Portrait d'une Femme
How we cite our quotes:
And bright ships have left you this or that in fee: (3)
In the first line the speaker describes the woman as the Sargasso Sea, so we know he is continuing that metaphor into this line. "Bright ships" can't be taken literally here; they must be metaphors for something else. (Otherwise, how can ships visit her in the middle of London, and why would ships need to leave her a fee?) Further down in the poem, the speaker states that "great minds" seek the woman out, so maybe the ships stand in for them. Any ideas about why the ships are described as "bright"?
Ideas, old gossip, oddments of things,
Strange spars of knowledge and dimmed wares of price. (4-5)
These lines list what the "bright ships" pay as a fee to the woman, but almost all of these things are described as being fairly worthless. In contrast to the brightness of the ships, everything in this list is old, odd, strange or dimmed – it's a lot of random rubbish that we wouldn't know what to do with.
And now you pay one. Yes, you richly pay.
You are a person of some interest, one comes to you
And takes strange gain away: (13-15)
So we know that the "bright ships" leave the woman a fee, and now we know that she pays something too. But what is everyone paying for? What is being purchased? The word "interest" here is also, well, interesting, because it has a double meaning. "Interest" is what we feel when we are intrigued or curious about something, but it can also refer to a fee that accumulates on top of loans. This could be an explanation for the "strange gain" a person gets from interacting with the woman.