‘Beauty’ speaks on themes of obsession, the value of beauty, and strength. Throughout the text, Untermeyer makes use of a calm, direct tone while crafting a mood that is determined and strong.
Within the poem, the speaker addresses her previous obsession with Beauty and her desire to follow it anywhere it went. Despite her steady devotion, she never got anything in return. She was always left worse off than when she started. Now, she’s decided, she is going to turn the tables and force Beauty to follow her for the rest of the time.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Beauty’ by Louis Untermeyer is a five stanza poem that’s separated into uneven sets of lines, ranging from three to five. Untermeyer did not choose to give these pieces a specific rhyme scheme, but there are several moments of both full and half-rhyme within the text. The former is seen through repetition at the end of lines. For example, “you” end three of the lines, and “longer” ends two more. This technique is known as epistrophe.
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, “longer” and “shoulder” at the ends of lines one and two of the second stanza and “flesh” and “breath” at the ends of lines two and three of the third. There are also examples, as there are in most poetic works, of assonance and consonance within the text itself. For example, “tired” and “wild” in the middle of lines three and four of the first stanza and “my” and “side” in line four of the third stanza.
Untermeyer makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Beauty’. These include alliteration, personification, enjambment, and repetition. The latter, repetition, is seen through the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. For example, “you” and “your” are used repetitively throughout the poem. This signals to the reader the poem is in the second person. The speaker is addressing “Beauty”.
By addressing “Beauty” as she does, and giving it human characteristics and abilities, Untermeyer is utilizing personification. This happens whenever a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “trickster, trifler” in line three of the second stanza and “Wanton” and “weak” in that same line.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. When a line is cut off before its natural stopping point, this is when enjambment occurs. 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 a few examples within ‘Beauty’. These include the transition between lines four and five of the second stanza and three and four of the fifth stanza.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
You shall not lead me, Beauty —
Tired of breaking my heart following a shifting light.
In the first stanza of ‘Beauty,’ the speaker begins by using personification and addressing “Beauty” as a being, one that has the ability to make choices and influence the world as a human being can. She tells this force that she’s no longer going to stumble after it through the woods on “never-ending quests”. She looks back on her history and knows that her past weakness when it came to beautiful things and the pursuit of them has not benefited her. The speaker concludes this stanza by saying that she’s not going to willingly break her heart any longer. The “beauty” in these lines could be embodied by a romantic partner or a more general concept of a perfect life.
Beauty, you shall fly before me no longer;
But furious dreams and shattering visions.
In the next four lines of ‘Beauty’, the speaker readdresses the force and tells it that she will no longer allow it to “fly” before her. It won’t control where the speaker goes and how fast she gets there. The speaker is taking back control over her own life. She knows this is the right decision as all Beauty does as it flies is a trick and controls her. It trifles with her life and demands everything she has to give.
Rather than have her devotion returned to her, the speaker is left with nothing but “furious dreams and shattering visions”. The violence in this imagery is intentional. It conveys the speaker’s irritation and rage with the way she has been treated by her own pursuit of Beauty.
Beauty, I shall have you —
You will press by my side wherever I go.
The third stanza tells Beauty that things are about to change. It is going to start pursuing the speaker wherever she goes. She’s going to live the kind of life that attracts Beauty to her and makes it obsess over her every move just as she used to.
Even in the muddy squalor and the thick welter of ugliness
And, try as I will, you will never be shaken off.
Beauty will act just like the speaker used to. It’s going to follow her into “muddy squalor” and “ugliness”. When the speaker turns her back on Beauty it’s going to get desperate, doing everything it can to bring the speaker back to its side. These tactics will not work.
Beauty, I know you now —
And you will follow after!
In the last four lines of ‘Beauty’ the speaker adds that it “will follow after” her forever. As she runs recklessly, Beauty will be on her heels. She’ll now have control of the situation like she never did before. Her longing and “thirst” for the force is going to disappear.