In this poem, James Elroy Flecker uses a speaker to personify Opportunity in a way that allows readers to understand the importance of seizing opportunity when one sees it. He also speaks through Opportunity as though the attribute were a woman. This woman, Opportunity, describes herself to the speaker in such a way that the speaker as well as the readers understand the author’s views and thoughts on Opportunity and the importance of seizing it when it presents itself.
‘But who art thou, with curious beauty graced,
O woman, stamped with some bright heavenly seal
Why go thy feet on wings, and in such haste?’
‘I am that maid whose secret few may steal,
Called Opportunity. I hasten by
Because my feet are treading on a wheel,
The first stanza of this poem reveals the use of personification to portray Opportunity as a woman. This tactic has been used in many poems throughout the generations in order to give life to a quality. The Hebrew Proverbs speak of Wisdom as a woman, and encourages all to seek her. This tactic allows readers to create a more real and vivid picture of what opportunity really is. To describe the quality as a woman allows the quality to take on human traits which readers can understand and identify with. The speaker does not reveal that this woman is Opportunity until near the end of this stanza. He merely describes a woman- a beautiful woman, described as one “with curious beauty graced”. Her beauty, thus, is not the only stunning feature about her. She is also described as “curious”. This peaks the reader’s interest immediately. The speaker then describes this woman as “stamped with some bright heavenly seal”. This reveals that the woman is not an ordinary human being, but someone who wears the very seal of heaven. The speaker then addresses the woman, asking her, “Why go thy feet on wings, and in such haste?” It becomes clear that this woman, whomever she is, is light on her feet and is running quickly away. She stops to answer him, however, saying, “I am that main whose secret few may steal, called Opportunity”. This reveals the author’s belief that there is a secret to opportunity, and only a few find it. The woman, Opportunity, then further explains that the reason she “hasten[s] by” is “because [her] feet are treading on a wheel”. This gives the reader the idea that while she is running quickly, she is on a wheel so she isn’t really going anywhere.
Being more swift to run than birds to fly.
And rightly on my feet my wings I wear,
To blind the sight of those who track and spy;
Rightly in front I hold my scattered hair
To veil my face, and down my breast to fall,
Lest men should know my name when I am there;
The woman, Opportunity, continues to describe to the speaker her reasons for running so quickly. She has already explained that she runs on a wheel, and it seems strange to the reader that she should run so quickly, knowing full well that her feet are on a wheel and she is not gaining any ground. However, she has her reasoning for running on the wheel. She describes herself as “more swift to run than birds to fly” and explains that the reason she wears wings on her feet is to “blind the sight of those who track and spy”. Thus, she admits that she is trying to confuse those who are looking for her. She believes that if her feet are so swift that they cannot be seen, she may be able to blind those who search for her. She then says that she keeps her “scattered hair” in front of her “to veil [her] face” from onlookers. She explains that she does this, “lest men should know [her] name when [she is] there”. This reveals her intense desire not to be discovered. Suddenly, Opportunity is becoming more and more clear to the reader. Is is obvious that the author intends to communicate the message that Opportunity is always there, but often goes unrecognized because she moves and changes so quickly, and always keeps her face hidden.
And leave behind my back no wisp at all
For eager folk to clutch, what time I glide
So near, and turn, and pass beyond recall.’
The woman continues to describe that she does not leave anything behind her to give people a clue that she has been there. She admits that in her wheel, she is near to people, near enough for “folk to clutch” her when she glides by. She admits that she is sometimes “so near” and she will “turn and pass” by them, but she is “beyond recall” once she has evaded their notice. This description of herself continues to relay the message intended. Opportunity is near, around every corner, always changing, but always near.
‘Tell me; who is that Figure at thy side?’
‘Penitence. Mark this well that by decree
Who lets me go must keep her for his bride.
The woman then introduces another “figure” that seems to by at the side of the speaker. That figure, she names “Penitence”. This foreshadows that the speaker is soon to regret something. The woman asks the speaker, essentially, to “mark” her words when she makes him a promise, saying, “Who lets me go must keep her for his bride”. “Her” refers to Pentinence. The term “bride” is used to convey an important message. The woman, Opportunity, is telling the speaker that if he lets go of her [Opportunity] he will have no other choice but to wed Penitence and thus keep regret forever by his side. These words are strong and moving. There seems to be a great penalty for failing to seize Opportunity when she makes herself available to be seized…and yet she has herself admitted that she is purposely evasive, disguised, and swift. Thus, the one who sees Opportunity must snatch her up quickly, before she disappears, and he is left to be wedded to Penitence instead.
And thou hast spent much time in talk with me
Busied with thoughts and fancies vainly grand,
Nor hast remarked, O fool, neither dost see
How lightly I have fled beneath thy hand.’
In this stanza, the woman, Opportunity, tells the man to whom she has been speaking that he has waited too long already. She tells him that he “hast spent much time in talk” with her, when she should have been grabbing a hold of her. She accuses him of having been too “busied with thoughts and fancies vainly grand”. The word “vainly” suggests that his thoughts and fancies about Opportunity have all been pointless, and overly “grand”. She then reveals to the speaker and to the reader that the speaker has missed his chance to grab Opportunity and keep her. She calls him a “fool” because he didn’t see or notice “how lightly [she] ha[s] fled beneath [his] hand”. It becomes clear that in the time the speaker spend talking with Opportunity, even though she has answered all of his questions, she has still managed to escape him during the time that he was thinking about all of the grand things he might do now that he had found Opportunity.