16. Women (vi)
< The Bath Tub
Poems of Lustra (1913, 28)
As a bathtub lined with white porcelain,
When the hot water gives out or goes tepid,
So is the slow cooling of our chivalrous passion,
O my much praised but-not-altogether-satisfactory lady.
This is an interesting juxtaposition of ideas. There are two strong similes: on the one hand, there is the implied simile of the bath-tub lined with white porcelain and the much praised but-not-altogether-satisfactory lady, on the other hand, there is the explicit simile of the cooling of the bath water and the cooling of their chivalrous passion. The similes both work on a tactile level: the first evokes hardness and resistance to change, while the second evokes the unpleasant sensation of being surrounded by progressively cooling water. Clearly, there comes a point when one has to get out. The first simile brackets the second, implying that the reason for the slow cooling of the 'chivalrous passion' is the fact that the 'not-altogether-satisfactory lady' is hard and unresponsive. The poet regrets having lavished his praise on this unresponsive object of his attention.
At the same time, there is a certain de-bunking of the myth of chivalrous or idealising poetry, since the poet uses ordinary, everyday imagery to express his ideas. He doesn't actually say 'you are like a tub of bath water going cold' but the idea is implied, and is a far cry from the 'alabaster forehead' and 'snow white breasts' of typical romantic slush poetry.
We do, however, get the idea that, in all of this, the poet nowhere questions his own role in the affair. The wordplay is clever, the imagery amusing, the moment of realisation well expressed, but the whole is very external. We get the feeling that he would probably find us to be a not-altogether-satisfactory audience for the poem. In short, although the poet has clearly given up idealising the object of his attentions, he has not given up the search for the ideal, as if that existed.
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