For the people who might feel a sense of familiarity while reading the name of the poet, you are not mistaken. “She is Not Fair to Outward View” by Hartley Coleridge is a lyrical poem about the poet’s fascination with the beauty of a woman.
Apart from the poem, the last name of the poet may have intrigued many readers. Is the poet somehow related to the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Indeed he is. Hartley Coleridge was the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Just like his father, Hartley Coleridge also had a poetic touch and he dabbled in romantic, lyrical poems albeit he could never attain the success his father did.
There is no official name of the poem so we take the first line of it and make it the title. Let’s take a look at the poem and then we shall analyze it, looking at the finer details.
She is Not Fair to Outward View by Hartley Coleridge
SHE is not fair to outward view, As many maidens be, Her loveliness I never knew Until she smiled on me: O, then I saw her eye was bright, -- A well of love, a spring of light. But now her looks are coy and cold; To mine they ne'er reply; And yet I cease not to behold, The love-light in her eye: Her very frowns are better far Than smiles of other maidens are!
Meaning of the Poem
Understanding the meaning of the poem is not too complicated or difficult. The poet is telling the readers about the incident when he saw a woman. A flower in a bouquet.
At first glance, there was nothing special about the girl. But all of that changed when the girl looked at him and smiled. That smile became the reason for the poet to write this poem.
The poet says that this smile was very short-lived, almost as if the woman smiled at him mistakenly. And yet an ever-lasting image was created in that single moment of smile and embrace.
Coleridge says that at first she did not seem special, and people might not even consider her beautiful externally. But everything changes when she smiles with her eyes.
Her smile has an enchanting effect on the poet, and after her magic has taken over, the poet finds even her frowns better than the smiles of other girls. Such was the beauty of her smile.
Was the Girl Beautiful?
The poet was very clear from the beginning that she looked very ordinary and anyone would find her features to be plain.
Her beauty did not reside on the outside but on the inside. When this lady smiled, it opened a window that revealed her inner beauty.
Her smile captured the attention of the poet, and it showed how pure and innocent this girl is. It was such an enchanting effect that after that, no other girl could compare to her.
About the Girl
From the poem and the description of the girl, there are a few things we can understand about how the girl views herself. Let’s take a look at these lines.
Until she smiled on me:
O, then I saw her eye was bright, –
A well of love, a spring of light.
But now her looks are coy and cold;
To mine they ne’er reply;
This stanza tells us the entire account of the poet’s encounter with the girl. The girl smiled and it was the most beautiful thing the poet had ever seen. But then something else happens.
We find out that the girl goes back to her normal state where she does not smile. In fact, she refrains from it acting coy and cold. But why?
There could be many reasons why she did not smile at the poet again. Perhaps she is aware that she is not beautiful, and that makes her stay cold and coy. But what if it’s the other way around?
What is her coldness and coyness that is the reason why this girl does not catch the attention of people, but occasionally when she smiles shows her true beauty?
Perhaps this girl is always cold, afraid, or hesitant to smile. Or maybe she is going through some internal suffering that she does not want the world to know about.
She is beautiful, but her beauty hides behind the cold walls of her pain. It is only in rare moments when the girl smiles with all her heart, and the light in her eyes shine.
And yet I cease not to behold,
The love-light in her eye:
Her very frowns are better far
Then smiles of other maidens are!
The poem ends in a beautiful way. Coleridge says that even though the smile lasted for only a moment, it has left a life-long image in his mind. He just cannot stop seeing that image in his mind.
He is also baffled how this woman with a cold and coy smile can have such a lovely light in her eyes. Her smile was so bewitching that even her frowns have become better than the smiles of other women.
Beauty is inside the person, and no matter how a person looks, the moment they smile, the inner beauty reveals itself. The girl was beautiful and while her cold appearance hid that, her warm smile melted the ice and revealed the beauty inside.