W William Wordsworth

She Was a Phantom of Delight by William Wordsworth

She Was a Phantom of Delight was written in 1803 and published in 1807. It is said that William Wordsworth wrote this poem for his wife, Mary Hutchinson. Later in his life, Wordsworth said about ‘She Was a Phantom of Delight: “it was written from my heart”. The poem is a lyrical ballad with an AABBCCDDEE rhyme scheme. She was a Phantom of delight has three stanzas with ten lines each, and the metre is iambic tetrameter. The tone of the poem is calm and amorous. She Was a Phantom of Delight doesn’t describe a particular setting, as it focuses on hyperbolic descriptions made by the lyrical voice. Furthermore, Wordsworth utilizes alliteration in order to create an aural effect and to emphasize the softness of the woman that the lyrical voice depicts.

The poem narrates three moments in the relationship between the lyrical voice and the woman he/she refers to in the poem: the moment when they first met, how they got to know each other better, and the occurrences that took place after their marriage.


She Was a Phantom of Delight Analysis

First Stanza

She was a Phantom of delight

When first she gleamed upon my sight;

A lovely Apparition, sent

To be a moment’s ornament;

Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;

Like Twilight’s, too, her dusky hair;

But all things else about her drawn

From May-time and the cheerful Dawn;

A dancing Shape, an Image gay,

To haunt, to startle, and way-lay.

The first stanza describes a woman and how the lyrical voice met her. The poem starts by saying that this woman “was a Phantom of delight”. This sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as the first line characterizes the woman with a beauty of unreal qualities. After this strong statement, the lyrical voice will narrate how he/she first met her: “When first she gleamed upon my sight”. This great beauty is emphasized when she is described as a “lovely Apparition”. Notice how the unreal qualities appear once again, as she is described as something out of the human world. She is also sent “To be a moment’s ornament”. Furthermore, she is depicted in an ethereal way as she is compared to stars and the twilight (“Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;/Like Twilight’s, too, her dusky hair”). Finally, the lyrical voice compares her to “the cheerful Dawn” and believes that she has been sent to him/her (To haunt, to startle, and way-lay”). Nevertheless, the unreal characteristics of this woman are followed by other very human qualities like “cheerful”, “gay”, and “dancing”.


Second Stanza

I saw her upon nearer view,

A Spirit, yet a Woman too!

Her household motions light and free,

And steps of virgin-liberty;

A countenance in which did meet

Sweet records, promises as sweet;

A Creature not too bright or good

For human nature’s daily food;

For transient sorrows, simple wiles,

Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles.

The second stanza narrates how the lyrical voice gets to know this woman better. Again, it is clear that the lyrical voice talks about him/her and exposes his/her feelings and experiences (“I saw her upon nearer view”). In this second stanza, the woman grows closer to the lyrical voice as he/she gets a “nearer view”. She is still described as unreal (“A Spirit”), but the lyrical voice is aware of her human qualities too (“yet a Woman too!”).The lyrical voice depicts her as a gentle and soft housewife (“Her household motions light and free,/And steps of virgin-liberty”). Now, the woman has human qualities: she is a “Creature” but “not too bright or good”. The image of the woman is now portrayed in a more realistic way, as she experiments “human nature’s daily food” (“For transient sorrows, simple wiles,/Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears and smiles”).  As in the previous stanza, the lyrical voice has a reverential tone that, with the regular rhyme and metre, emphasizes the hyperbolic descriptions towards the woman. In these first two stanzas, notice how the lyrical voice uses references to nature when he/she wants to explain the woman’s unreachable qualities.


Third Stanza

And now I see with eye serene

The very pulse of the machine;

A Being breathing thoughtful breath,

A Traveller between life and death;

The reason firm, the temperate will,

Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;

A perfect Woman, nobly planned,

To warn, to comfort, and command;

And yet a Spirit still, and bright

With something of angelic light.

The final stanza describes how the lyrical voice sees the woman after spending more time with her. The lyrical voice says that he/she can “see with eye serene”, meaning that he/she feels that now he/she can see her in a more factual way. She is described as a machine: she can work. but she is still alive (“A Being breathing thoughtful breath,/A Traveller between life and death”). Moreover, she is seen as a “perfect Woman” that is balanced and does everything in the right manner (“The reason firm, the temperate will,/Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill”). The poem ends by a final enumeration of her duties, abilities and characteristics: “To warn, to comfort, and command;/And yet a Spirit still, and bright/With something of angelic light”.


About William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth was born in 1770 and died in 1850. He was an English poet and one of the best known figures of the Romantic period. Alongside Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth wrote Lyrical Ballads, and the publication of this collection launched the Romantic Age in English literature in 1798. However, Wordsworth’s most important work is said to be The Prelude, a semi-autobiographical poem that he wrote in his youth. This poem was revised several times, and William Wordsworth worked on it during his whole life. The Prelude was published posthumously.

As a central figure of the Romantic Movement, William Wordsworth focused his poetry on the personification of nature and its relationship with men. Moreover, his poems describe intense emotions; these are the main source of his aesthetic experience. Also, past and nature are meant to be glorified by the use of spontaneous language.

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Julieta has a BA and a MA in Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team back in May 2017. She has a great passion for poetry and literature and works as a teacher and researcher at Universidad de Buenos Aires.
  • Edward Rendall says:

    I had never seen this poem before. It describes perfectly and beautifully my own thoughts about my wife.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      I feel that way about the song “she hates me” by Puddle of Mudd!

  • This saved me
    I scored well in my exams

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      That’s fabulous. Well done!

  • Just a quick note to highlight one error in this analysis.

    As Wordsworth employs standard punctuation – comma, hyphen, colon, period – throughout the poem, the following lines should be read as one statement:

    A Creature not too bright or good
    For human nature’s daily food;

    Furthermore, the usage of ‘too’ synonymous with ‘very’ is normally observed in casual spoken English, particularly in American English. Neither Wordsworth nor any other 18th or 19th century British poet would use the word in this manner as is implied by the author here.

    In summary, he’s telling us that this beautiful, luminous woman is nonetheless grounded and in touch with everyday emotions and the ‘human condition’ i.e. the things that make regular life and love what it is:

    …transient sorrows, simple wiles,
    Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles.

    This is important because it rebalances the characterisation of Mary Wordsworth from his earlier allusions in the poem to an ‘apparition’ and ‘spirit’. The Proto-Indo-European root of ‘bright’ means “to gleam, whiten” and in other languages it is connected to daybreak and radiance, all of which are connected to otherworldliness or spirituality. Wordsworth had known Mary from childhood and as such knew she was very much of this world, for which he loved her all the more : )

    Am I a pedant? Possibly. Do these little things matter? Most definitely.

    Paddy Cambiata

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Well pedantic Paddy that was an excellent and in depth critique! I don’t suppose you have any free time and fancy a writing gig? Our team could use a mind as astute as yours!

  • This is great for my college report. Thanks : )

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Glad we have helped.

  • This is very helpful for my college report. Thanks : )

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Glad we could help.

  • This is very helpful for my college report. Thanks : )

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      You’re welcome.

  • Super helpful, thanks for doing this

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      No problem. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • >

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