Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Great minds have sought you – lacking someone else.
You have been second always. Tragical?
No. You preferred it to the usual thing:
One dull man, dulling and uxorious,
One average mind – with one thought less, each year.
- By this point, we can see that the lines don't follow a particular rhyme scheme. We'll have to settle for them being just iambic pentameter – which means the poem, as a whole, is in blank verse. (Confused? Check out "Form, and Meter," but be sure to come right back.)
- Here we get a clue as to what the "bright ships" represent. The woman is visited by "great minds." The descriptive words, "bright" and "great," suggest that this is a pretty awesome group. They're certainly described better than the "fees" we read above. What kinds of people do we usually associate with being "great minds?" Probably writers or philosophers, especially since we're sitting here studying a poem. (Don't forget about the "our" in the first line!) The speaker might even be including himself in this group.
- The speaker describes great minds seeking out our woman because they are "lacking someone else." If these guys are truly "great," why are they lacking anything? What do they need? What does this particular woman provide that the great minds don't have already or can't get from somewhere (someone) else?
- Ouch – does this also sound like a backhanded compliment to you? The speaker claims that these minds go to the woman because they can't have their first choice, whoever that may be. She's Plan B, the default option. That doesn't seem like a very gentlemanly thing to say, but apparently he doesn't think she'll mind.
- If the woman can have all of these great minds calling on her, she'll settle for being their second choice; after all, it's better than being stuck with just one really boring guy. This guy is so boring, the speaker calls him dull twice!
- And then top that with "uxorious," which even sounds unbearable! "Uxorious" refers to a man who is excessively devoted or submissive to his wife. So now we know that the other option for the woman, "the usual thing," would be to get married...to a doting bore.
- Man, our speaker really knows how to drive home a point. Check out how he repeats the word "dull" and then the word "one" three times. OK, we get it, being with this dull man would be really monotonous.
- In contrast to the "great" minds, this would-be husband is just an "average" one. We think it's pretty cool that this woman would turn down the conventional security of marriage in order to surround herself with intellectuals. But does our speaker think so?