“The Landlady” Poetry Commentary

Margaret Atwood’s theme in The Landlady is about the speaker’s prison-like living situation in what can be assumed to be a dorm. The landlady has made home, the place where we can feel free and comfortable, to a suffering sentence. The landlady is sin control, and the speaker, a young university student, cannot escape from the landlady, physically nor mentally.

The Landlady is effectively written in free verse and is a run-on style of poetry, allowing the readers emotions and thoughts to carry to the next line all the way to the end of the poem.

The poem runs for 9 stanzas, all of which vary in the number of lines. The shorter stanzas are in the beginning and in the end; where as the larger stanzas are in the middle. The poem begins and ends with a one line stanza, the first one being a full sentence, where as the last line finishing off the sentence of the 8th stanza.

The first line compares the landlady to an animal, a mean dangerous one, as the landlady is said to have a “lair”, and the last line makes reference to animal, as well, as Atwood uses the word “bacon”.

After the first stanza, or line, there is one three-line stanza, followed by a four-line stanza, then a five-line stanza, but then cuts back down to a four-line stanza, jumping to a six-line stanza, repeating a six-line stanza, then a four-line stanza, and finishing off with a one-line stanza. There really seems to be no pattern, except for chaos, and no sense of order.

However, in stanza six, it has senses which are in order, first sounds (“raw voice” “slams…doors”), then smells (intrusive as the smells that bulge in under my doorsill”), and then sight (“a bulk”, “blocking my way”). By doing this, Margaret Atwood increases the tension, from the sounds of the lair below the speaker’s room, to her actual physical presence. Line lengths vary, as well, and are quite frequently broken and run on to the next line, suggesting a fast rhythm to represent danger, fear, anxiety and a sense of entrapment of this woman, the landlady.

The poem is cleverly divided into four sections, each giving a different and new idea. The first section, which is the first four stanzas, is the speaker describing the landlady. She is said to be “intrusive” and “everywhere”. This symbolizes that the landlady is strong and controlling. The second section, which is the fifth stanza, says that the landlady is said to control the speaker’s life; everything belongs to the landlady and nothing to the university student. The third section, which the sixth stanza, explaining the speaker’s dream of an escape from the landlady, but even in the dream, she is just always there. The last section, which is the remaining three stanzas, describes how the landlady is overpowering and will not let the speaker go through her.

As noted before, the form of the poem suggest the tone of the poem as fearful, full of anxiety, and a sense of entrapment by the speaker because of the woman’s power and authority over him. The fifth verse, “and when I dream images/of daring escapes through the snow/I find myself walking/always over a vast face/which is the land-/lady’s, and wake up shouting,” give the poem and almost breathless quality, reflected in these short, broken lines.

Atwood uses strong use imagery and metaphorical language. Images are vivid and informative to give us a clearer understanding of how the landlady is viewed by the speaker. In the second stanza, Atwood writes that the landlady is “a raw voice”, using a synecdoche, indicating beastlike sounds. The landlady is given beastlike imagery, when the speaker says she is “loose in the rooms beneath me” like an animal let out of a cage which can be pretty dangerous and with the use of works of “lair”, “henyard/squabble” and “bacon”.

The reader really gets the feeling of the landlady being intrusive. In the fifth stanza, we are given the feel that the speaker is in a space which feels like a prison. “From her I rent my time”, as if the landlady owns him, like in prison when prisoners give time for their time. As well, the speaker states that “nothing is [his]”, again, in prison, you don’t have anything. The speaker also says that the landlady “slams [his] days like doors” giving more of a controlling character to the landlady.

The diction used in this poem has a large use of vocabulary to describe the fear of the speaker, using harsh words such as “squabble”, “bicker”, “intrusive”, “raucous” and “immutable”. All these words have hard consonants to describe a harsh lady, and a prison-like feeling. “squabble” uses strong sounds such as “sq” and “bb”, “bicker” using sounds such as “b” and “ck”, “intrusive”, using sounds with the “t” and “s”, “raucous” has a strong “c” sound, and finally, “immutable” uses the powerful “mm” sound. The vocabulary Atwood uses really helps describe the fear and danger the speaker is going through at the time.

In conclusion, Margaret Atwood’s main concern is to voice her opinion and convey as clearly as possible her feminist views. Though her use of metaphors and choice of words, she gives and impression that women, during the time period of when this poem was written, there was a strong feminist uprising, allowing the women to realize they were treated with no respect.