Portrait d'une Femme
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Lines 27-30 Summary Page 1
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
In the slow float of differing light and deep,
No! there is nothing! In the whole and all,
Nothing that's quite your own.
Yet this is you.
- "The slow float of differing light and deep" refers most obviously to seawater. We can picture seawater swirling around the "deciduous things" and "strange woods half sodden," causing them to gently bob up and down.
- Does "light" here refer to weight ("light as a feather") or to brightness (light vs. dark)? Either way, it's a strange word to combine with "deep."
- It's also tempting to read "the slow float of differing light and deep" as referring to the lines of a poem – especially iambic pentameter lines, whose unstressed/stressed syllables cause them to bob up and down like seawater.
- So here's where we get that whammy of a "but" we were expecting: the speaker declares that of all the things in this seawater (or poem), there's really nothing that fully belongs to the woman.
- But why? What happened to her "great store" and her "sea-hoard?"
- Let's look at his language closely here. First he says, "No! there is nothing!" The exclamation mark after "nothing" indicates we should stop here for a moment.
- After all of these lists we've read in the poem, how can the speaker say that there is nothing? Well, he's been hinting at this all along – all the goods mentioned in this poem are either abstract and intangible (such as ideas or suggestions), useless, or worn-down and tarnished. So what is all this worth? Maybe nothing.
- The speaker continues by saying, "In the whole and all,/ Nothing that's quite your own." "In the whole and all" could be a rephrasing of "In the slow float of differing light and deep." This emphasizes that the woman owns none of the things seen in the water or described throughout the poem.
- But we could also read this phrase another way. The speaker could be saying, "You don't own anything in its entirety. Nothing is wholly yours." This means the woman does own the things mentioned earlier, but she doesn't own them by herself. She picks them up from other people and gives them away to other people. Everything is constantly floating back and forth.
- The last line is kind of like a cute little bow tied around a big, misshapen present. Or the cherry on top of a crazy, chocolate and caramel-covered ice cream sundae. It borders on being just a little too neat, too tidy.
- Remember how the poem begins: "Your mind and you are our Sargasso Sea"? Fast forward to the end: "Yet this is you." Whatever it may mean, starting with "you are..." and ending with "...is you" certainly has a nice symmetry.
- So what does it all mean? What does the "this" in "this is you" refer to? Does it refer to "nothing"? Does it mean that the woman's most defining characteristic is having nothing that's quite her own? Does it refer to everything that's been said in the last 29 lines?
- Like lines 14 and 15, the last two lines of the poem stray from traditional iambic pentameter. Line 29 has six syllables and line 30 has four. This is basically a single iambic pentameter line that's been split in two. Why do you think this happens? What significance does it add to the lines?
- Speaking of splitting up lines, the interjections here are pretty weird. Usually exclamation marks signal the end of a sentence, but in these lines, the sentence seems to continue past them.
- Why does the speaker break up his sentences with these punctuation marks? Does this indicate some sort of struggle or difficulty he himself is having? Maybe this is going too far, but could these broken lines mimic the broken pieces of wood and other random debris seen floating in the water?