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Imagry Essay, Research Paper

Imagery is an important-perhaps the most important-device used to communicate meaning in poetry. Where other forms of literature can sometimes be over a thousand pages long, poetry is usually much shorter. The poet must get his or her point across in only a few pages, and one of the best ways to condense a long story (or message) is to use imagery. The possible uses for symbolism and imagery in poetry are endless, and a talented poet can use a single image to make many different statements. An example of this kind of versatility can be seen by comparing two poems that use similar images. Aphra Behn’s “The Disappointment” and Walther Von Der Vogelwiede’s “Dancing Girl” both use the image of a girl, in very different ways, to deliver similar messages.

Much of the time, figurative imagery is used by the poet to speak some underlying meaning, as in symbolism. However, it is much easier for the reader to understand this type of imagery if the context of the poem is clear. This can be accomplished through the use of another type of imagery called descriptive imagery. Descriptive imagery is not necessarily symbolic, but is used by the poet to describe physical sensation, the state of mind of the poet, season and time of day, and the atmosphere and mood of the setting. Furthermore, the poet often uses descriptive imagery to underscore other important elements in a poem. The selection of detail and the vividness imparted to images help create tone, meaning, and characterization (Griffith 90). Both “Dancing Girl” and “The Disappointment” use descriptive imagery in this way.

In the first stanza of “Dancing Girl,” the poet gives the girl a garland of flowers to wear. Vogelweide goes on to describe the girl as pretty, and reinforces this by saying that she is worthy of the “lovely flowers” as well as “priceless stones.” He describes her shining eyes and gracious movements. The poet also conveys a sense of innocence and purity by comparing the girl to “a gently nurtured child” and describing her shy demeanor. In the third stanza, it appears that the poet and the dancing girl are alone together lying in the grass, with flowers raining down on them from the trees. These images describe not only the beauty of the girl, but also the beauty of the setting and the blissful state of the narrator’s mind before he awakens from his dream.

Behn uses imagery in a similar way, but to a different end. Very little imagery is devoted to describing the visual setting of the poem. The lovers come together in a deserted thicket, so there is little sound that isn’t attributed to the characters. In this case, the poet involves the reader by describing the sense of touch.

(He) kisses her mouth, her neck, her hair,

Each touch her new desire alarms;

His burning, trembling hand he pressed,

Upon her swelling snowy breast,

This stanza emphasizes the passion of young love, and demonstrates Cloris’s and Lysander’s frenzied state. Behn describes Cloris as “panting in (Lysander’s) arms” and “abandoned by her pride and shame.” Lysander also seems to be quite ready to comply as he is seen silently groping Cloris. Using incredibly suggestive language (especially for 17th century poetry), the poet leaves the reader with the impression that the air is charged with their sexual energy.

Both “The Disappointment” and “Dancing Girl” end somewhat tragically for the men involved. This can be seen by examining the symbolism behind the image of the girls in both poems. In “The Disappointment,” Lysander is so overwhelmed by his own emotional and mental arousal that he suffers physically and is not able to sustain an erection, effectively destroying his chances with Cloris:

But never did young shepherdess,

Gathering the fern upon the plain,

More nimbly draw her fingers back,

Finding beneath the verdant leaves a snake,

After finding Lysander to be flaccid, Cloris becomes ashamed, and the young virgin runs off naked through the woods. The love that Lysander was so close to attaining is now impossible, and he is left alone to ponder his loss in his own shame.

The tragic moment in “Dancing Girl” comes when the poet wakes up in the morning, and realizes the girl that has given him so much happiness is only a dream. The poet is devastated by his apparent loss, and yet, he is so struck by the beauty of this dream girl that he is forced to compare every girl he meets with her:

She has stirred me so

that this summer, with every girl I meet,

I must gaze deep in her eyes:

perhaps one will be mine: then all my cares are gone.

What if she were dancing here?

Ladies, be so kind,

Set your hats back a little.

Oh, if only, under a garland, I could see that face!

In this way, the poet has blinded himself. He can no longer see the beauty of ordinary women because they don’t measure up to his dream girl. He is forced to go on looking for a girl that does not exist: his dream girl. Without realizing that no woman can measure up to a fantasy created by the male imagination, the poet may never find love again.

The girls in “Dancing Girl” and “The Disappointment” represent love in two different ways. The dancing girl represents the poet’s vision of love, and tends to emphasize the relational aspect of love. Cloris represents the act of love with emphasis on the carnal and lustful nature of sex. However, both poems tell a story about a love that is lost just before it can be realized, and the reader is left with the impression that this love can never be attained again. The poet in “Dancing Girl” is doomed to search for a girl that does not exist, and Cloris:

Whose soft bewitching influence,

(Has) damned (Lysander) to the hell of impotence.

Walther Von Der Vogelwiede’s “Dancing Girl” and Aphra Behn’s “The Disappointment” are good examples of how two poets can use the same image in two entirely different ways. Vogelwiede describes a sort of surreal situation that shows how the dancing girl is the object of his concentration, and his bliss. Behn offers a glimpse at young love through bawdy, sexually suggestive language. The remarkable thing about these two poems is that although they communicate in different ways, the end result is the same: in both cases a character in the poem tragically loses that which is most important to him at a particular moment in time.

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