Things you should know An allusion is when one text refers to another. This is shown when the poet in stanza one refers to A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Stanza One Men were my buttresses, my castellated towers, the bowers where I took my rest. The best and worst of times were men: the peacocks and the cockatoos, the nightingales, the strutting pink flamingos. Buttress = support built on the outside of a wall to make them stronger Turrets and battlements like a castle bowers = a lady’s private room Metaphors that compare men to birds are used to show the different types of men the narrator recognises. See what types there are. This shows men to be decorative items. Here the first line suggests that the woman speaker feels safe and protected by men – this could refer to fatherly protection shown by men when she was younger. The second sentence alludes to A Tale of Two Cities. The poet is using metaphors to tell the reader about her opinions of men.
Stanza Two Men were my dolphins, my performing seals; my sailing-ships, the ballast in my hold. They were the rocking-horses prancing down the promenade, the bandstand where the music played. My hurdy-gurdy monkey-men. A ballast is something used to weigh down a ship so that it doesn’t topple over and capsize. A hurdy-gurdy is a music barrel Again, metaphors are used to show that men are seen as entertainment and a form of pleasure. The personal pronoun ‘my’ in the last line here suggests that the narrator is in control of these men. The alliteration of the ‘p’ and the catchy rhythm of ‘hurdy-gurdy men’ makes the men seem ridiculous
Stanza Three I was their queen. I sat enthroned before them, out of reach. We played at courtly love: the troubadour, the damsel and the peach. Courtly love was a medieval tradition were men admired women: they would write love poems and songs in her honour and acted like a slave towards the woman. The whole point was that the man never got the woman. A troubadour is a poet who wrote about courtly love A damsel is a woman (old fashioned word) ‘Peach’ here means the best of its kind although it has also been used in the past to describe the female genitals! This stanza sums up the narrator’s position – ‘I was their queen’. She is treated with respect and adored.
Stanza Four But after I was wedded, bedded, I became (yes, overnight) a toy, a plaything, little woman, wife, a bit of fluff. My husband clicked his fingers, called my bluff. The whole tone of the poem changes abruptly here – as soon as she is ‘wedded, bedded’ (internal rhyme) everything changes and she becomes reduced to demeaning roles (roles that show she isn’t respected). The use of brackets serves to highlight her surprise with the sudden change as though the reader is listening to her complain The speaker shows how insignificant a woman becomes when she is a ‘wife’ by mixing the word in with ‘bit of fluff’ and ‘toy’. Now that we have read the poem the title becomes ironic/sarcastic – men in the narrator’s opinion are not ‘great lords’
What should you notice? Relationships are seen without love but instead with control. In the first 11 lines the speaker is in control As soon as the speaker marries the husband is in control Occasional rhyme is used to draw attention to stereotypes that the narrator is mocking: ‘wedded/bedded’, ‘reach/peach’
Also… The poem uses imagery from an early age of ‘chivalry’ and romance to underline the reality of how women are treated once they are married. The poem looks at the relationships between men and women from a bitter and cynical point of view