When Henry Constable attempts to describe his “lady”, he paints the reader an image of love, pureness, and of natural beauty. In his sonnet, “[My lady’s presence makes the roses red]”, Constable talks to the various body parts of his “lady”, claiming that they inspire envy into flowers and that his “lady” is in fact the source of the power for the flowers. Using this personification of the flowers, Constable shapes his sonnet as one that is complementing and treasuring his “lady”, however, a deeper examination into the tone of his work shows a much more intriguing side of this sonnet and of Constable’s feelings toward his “lady”.
A line-by-line dissection of this sonnet shows the multitude of personification and imagery used by Henry Constable when describing what appears to be his love. He begins by making an extremely bold statement, saying that roses do not get their color from years of evolutionary science, rather the sight of this woman’s lips cause them to blush in shame (lines 1-2).
The personification of a rose blushing at the thought that it will never have as beautiful of red shade as a woman’s lips is the first sign of an irrational over-exaggeration of his feelings.
This continues as the lily’s leaves become pale with envy at this woman’s white hands. Once again, Constable is saying that this woman is so beautiful and has such perfect features, that the lily is pale with envy (lines 3-4). The entire first quatrain is riddled with unrealistic personifications of emotions towards flowers. Not comparing this woman to a flower, but saying that the woman is so beautiful and perfect that the flowers change themselves as a cause of witnessing her. This is the start of an almost unrealistic view of his “lady”.
He is putting her so high on a pedestal that she is a demigod, changing her surroundings just by her presence. The second quatrain brings a new view of his “lady”. In this section, Constable really plays out the demigod symbol. In lines 5-6, the woman becomes the most holy and prolific symbol for a god in the sixteenth century: the sun. Constable describes the woman as having the same power as the sun, so much that the marigold spreads its leaves at the sight of her. This creates distance between the speaker of the poem, who is assumed Constable, and this god-like woman.
It is then mentioned that this woman is also the catalyst for the purple color of the violets, though unlike the previous flowers, this is not due to an emotion, but rather “the blood she made my heart to shed” (line 8). This is the first mention of beauty not directly caused from the woman, but rather a product of the woman’s actions onto the speaker. This plays a critical role in the tone of the sonnet and the location in the sonnet (end of the second quatrain) is a hint to the importance of this line. The third quatrain returns to the power this woman has on the beauty of the flowers.
In lines 9-10, all of the flowers owe their sweet smell to the breath of this woman and then in lines 11-12, the woman has the actual power to grow the flowers. She is once again displayed with godlike powers and the ability to warm the ground and encourage the growth of the seeds simply by looking at the flowers. Constable’s “lady” is not only the reason why flowers became beautiful, but is not the explanation for why the flowers even exist. In the last couplet, the second mention of beauty not directly caused by this woman is present.
In lines 13-14, the key ingredient for flower-growth is supplied not by the woman’s beauty, but rather from the tears that she makes our speaker cry. This is not to take any power away from our demigod, but rather say that she forced our speaker to cry to provide sustenance to which the flowers are watered. This is the second major appearance of the necessity of tone and once again, the location of this line carries great weight. The tone of Constable’s sonnet is what gives this unnatural description of this woman such intrigue. Throughout the sonnet, the speaker gives godlike characteristics to our woman.
She has a beauty that makes flowers (arguably the most beautiful image in the world) jealous and envious (lines 1-4). She has the same power as the sun (in Roman and Greek mythology, the god of sun was the king and ruler of all gods) and allows beauty to flourish in her presence (lines 5-6). However, the most interesting aspect comes in the structure and location of the two lines that are not directly associated with our demigod. At arguably the middle of the poem (end of the second quatrain) and the end of the poem, Constable uses two references to the speaker’s pain to create the beauty he associates with the woman.
In line 8, the beautiful purple color of the violet is caused by the blood the speaker’s heart has shed, and in line 14, it is the tears that fall from the speaker’s eyes that give the lifeblood of the flowers. This sets a tone throughout the sonnet that places the woman on this demigod pedestal. Constable is writing this sonnet about someone so beautiful and so powerful; that she not only causes our speaker great pain, but the speaker sees that pain as beauty. In essence, the speaker would never be able to describe the woman as “my lady” because the pain she causes to him is what the speaker perceives as her beauty.
While at first glance, the tone of this sonnet is one of beauty and praise, it is in fact one of worship and admiration of something that is out of reach and has a beauty derived in the pain she causes him. Henry Constable’s depiction of a “my lady” can be seen as a tribute to a woman that puts even the most beautiful flowers to shame, but the true beauty of this woman comes from the pain she causes our speaker. The tone of the poem mixed with the symbol of godlike powers and the personification of the flowers all feed into this “lady” being more than just a woman to our speaker.
Constable, Henry. “[My Lady’s Presence Makes the Roses Red].” The Norton Introduction to Literature. By Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays. 10th ed. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2010. 1062-063. Print.
Cite this Analysis of My Lady Walks
Analysis of My Lady Walks. (2016, Nov 27). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/analysis-of-my-lady-walks/