Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

The Many Portraits of Isabel Archer

kkazan's picture


The Ever-changing Portrait of Isabel Archer





Never a calm in the waters of her mind

Floating freely throughout time, without consideration

Inner beauty, outer tenacity

The future, an open adventure

No stings to break, no tethers wanted

Unadulterated freedom on the horizon

Straining to escape grounded boundaries

Society, station, expectations – not enough to bind her


Limitless dreams, flowing in the rivers of time

Floating on flowers

Viewing what she pleases

Gaps left where reality infringes

Happily left to childhood daydreams

Lost in the magic – down the rabbit hole

Descending down into the depths

No escort of life necessary


Stoically enticing

Intoxicatingly distant

Bound in her beauty enticing the devotee

Closer, closer – closed

Her cage is shut – keeping the world out

Content flitting about – no conductor needed

Exploring the unknown

On terms of her own





Deceptive blankness

Retreating behind

Hiding intentions

Nothing to untangle

Completely moldable – free to interpretation

Untouched, unformed

Everything to be taught

Free from influence – open to the task


Demure mask

No mind of her own

Devoted and willing

What lurks beneath the beauty so pure?

No independence of thought

Nor lack of duties call

Free for the taking

Make what you can

Perfect fit


The eyes so hidden

Changed for the man

Playing the part – becoming the part

Remodeled for the show

All done up – no pin misplaced

Ready to be caught

But what will you get?

The lady of perfection or deception





Captured and encaged

Fooled by the master

A pawn in the plan – a possession

Not as promised

Far from desires

Duped in to marriage

Caught in a deception

Still behind the veil – not all is clear


Believing in the fabrication

Hoping for the best

The blind eye – unseeing

Portraying the falsehood

Unable to define

The enigma untouched

Wondering for more

Unwilling to see the truth


Resentment and hatred

Pushed onto herself

Tiptoeing around – the water undisturbed

What is it she’s seeing?

Emergent from the safe recess

Of her mind – into the bright light

All has been revealed

Nothing can be changed.




Looking out seeing the sunrise

Seeing the blinding light – eyes wide open

To the scene in the foreground

No way to escape – the truth has been found

She was outwitted

Young and naïve

Saw what she desired – asked no questions

Trusted those not worthy


Looking back – unhindered for the first time

The closed doors of opportunities overlooked

She strays to long

Looking on what could be

Tempted by another

Looking for protection

Passed on from another

She hesitates


Duty calls

Not to be escaped

She must stand, alone

A woman for the first time

Unwilling to flee

Head on straight

Eyes frontward

Protective innocence lost forever



Anne Dalke's picture

Poetically speaking

your images are all here now, as comments on (or points of departure from?) your poetry. What's missing, though, is an explication, so I've got a ton of questions for you, all centered around the query of what has 'changed' in the portrait of Isabel Archer, rendered poetically:

What were you aiming for, in turning Henry James's novel into poetic form? What does the genre shift get you? (What were you trying for, and what actually happened?) Why this particular form of poetry (center-aligned, with no punctuation, except the ambiguous, Emily-Dickinsonian dash?) What were you signaling, about content, in choosing that form? Are you using James's own words, pulling out some sort of concentrated essence? Or using your own, to try to articulate, in different -- and radically shortened! -- form, what he said @ such length? I'd like to ask you, too, the same question I asked both Penguins and MissArcher2: do you think that your experiment has the intention -- and the effect -- of clarifying or complexifying the novel?

I don't know if you noticed, during the first round of projects for this course, that MissArcher2 also wrote a "crown of sonnets" for Alice James, trying (she said) "to get into Alice’s head — to understand the point she was making in her writing, and to then delve deeper into the words to get a sense of what she might have been feeling when she wrote them" -- while also seeking "to convey Alice’s feelings without necessarily saying exactly what she was thinking," "a sort of mirror of her hypocritical tendencies." You seemed to chose a very different point of view in your experiment, describing Isabel from a third person omniscient perspective. Why? How much does that p.o.v. allow or hinder you from trying to say for Isabel what she didn't say in James's words?

I'm curious...and look forward to hearing more....

kkazan's picture

My Own Feelings

 Here are my answers to your questions. I am afraid I did not find a way to put them together is a coherent way other than simply answering and then elaborating.

When I chose to write these poems, I was aiming at finding a simple, somewhat straightforward way of expressing the often-introverted feelings of Isabel. I felt that poetry allowed me to talk only about feelings and inter workings rather than prose which needs context that tends to draw the focus away from what was really important to me: emotions. I think that my attempt, with poetry was successful, I am not sure about the portraits. For me, they showed different personalities in a woman that fit with the way Isabel was feeling during a specific segment in the novel. The image came first, followed up by the poetry as a way to explain what I saw in the image. Looking back on it, I realize that others view images in very different ways, and even if the image conveyed something strongly to me, it may have conveyed something completely different to another. I hope that the poetry cleared up what I saw in the image, but there was no way for me to address what the reader saw in the image if it was indeed different than what I saw. I focused on expressions, which are often read differently for different people.

When it came to form of the poetry, I must say I didn’t put much thought into, expect that I chose a form that I felt was loose enough to allow me to discuss what I wanted to. Looking back, the commas could correlate to the gaps in the novel; representing the pause it took me to understand Isabel’s feelings, as they were never directly handed to me from James. I chose to use my own words, with which I tried to express what James said in a much shorter, and hopefully clearer form. I had the intent of clarifying the novel, in specific Isabel’s feelings which I felt were so vague yet intensely important. I feel that I did what I set out to do.

I think that I chose to write the poems in the perspective I did because I was trying to mirror the way in which the novel was written. I wasn’t trying to clarify Isabel’s emotions through Isabel because I feel that most of the time Isabel had no awareness of what she was feeling until the very end of the novel. 

kkazan's picture


 I am not sure why my images have not come out. I will try to have them up by Monday. Sorry to be late on that.