We have all felt insecure about our appearance. No matter how much one denies it, it is inevitable that in a world where appearance seems to mean everything, everyone at some point or another has experienced insecurity and diffidence towards their body image. In arguably her most famous piece of poetry, Fleur Adcock addresses her own personal experience with the standards of beauty in ‘Weathering’. Here, she employs her distinctive poetic methods of provocative openings, strong critical tone, naturalistic imagery, enticing figurative and strictly conventional structures in order to intertwine her most recurring thematic concerns of nature, anti-romanticism and place.
In typically provocative Adcock style (as seen in ‘A Way Out’ with “The other options to become a bird”), ‘Weathering’ commences with the thought provoking lines “Literally thin skinned, I suppose, my face/ catches the wind off the snow line and flushes/ with a flush that will never wholly settle”. Readers are immediately captivated by her affirmation of psychological strength despite physical weakness in her first three words. She confidently states the thin condition of her skin while ardent to avoid any misconceptions through the figurative clichï¿½ of being “thin skinned” that indicates emotional weakness. Additionally arresting is the naturalistic imagery of “the wind off the snowline and flushes with a flush that will never wholly settle” which also stimulates immediate attention in showing her gracious acceptance of the natural process of aging that the wind has caused. Her use of the “wind” is potentially a strikingly symbolic reference to aging being an uncontrollable force like the wind, or a literal reference to the physical effect of wind on the skin. Though in this introductory stanza Adcock uses typically provocative techniques and establishes her characteristic theme of nature and it’s processes, the stanza distinguishes ‘Weathering’ from her other poems in being much more personal- where the primary focus is not just her personal relationships with her family and men, but rather she explores the more personal issue of how she sees herself both emotionally and physically. It is this unique purpose of ‘Weathering’ which furthermore intrigues one to pursue reading the poem.
The pressure concerning beauty and appearance is immense, where throughout history there has always been a specific standard for everyone to be measured and rated against, from Marilyn Monroe in the 50s to today where being thin is actively encouraged by the media. To show her defiance of these standards, Adcock writes “Well: /that was a metropolitan vanity,/wanting to look young for ever, to pass.”, using the caesuraic “:” and line differentiation to vividly distinguish her acceptance of aging, from the metropolitan vanity which permeates the mentality of western cultures, especially in women.
Adcock extends her strong criticism to the next stanza, with “I was never a Pre Raphaelite beauty/nor anything but pretty enough to satisfy/men who need to seen with passable women.” Her tone is strikingly bitter, which like many of her anti-romantic poems derives from her abusive and negative relationships with men. Despite her ‘reputation as an anti-romantic’ as noted by critic Richard King, Weathering then takes a great transition in tone with “But now I am in love with a place/which doesn’t care how I look, or if I’m happy”. In contrast to her notably negative treatment of place as the ‘expatriate poet’ in her poetry like in ‘Unexpected Visit, Adcock expresses with a juxtaposing tone of happiness that she has found fulfilment in a place, most likely to be the Lake District of England which was where the poem was written. Readers may respond positively to such a revelation, feminist perspectives in particular favouring her expressed independence from men. However responses may also be sympathetic of Adcock, with how it seems she will never know what it feels like to be truly in love with another person.
When describing the ‘weathering’ of her body that she is proudly content with, Adcock illustrates in the third stanza “My hair will turn grey in case,/my nails chip and flake, my waist thicken, and the years work all their usual changes. If my face is to be weather beaten as well…”. Her imagery here is strikingly naturalistic and similar to the weathering of a rock – perhaps a further criticism on the objectification of women by men “who need to be seen with passable women.” Another possible intention for the imagery is Adcock’s desire to depersonify herself to an environmental object, in order to become a part of the place that she loves and that apparently loves her.
In the last stanza, Adcock leaves readers with further beautifully phrased and toned diction of “…that’s little enough lost, a fair bargain/, for a year among lakes and falls, when simply to look out of my window at the high pass/makes me indifferent to mirrors and to what my soul may wear over its new complexion”. Though the language here is beautiful, especially the personification of the soul which ironic to the subject matter has an appearance, this does not compare to the great beauty of Adcock’s message where she encourages indifference to mirrors, and therefore perceived flaws and faults and promotes a peaceful outlook on ones self.
In her critical review of the poem, poetry critic Katy Paul-Chowdhury notes that Adcock “embraces the signs of age in her face and body with deep compassion and wisdom, and yes, indifference – that it inspires us to do likewise.” Readers will inevitably agree with such a review, where it seems that ‘Weathering’ is Adcock’s most referenced and famous poem because it is her most inspirational. Supporting the idea that the poem intends to inspire, is how she employs a strictly conventional stanzaic form, and ‘accessible, declarative diction comes from a conscious wish to avoid taking advantage of the reader’ as noted by the Oxford Companion, which makes the message more available to a wider range of audiences and therefore more powerful. It must also be appreciated that although she uses her characteristic methods of provocative openings, strong critical tone, naturalistic imagery, enticing figurative and strictly conventional structures in order to intertwine her most recurring thematic concerns of nature, anti-romanticism and place; ‘Weathering’ is anything but characteristic of her in being a piece of great inspiration.