“She was a Phantom of Delight” by William Wordsworth is a romantic lyrical ballad about his wife, Mary Hutchinson. It is divided into three stanzas with ten lines each using iambic tetrameter. The three stanzas are divided into how he met his wife, how they got to know each other better, and their married life. It was written in 1803 and published in 1807.
Wordsworth was one of the key figures of the romance movement in England during the 1800s with having first launched the movement with the publication of his book Lyrical Ballads in 1798 with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His most famous writing poem is Daffodils. His poems are best known for their intense emotions, personification of nature, and his descriptions of relationships with men.
William Wordsworth’s “She was a Phantom of Delight” is a wonderful poem with tons of alliterations, metaphors, and hyperbole. Let’s take a look at a summary and analysis of the writing.
“She was a Phantom of Delight” is a lyrical ballad about Wordsworth’s feelings towards his wife before he met her, when he was getting to know her, and finally after they were married. He uses the first stanza to speak of a “Phantom” and “Apparition” which haunts him. He follows it up by saying once he got to know her, he found out that she isn’t smart nor really anything special. Yet, he loves that about her. The final stanza goes over how she is the perfect woman and the only woman for him.
Title: She was a Phantom of Delight
Style: Lyrical Ballad divided into three stanzas with 10 lines in each. It uses iambic tetrameter for rhythm.
Theme: Romantic about eternal love
Rhyme scheme: AABBCCDDEE
Line-by-line Analysis and Figurative Language
- She was a Phantom of delight – “Phantom” refers to something haunting. He doesn’t mean it in a bad way, he is referring to it as in she haunts his thoughts and dreams. He can’t stop thinking about her.
- When first she gleamed upon my sight; – The moment he first met her.
- A lovely Apparition, sent – “Apparition” is being used to mean an unexpected sight. He didn’t expect to meet such a lovely person.
- To be a moment’s ornament; – “Ornament” is a metaphor for something which makes the moment decorated and beautiful.
- Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair; / Like Twilight’s, too, her dusky hair; – “Twilight” is the moment the sun is going down. Wordsworth is saying her eyes are twinkly and bright like the stars and her hair is similar to the view of the sky. He goes as far as calling it “dusky”.
- But all things else about her drawn / From May-time and the cheerful Dawn; – “drawn” is referring to her creation, as if God had spent time to draw her specifically.
- A dancing Shape, an Image gay, / To haunt, to startle, and way-lay. – “gay” refers to happiness. The word “Shape” is being used as a personification, but it is also referring to the “spirit” mentioned throughout the poem. How could the “Image” be “gay” yet haunting and startling? It goes back to the how she haunts his dreams. He loves her and wants to be with her. It is attacking his mind about how much he wants to be with her.
- I saw her upon nearer view, / A Spirit, yet a Woman too! – “nearer view” is referring to him getting to know her. He now sees that she isn’t only an imagination or beautiful creature. She is a woman with a personality.
- Her household motions light and free, / And steps of virgin-liberty; – She moves freely around the house, which shows that she’s still a virgin.
- A countenance in which did meet / Sweet records, promises as sweet; – How they met was great and the memories are sweet. “Records” is being used to refer to memories as a metaphor.
- A Creature not too bright or good / For human nature’s daily food; – The poet states that the “Creature” is not too smart and not good. “Human nature’s daily food” refers to how humans live their daily lives with different emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
- For transient sorrows, simple wiles, / Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles. – He’s just talking about the feelings and emotions that the “Creature” has.
- And now I see with eye serene / The very pulse of the machine; – “Machine” is again referring to the woman.
- A Being breathing thoughtful breath, / A Traveller between life and death; – He uses the hyperbole of “between life and death”, as if she is beyond this world and not only human. “Being breathing” is an alliteration.
- The reason firm, the temperate will, / Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill; – He has good reason to believe this.
- A perfect Woman, nobly planned, / To warn, to comfort, and command; – He that she is perfect in every way.
- And yet a Spirit still, and bright / With something of angelic light. – She is a “Spirit” yet is an angel. He again is using a hyperbole and metaphor to say that she is still in his dreams and like an angel to him. “Spirit still” is also an alliteration.
Poem: “She was a Phantom of Delight” by William Wordsworth
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.
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.
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.
Wordsworth is a bit strange in his writings. Honestly, if a woman today were to read this she would probably slap the writer. Not bright? Not good? The way she moves is like a virgin? He really has an interesting view of romantic writing. However, it’s honest. Most of us aren’t too bright nor good. We are normal. We are average. For some people, that’s all they way want.