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
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”.
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.
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.