The September 2003 issue of Poetry has William Walden’s “A Posy of Love” which contains a section entitled “18th Century.” Since each section stands on its own as a whole poem, I am going to look at this section. In my previous analysis, I had not had the guidelines provided by my creative writing instructor, Toni Manning, and so went through as much detail as possible. Unfortunately, time restraints prevent me from being able to offer such detailed attention to every poem that I analyze for the class. So I will give the Rubric by which I will be looking at each poem. For each poem I will be answering as many as possible of the following questions, as well as looking at other things that particularly strike my interest or that I think will help me to improve myself as a poet, though not necessarily in that order:
- Describe the style of the poem?
- Who is the audience?
- What does the poem assume about the audience?
- What is the poems suggestion?
- What kind of poem is it? (i.e., narrative, descriptive, concrete, sound, formal)
- What is the best part of the poem?
- Where does it fail?
“18th Century” is, of course, formal verse, specifically, 4 rhyming couplets of iambic pentameter. It has an archaic feel to it due to words like wantonness, lechers, and unsullied, and to overpoetic contractions like o’ervault and am’rous. The archaisms are probably the part of the poem that least works for me. Although I am departing a little from my chosen text here, I will go further and say that the archaisms might have worked had the series, which has a poem for each of several centuries, progressed poem by poem through the diction of the centuries, eventually approaching modern diction in “19th century.” Instead it seems that “18th Century” is the only poem that makes use of such overt archaisms, while the rest use, at least, an essentially modern lexicon, if not a completely modern grammar.
Well, that dead horse is thoroughly beaten, so lets talk instead about what does work. I think that the best part of the poem is the twist on the typical caution to maidens and lovers. Here we have a lecturer who suggests that the victim is more terrible than the foe and instead of letting the “ogling lechers” besmirch her virtue, will cause them to “flee in shame.” The images are delightful humorous, while at the same time injecting a serious note as well about the plight of womankind, who can be neither chaste nor unchaste without reproach.
It is obviously written for an educated audience (but what poetry isn’t these days), with its large vocabulary and archaisms. It expects a reader who is familiar enough with the history of fashions to be able to appreciate the predicament of the lady in question, and with it’s teasing and humorous approach to the issue seems likely to appeal more to a male than to a female audience.
I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, and hope to see more of Walden’s work appear on the pages of Poetry. Even the archaisms cannot detract from the overall pleasantness and craftiness of the piece.