The Portrait

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Robert Graves’ “The Portrait”

“The Portrait” is a poem flavored with strong contrasts. One aspect of the poem emphasizes the other – much like the Chinese hot and sour soup. The woman of the poem is the hot and all the other women are the sour. The sour in this poem gets emphasized in this poem to the point where it almost masks the hotness. But because there is so much sour, the hot is that much sharper and rich. The speaker starts out describing the woman’s personality by telling us how she acts towards herself and with strangers. We are told that, regardless of the situation, she always speaks with her own voice. It shows us that the woman is honest about herself with nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed about; in other words – confident. This is a complete contrast to how other women are described as. They are said to be dishonest and manipulative because they use “borrowed” or “false” voices when speaking. This deception may have been understandable and somewhat acceptable until the last line of the quatrain, “Even on sons and daughters.” If those other women keep up pretenses in the privacy of their own home and towards their children, then they are indeed dishonest and ashamed of whom they are. In the second quatrain the speaker describes the woman as walking “invisibly at noon.” The way the line was worded is a very subtle hint of just how beautiful she is. In order to be invisible during noon she must shine as brightly as the sun during the hottest, brightest and most dangerous time of the day. The other women just gleam “phosphorescent.” I love how the word phosphorescent is used to describe the appearance of the other women. This single word tells us that the women have no radiance during the day time and are only noticeable during the night where they prowl “Down every lampless alley.” Here we have another contrast in the second quatrain on where “She” walks along the high road and where the “Other women” walk. A lampless alley gives us an...
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