“White Heliotrope”

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Symons opens his poem “White Heliotrope” with the clinical images of a “feverish room” and “that white bed”. The personification of the room suggests an immoral lifestyle has been led. White is normally associated with purity however its juxtaposition with feverish diminishes the colour; moreover, the monosyllabic “and that white bed” sets a menacing atmosphere and could indicate the bed as being the source of this decadent lifestyle. The regular ‘abba’ rhyme scheme which runs throughout the poem indicates that this lifestyle will not change.

The images of the “hair-pins, puffs and paints” provide a sense of the materialistic and, when connected with the image of the “tumbled skirt”, the promiscuous personality of the protagonist. The fact that the plosives are situated at the end of the first stanza helps to emphasise their importance in the protagonist’s lifestyle.

The personification continues into the second stanza where the “mirror that has sucked your face”. On one hand the mirror could reflect the how the protagonist has rebelled against the conventions of society; the onomatopoeic “sucked” suggests a more sudden and rapid change. However, the sibilance seen in the phrases “mysteriously keeps” and the “secret deep of deeps” imply how these memories still exist in the background and could indicate that the former personality of the protagonist is simply underlying and could return.

The motif of memory runs throughout the poem; at the end of the second stanza, Symons writes about “Forgotten memories of grace” while at the end of the fourth stanza he writes “Will rise, a ghost of memory”. The former is memory as previous specific experiences, yet the latter treats memory as a concept.

The scent of “White Heliotrope” could therefore represent the immoral, sinful desires; the mirror with its “deep of deeps” holds these “ghosts of memory”. The conclusion to the poem is quite foreboding, amplified by the use of “dread” and “ghosts”. It can be...
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