In the poem “To Paint a Water Lily”, there is surprisingly little written about the lily itself. The poet focuses more on the surroundings of the lily. He may be telling the artist how to paint a lily, but he believes that the key to mastering the painting lies within realizing the lily’s true beauty and understanding the world it lives in. The true beauty of the water lily is that despite the chaos surrounding it, it rests unmoved and “still as a painting” on the pond’s surface.
The speaker believes that the artist must realize this before he can adequately paint the lily. The artist must take in the environment, the good and the bad, before understanding how truly magnificent the still water lily is. The water lily “roofs the pond’s chamber and paves the flies’ furious arena. Yet there’s the lily, stuck between two worlds. The writer uses diction to depict the lily’s surroundings as “dangerous”. The dragonfly “bullets by” and there are other creatures with “jaws for heads” that crawl in the darkness.
The author is definitely setting a tone using this imagery. Only once the lily’s surroundings are taken in can the true beauty of the lily be revealed to the artist. Even amongst all of the creatures and madness, there sits the water lily, “trembling hardly at all”. The poet knows that there’s both an ugly and a beautiful side to nature and he wants this to be known to the artist. Once the artist realizes all of this he can finally begin to paint. “Now paint the long-necked lily-flower”.