WHEN lovely woman stoops to folly,
And finds too late that men betray,
What charm can soothe her melancholy?
What art can wash her tears away?
The only art her guilt to cover,
To hide her shame from ev’ry eye,
To give repentance to her lover,
And wring his bosom is—to die.
In the eighteenth century, when lovely woman stooped to folly, the only way for her to hide her shame and wring his bosom in repentance was to die. Death was the only solution when she had lost her chastity and the man betrayed her.
In the twentieth century , when lovely woman stoops to folly she merely paces up and down alone ,in her room ,smoothes her hair with automatic hand and puts a record on the gramophone. (T.S.Eliot : The Waste Land)
She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
‘Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.’
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.
The literary allusion made by Eliot serves the purpose of juxtaposing the social values prevailing at two different periods of time. But there is mockery of the society in both the poems, a biting sarcasm directed at the societies of both the times. In Goldsmith’s society an exaggerated importance is given to a woman’s chastity .In an act of promiscuity it is the woman who has to hide her shame whereas the man can walk away from the relationship without social disapproval. The woman “stoops” to folly, an act of bending from her moral uprightness. The only way she can wring repentance out of his bosom is for her to die.
In Eliot’s society chastity is no longer considered very important. But that does not mean the society has moved away from the retrograde sexual morality of Oliver Smith’s times. The exaggerated concern for female chastity is now replaced by a sexual more based upon unbridled lust and love without commitment. Here man-woman relationship is a purely mechanical one and there is nothing permanent about the relationship. The woman is hardly aware of her departed lover and does not care who he is because there is no intention of a permanent relationship behind the carnal act.