Portrait d'une Femme
How we cite our quotes:
Your mind and you are our Sargasso Sea, (1)
The title promises that this poem will be a "portrait of a woman," and straight off the bat the speaker seems to announce who this woman is: "You are..." But even if line seems to be grammatically straightforward, it's hard to figure out exactly what the speaker means. First of all, why is the "you" separated from "your mind?" How can a person and her mind be two separate entities? Second, who is included in "our?" Is the speaker actually more than one person, or does he represent of a larger group? What kind of people are in this group?
Great minds have sought you – lacking someone else.
You have been second always. (6-7)
Wow, that's really nice. The speaker is basically saying, "OK, lady, you're the default, the backup plan." But we don't know to whom she is second. What would be the first choice for these "great minds?" Exactly what are they looking for? Great hair? A good squash player? A spelling bee champion? Our guess is that the speaker means that these "great minds" seek out a muse (just as the "femme" here is the muse to this poem) – so the woman is being judged based on her ability to inspire.
You preferred it to the usual thing:
One dull man, dulling and uxorious,
One average mind – with one thought less, each year. (8-10)
This is the one moment we can find in the poem in which the speaker seems to reference traditional gender roles. (You might be able to find more!) The speaker indicates here that the woman prefers all these "great minds" (men) coming and going – even if she is their second choice – to being stuck with one really boring guy. A hundred years ago, when this poem was written, marriage was the obvious "career choice" for most women. The speaker suggests here that the woman is defying that convention.