She was A Phantom of Delight: Summary & Analysis

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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, and Image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and waylay.
I saw her upon nearer view,
A Spirit, yet a Woman too!
Her household motions light and tree,
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 an angel light.


      The subject of the poem She was A Phantom of Delight, is Mary Hutchinson, the poet’s wife, whom he married in 1802. Written at Town-end in 1804, published in 1807. She was his cousin and he had known her since childhood. In the three stanzas of the poem, the poet describes her as a child, a maid and a wife. Each stanza deals with one aspect of the lady: (1) the romantic and beautiful; (2) the social and domestic; and (3) the moral and spiritual. As as child, she is beautiful and romantic as a spirit; as a maid, she is free, independent; and modest, and as a wife, she is a moral and intellectual force, fit to advise and comfort, without ceasing to have the spiritual beauty he admired in her childhood. In the first stanza, the poet deals with the personal appearance; in the second with the social virtues, and in the third with the innermost character of the lady.


      At the first stage of the poet’s acquaintance with the girl, she appeared to him like a vision of joy, a very angelic form with dark eyes, dusky hair, light gait, and spring-time vivacious movements. She appeared like a beautiful specter, suddenly crossing his path to take him by surprise and then vanishing.

      At the second stage of his acquaintance, when the poet had come to know her more intimately, he found that she was not a heavenly, angelic being only, but also a perfect woman, with the best household virtues. She was a creature whose very face spoke of her innocence and purity in the past and indicated innocence and purity for the future. Moreover, he discovered that she could enter into all the common feelings of humanity; she was not above these petty joys, sorrows, praise, love etc., by which human nature sustains itself.

      At the third stage of his acquaintance i.e., after his marriage with the lady, the poet gained an insight into the spiritual aspect of her character. She had a sobriety of character, arising out of the consciousness of the duties and responsibilities of life and of the realization of the transitoriness of human life. She possessed a strong intellect, a pliant will, endurance and foresight; so that she was well-fitted to be a good partner of the poet’s life; though she was a perfect woman of the world, yet she had something angelic about her.



      Though not a love poet, in the accepted sense of the term, Wordsworth was susceptible to the beauty of women and we have to, compare this poem with The Solitary Reaper, the Highland Girl and the Lucy poems, as showing the tribute Wordsworth paid to the beauty of young girls. In all these poems, it will be seen that it was not only the quality of beauty he admired, but we have (1) a love of freedom and independence joined to a modesty of deportment; (2) an intellectual power and (3) a life lived in harmony with nature. In nearly all these poems, Wordsworth idealizes the beautiful girl and exalts her to a spiritual beauty.

Romantic Vision

      Wordsworth’s note tells us that the germ of this poem was suggested by the verses composed on the Highland Girl, but though begun in this way, it was written from his heart. Henry Crabb Robinson says in a letter to Mrs. Clarkson that poet expressly told him that the verses were on his wife. De Quincey in his Reminiscences tells us that Mrs. Wordsworth was not such a handsome person, as we might be led to infer from this poem, but that her sweetness, simplicity, self-respect and purity of heart lent to her all the practical fascination of beauty. Wordsworth sees her as a vision of romantic beauty and spirit of joy.

      With the rare exception of Browning, few English poets have paid such a tribute to their wives. The use of the word machine in L.22 is open to criticism. One could not call a woman—much less a wife - as a machine. Herbert Read finds a certain tameness in the poet’s love for his wife.

      Often it is said that Wordsworth is the most constantly dull, flat and vapid of the English poets. This short poem on his newly married wife is an exception. “She is a phantom of delight” a spirit which is always seen albeit it vanishes very often. Every distinctive worth of her moral being is a never-ending source to the poet’s spiritual delight.

Strictly Speaking, it is not a Love Poem

      She was A Phantom of Delight is a poem that only celebrates the social qualities and external awareness of her spiritual being. Her simplicity is essentially a part of Nature which constitutes the major portion of the poem. It is only the depth, not the tumult, through which Nature reveals herself in various realities. And so does the love of Wordsworth for her on a closer acquaintance. It is, therefore, not a love poem in a conventional sense; it is rather a poem that senses the grandeur of a simple being intimate with Nature. Love is, of course, one of the major realities, but not the only reality and accordingly, Wordsworth contemplates myriad facets of his wife’s psychosomatic being and combines them into a tributary poem by the unifying force of love.


      Now we come to the use of simile in the poem She was A Phantom of Delight. Her outward appearance is described by a few homely images—

Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;
Like Twilight’s, too, her dusky hair.

      It is quite well. But the accuracy of her other qualities as that of the machine is not a felicitous idea. Inequality is Wordsworth’s great defect. The following line, sounds somewhat awkward.

And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine
sounds somewhat awkward.

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