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“Affairs of the Heart” – the Feminist Criticism – Part I

The very beginning of “Affairs of the Heart” already gives us a taste of what the poem will be about. The “Emerging from a silk cocoon” metaphor is a reference to one of the oldest myths about women: it is a truth universally acknowledged by males that only in a relationship with a man can a woman abandon the rudimentary state of chrysalis and transform into a full-fledged being[1], presumably a beautiful and thoughtless butterfly whose only aim is to please men with her colorful appearance. The poet even tries to create an “adequate” setting for this sacred act of birth, making the mysterious “Venetian chandeliers” hang from the ceiling, although it remains unclear how he could make an observation about the way “her body rocks” in the moonlight if the divine transformation happened in a room. The eyes of the newborn are described as “cunning like a fox”, which is a reference to another sad myth about women, the one concerning the strange and mysterious forces that guide them and render their behavior incomprehensible and unpredictable for men[2]. Moreover, in creating this simile the author decided to stick to a well-established tradition of comparing women to animals, which, we should presume, is supposed to be pleasant to women.

Affairs of the Heart” – the Chauvinistic Leitmotif

The next stanza is very important since it starts to develop the leitmotif of the poem: the author insists that love is, in fact, a very cruel thing, a “lethal weapon” which is some sort of fire that does not give the trapped heart any chance to escape and, thus, rescue itself. This is an old and overused metaphor, and here the poet resorts to it in order to justify his weakness and vulnerability. By claiming that “No one is too smart//In affairs of the heart” not only he forms a comfortable cushion that should soften the pain of his possible failure (which in this case would be the woman’s rejection to act according to stereotypes ascribed to her by the patriarchal culture[3]), but also tries to persuade the woman that his behavior, even if it appears strange and silly, is perfectly normal given the delicate state he found himself in. Males generally don’t tend to acknowledge that their conduct in certain circumstances goes beyond limits of reasonableness, and this stanza is but another proof.

Stripping the Woman of Independence

The bridge” on which the woman waits in the beginning of the third stanza is supposed to draw a picture of two shores, hers and his, first separated by nature and then connected by love. However, the claim that the woman was, in fact, dreaming of their “tangled fates” seems more than questionable for it implies that she already gave up her inherent independence and diminished herself to a gadget attached to her man; however, given how the poem’s ending, it is hard to believe that the woman actually chose this option. Rather the man himself was so inspired by the notion of having gained a victory over the woman’s heart that he became blind and attributed certain pleasing details to the incomplete picture. Moreover, as we see next, his masculine inspiration made him exercise the very creative acrobatics that are thought to have a positive impact on the female heart and, in fact, cause the exact opposite effect.

Poetic Objectification of Women

The line “Her face was like a ghost with eyes of jade” is a triumph of men’s derogation of women’s dignity enveloped in poetry. Firstly, comparing a woman to a jade is belittling, but the poet seems to believe that any woman should be happy of having become an object of his poem. Secondly, the statement about woman’s ghost-looking face is not only a simile describing paleness, but also a hint that in the man’s eye the woman has transformed into a pale shadow of a human being. Ironically, this depreciation is the very force that completes the development of the poet’s feelings and makes him fall in love with the woman: “I fell just like a falling star”.

Next: “Affairs of the Heart” – the Feminist Criticism – Part II

Previous: Literary Theory: Comparing the Feminist and the New Criticism

Love Poetry


[1] Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. NY, Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, INC. 1989. P. 254-255.

[2] The Second Sex. P. 257.

[3] The Second Sex. P. 256.