and power. The last line of this stanza casts the speaker as Mary. She is the one who said to the angel “Behold the handmaid of the Lord”. The speaker has found favor with God in the same way that Mary did. She was chosen to do his work on earth.
I was fair Helen, she for whom
A nation was content to die;
And Cleopatra, in whose doom
The world went down with Antony.
The fourth stanza of ‘Myself’ moves away from the Bible and towards Greek mythology and legend. She speaks of Helen of Troy, the beauty willingly taken from her husband in the Iliad by Prince Paris. It was over her that the Trojan war began. A whole nation, or as is the case, two nations, were willing to die for her. The next two lines speak about Antony and Cleopatra and their tragic end.
I am the harlot in the street,
And the veiled nun all undefiled;
In me must queen and beggar meet,
Wise age hark to the little child.
The fifth stanza of ‘Myself’ draws more general comparisons and shows how deep the speaker’s understanding of herself, and the world, goes. She feels in herself a connection to the harlot and the veiled nun. These two are juxtaposed and connected to the speaker’s inner complexity. It is in her that “queen and beggar meet”. She is wise and young at the same time.
I am the life that ever is,
And the new glory that shall be;
The pain that dies, and the brave bliss
That mounts to immortality
The last stanza of ‘Myself’ states that the speaker is “life that ever is / And the new glory that shall be”. She is the past, present, and future. She has in her ties to the larger world, happiness and sorrow, death, and bliss.