At first glance, Edmund Waller’s poem “On a Girdle” seems to suggest nothing more than praise of one woman’s fair beauty and the speaker’s love for her. After diving deeper into the text, however, it becomes apparent that the speaker does a much better job of praising himself than the woman. His love is more a lust for control and possession than a true declaration of sentiment. Waller uses extreme imagery and exaggeration to seemingly praise this woman. More importantly, however, he subtlety belittles her through tropes and diction. Waller evokes this image of her girdle to express his own desire to restrict this beautiful woman.
It cannot be denied that Waller professes love for this woman. He praises her tremendously. He refers to her girdle as “my heaven’s extremest sphere”. Through this statement he is claiming that for him her girdle was the most expansive point of his universe. This is undoubtedly an extreme statement. He also declares, “My joy, my grief, my hope, my love / Did all within this circle move!” Waller is profoundly affected by this woman. She instills in him joy, grief, hope and love, all emotions someone enamored with a woman might experience. He loves her so much that if he can have her then, “Take all the rest the sun goes round!”. In essence Waller is saying he loves this woman more than anything else on earth. Unarguably, Waller holds this woman in extremely high regard. He has placed her on a pedestal. The more interesting idea to consider, however, is why he places her upon this pedestal.
This woman is placed upon the pedestal because of her physical beauty. She is described as having a “slender waist”, a “na...
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... is an object which can be given and then the word “me” suggests the speaker’s desire for ownership of this object. By using diction that suggests possession and control Waller reveals his true intent for this woman that the loves.
This entire poem conjures up an image, that of a man with his arms encircling a woman as her girdle once did. After reflecting upon this image it can be seen as a very controlling one. The man has his arms around the woman but she has no part of the embrace. She is trapped. She is merely the object he has his arms around. She may be beautiful, he may love her, but she plays no role in the relationship. She simply remains in his embrace much like the deer in its pen she was compared to earlier. This is what Waller desires from this woman. He never asks for her love in return. He longs only for possession of her body.
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