Painted Flowers

There are many points about Barbauld’s “To a Lady with Some Painted Flowers” that strike me as distinctly ironic.  These points to add up to a single, unified purpose: to shed light on the way in which the men of Barbauld’s time would seduce women to become delicate creatures whose “best and sweetest empire is – to please.”
First, the word “painted” immediately evokes the pathetic.  The flowers, the women, are not beautiful enough in their natural state; their beauty if fake, painted-on.  Further, the speaker must assume that the woman he is addressing isn’t even intelligent enough to recognize this subtle insult.
In lines 4 and 5 there is both an ill-concealed attempt to flatter and again a hint at the speaker’s low estimation of his listener’s intelligence.  The rather flippant stringing of adjectives by the repeated use of “and” betrays an uncircumpsect wish to please the listener.  The slapped-on addition “beauty” is where this most particularly becomes evident.  It in this last phrase as well that the speaker’s contempt for the listener’s intelligence surfaces again: The most important compliment, “beauty” is left as an afterthought and the speaker doesn’t even take pains to conceal this fact.  In fact, the slapped-on nature of this compliment is even exacerbated by the use of the silly “too” at the end of all these “ands,” a fact further highlighted by it’s completing the rhyme from the previous line.
Then the capitalized word “ALONE” in line 15 rings almost of a command in its finality and forceful emphasis: “[T]his soft family, to cares unknown, / Were born for pleasure and delight ALONE.”  Were it not capitalized, it might seem an endearing observation, a reflection of the speaker’s love for the woman’s flower-nature.  But the odd, unexpected emphasis on “alone” indicates something more.  It is the man’s will that imposes this vapid state upon women.

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~ by mahler1860 on September 27, 2012.

3 Responses to “Painted Flowers”

  1. We were a bit confused with your association of “painted” with the pathetic and your interpretation of this concept. This bias wasn’t particularly supported with evidence, and much of your argument was based on previous class discussion. However, your closing sentiments about Barbauld’s intention of the word “ALONE” was original and provoking.

  2. We didn’t quite understand your association of “painted” with the pathetic. Your bias wasn’t particularly well-supported with evidence, and much of your post concerned concepts that we talked about in previous class discussions. However, your sentiments about Barbauld’s intention of “ALONE” was origina and provoking.

  3. We didn’t quite understand your association of “painted” with the pathetic. Your bias wasn’t particularly well-supported with evidence, and much of your post concerned concepts that we talked about in previous class discussions. However, your sentiments about Barbauld’s intention of “ALONE” were original and thought provoking.

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