The role of the woman in Wordsworth`s "She is a Phantom of Delight"

Essay, 2001

5 Pages, Grade: 2,3 (B)


The role of the Female in Wordsworth’s poem She was a phantom of delight

We are quite used to read poetry about women, because writing about and for women has a long history. Already in ancient times - I especially think about Roman poetry (e.g. Ovid, Sallust) - women were one of the major themes poets wrote about. William Wordsworth’s relationship poem She was a phantom of delight is also about a woman. The Romanticist describes here in three stanzas with ten lines each a person, which is obviously of female gender. Therefore I want to discuss in my essay what role this woman played in Wordsworth’s life. I am going to face the questions whether she was familiar to him or a stranger, if he was in love with her or if the relation was of rather paternal feelings. I am going to proceed chronologically, which means that I will work out relevant features for my conclusion firstly in the first stanza, thereafter I will work with the medial one and then finish with the last stanza.

The first stanza is written in past tense, which indicates to the reader that the lyrical I - supposedly Wordsworth himself - speaks about his own past and knows the woman therefore longer. This thesis is strengthened when the author talks about “From May-time and the chearful Dawn”(l. 8) because both nouns indicate the youth of the femme at that time. “May-time” stands symbolically for the spring, which is the beginning of the year, and it stands also for beauty, because it was used to be seen as the most beautiful month in the year (e.g. in Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May”[l. 3]). “Dawn“ can stand for youth, too, because it is the beginning of a new day.

My thesis that the woman he talks about is still a girl in the first stanza is also supported by the last two lines of the poem. Wordsworth tells us here, that she is “A dancing Shape, an Image gay, to haunt, to startle, and way-lay.” (l. 9f). I think that this shows us that he used to play “Hide and seek” with her those days, because the Enumeration in line 10 contents exactly the kind of things you do when you play children’s games like the ones mentioned before.

Another thing to be seen in the first stanza is that the woman/girl Wordsworth describes is at that very moment supernaturally beautiful to him. He describes her as a “Phantom of delight” (l.1), a “lovely apparition” (l. 3), a “moment’s ornament”(l. 4), all of which testify not only her beauty but, in my opinion, also the very strong positive feelings the lyrical I has towards her. He compares her eyes with “stars of Twilight” (l. 5), and even fortifies this by using a Repetition comparing her hair with twilight, too.

Although the second stanza is, like the first one, written in past tense, we recognize right at it’s beginning, that the girl is “yet a Woman” (l.12). This statement tells us that she had to be a girl in the first stanza, and it shows us that the first two stanzas are chronologically ordered.

He sees “her upon nearer view” (l. 11) now which could mean that he got married to her, because you could only have a closer look at women at that time when you were either married to her, or when she was a member of your family. In the early years of the 19th century, which was the time this poem was written, the society was still based on religious morality and therefore I think, that this line indicates a very close relationship on a rather familiar level. Another argument supporting the thesis that this woman was among Wordsworth’s closest relations is that he knows how her household looks like, which he describes in a positive way, too (l. 13f).

But there is something changing in how the lyrical I sees the woman in the second stanza, because she is not longer a supernatural being like in stanza one. He sees her now as a “Creature not too bright or good For human’s natures daily food;” (l. 17f), which is a more of realistic than a romantic point of view. This change can be explained by seeing that the author seems to have had some bad experiences with her, too, to be seen in the Enumeration in line 19f when he talks not only about positive things which happened, but also about slightly negative ones e.g. “transient sorrows, simple wiles”, “blame” and “tears”. It seems to me that the lyrical I has recognized during his relationship with this phantom, that she is a human being who commits mistakes and is not perfect, too.

The last stanza is written in the present tense and Wordsworth shows us with the word “now” in the first line of this stanza even more obviously that it plays in the lyrical I’s present. On seeing this we recognize, that the poem describes the relationship between the two protagonists, namely the lyrical I and the Woman in it’s total extent. It starts in the spring of the woman’s life and ends now at the very moment, Wordsworth wrote the poem, when he describes her as „A Traveller betwixt life and death;” (l. 24)

The familiar relation between the both of them is shown ones more in the Enumerations in the last stanza, because he says there that endurance and foresight (vigil. l. 26) which are both virtues you can only find out when you pass a lot of time with somebody. I the second Enumeration he points out that she is planned “To warn, to comfort, and command”(l. 28) which are all things a man at that time would not have accepted from a scarcely known female, but only from his mother, his nearest relatives or from his own wife.

But there is another thing going on in this stanza, because Wordsworth realizes now once again the supernatural in the woman, which had got lost in the middle of their relationship. It is for him as if there had been curtains in front of his eyes which are removed all of a sudden, because he sees her clearly now and realizes her beauty and his feelings towards her. I think so, because he sees now the “very pulse of the machine” (l. 22) and notes also that she is very thoughtful and intelligent, because she seems to think about everything she does and therefore doesn’t do anything without purpose. So he describes her as “A Being breathing thoughtful breath” (l. 23) and underlines the importance of this statement with using both, an Anaphora and an Alliteration within it.

With this resurrection of her paranormal positive personality at the very ending of the poem Wordsworth drew a circle with the first stanza, not only in terms of content, but also in terms of rhyme scheme and stylistic device. The first pair of lines and the last one are the only two pairs in the whole poem which have the same rhyme and which content Comparisons. It seems as if Wordsworth wanted to draw a circle of life - being more precise, a circle of the woman’s life.

As I pointed out throughout my whole essay, the woman of whom the poet writes about has to be a female to whom Wordsworth had a very deep and familiar relationship. Taking this first issue for granted we read through the Romanticists biography where we find only a few women to whom he had such connection. It couldn’t have been one of Wordsworth’s daughters because they were born after this poem was written. Annette Valon, Wordsworth’s liaison in France and mother of his first daughter couldn’t have been the mysterious woman of the poem either, because he knew her for only some years and didn’t know her in her childhood. The only two woman to which he had a relationship close and long enough are namely his sister Dorothy Wordsworth and his friend since childhood and later wife Mary Hutchinson. Assuming this, I would prefer to choose Mary Hutchinson as dedicatee of this poem, because William Wordsworth wrote that he had a closer look on the woman, which I think means that he got married to her. Another thing is that after he got married there is some space and then comes stanza three, which is set in the author’s present. In real life there was also some time between his marriage (1802) and the writing of the poem (1803-1804) and Mary had just given him a son and was probably once again pregnant (with Dora) which could explain the angel light which glowed in her.

Iñaki Urquiaga

Schwarzwaldstr. 100 70569 Stuttgart

Tel.: 0711/9951230

Excerpt out of 5 pages


The role of the woman in Wordsworth`s "She is a Phantom of Delight"
University of Stuttgart
Essaywriting and Interpretation of Literary Texts
2,3 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
334 KB
Wordsworth`s, Phantom, Delight, Essaywriting, Interpretation, Literary, Texts
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Iñaki Urquiaga (Author), 2001, The role of the woman in Wordsworth`s "She is a Phantom of Delight", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • guest on 3/24/2015

    Wow, this is brilliant, love your interpretation!

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