Margaret Cavendish's “Of Many Worlds in this World” Analysis
Metaphors and Similes
The Subtle Beauty of Poetry
Margaret Cavendish’s, “Of Many Worlds in this World” poem uses an abundance of metaphors to reflect its meaning. The idea behind the poem is that every world contains many smaller worlds within it, and those worlds further contain even smaller worlds in them, and so on. Metaphors are use to describe the meaning of the poem and relate it to the reader, and then to imply a strong sense of our own place in the universe. The poem also holds strong implications of female empowerment.
Firstly, the poem is structured with metaphors and similes throughout pretty much every verse. The similes offer a more direct comparison to objects that people have a strong perception of, such as boxes, or atoms. The metaphors, on the other hand, are used to convey a deeper meaning. They connect the reader to a comparison of worlds that exist within their own world, and to wonder about worlds that exist outside. From beginning to end, the poem is structured hierarchically to explain it’s meaning through metaphors. It can be broken down into four quatrains. The first quatrain’s verses use a box analogy to show us how something smaller can fit into something bigger, and so on. From this starting point, the reader is left with the idea that no matter how big or small something is; there is always something bigger or smaller than it as well. The next few lines go on to explain the idea of comparing these boxes to worlds. The poem starts off by explaining smaller worlds in the third quatrain, and how they can exist in our world. It goes on to imply that these tiny worlds may exist in a single earring worn by a person in the fourth quatrain. That is to say, the earring is merely an example, and it essentially means that the worlds can exist in anything.
Other Literary Devices and Themes
In a comparative sense between the worlds, metaphors are used to describe what the size of a world may be. For example, the 9th line of the poem is as follows: “For Creatures, small as Atoms, may be there.” This line compares the creatures of one such world, to atoms. In scientific terms, an atom is an extremely small single structure that comprises of bigger structures such as molecules. Neither of these can be seen to the bare human eye and need intense magnification. To the reader, it helps make sense out of just what a small world the poet may be referring to. If the creatures of the world are the size of atoms, then the world itself compared to our world would probably be the size of a penny. Cavendish even mentions that the world “may be no bigger than two-pence.” This metaphor gets her point across in two different ways. Firstly, the size of two pence is similar to the size of pennies. They are essentially coins that can be held in our hands and put into our pockets. If we can hold hundreds of these in our hand, these “worlds,” then that just shows the degree to which our world compares to these worlds, and the we as people compare to the people of these worlds. Another thing that has a significant sub-conscious effect is the idea of the value of two-pence. By comparing a whole world to the value of two-pence, it shows what little importance these worlds hold for us. These things are never really considered by people. People are far too busy with their own lives to consider the possibility of other worlds inside of our own. In fact, we often wonder about worlds existing outside of our own world, that we forget there may be smaller worlds inside. This idea is hinted explicitly by the line, “Which our dull senses easily escape”
With the two-pence comparison, the reader also gets a sense of how insignificant his or her own world is. If so many smaller worlds can exist inside our world, then perhaps our world is also a small fragment of another larger world. In that sense, we are the atoms, and our earth is the penny. With this idea comes a mystifying sense that maybe the world that is greater than our world is the world of God. The being or beings that we as humans refer to as looking over our world are actually much like ourselves. With that being said, it makes us seem like gods of the smaller worlds that exist in our own world. There is definitely a spiritual aspect to this poem and it makes you think about our existence in line with all other beings that may exist, whether bigger or smaller.
Many questions may arise within the reader towards the end of the poem, leaving a feeling of confusion and perhaps isolation. Our whole universe can be a part of an earring on some greater beings ear. It’s really quite a lot to take in. Are we to feel powerless? At the same time, there are so many worlds that may exist on our own earring, or any other object we own for that matter. Is that supposed to make us feel empowered? Regardless of size however, we know that we have no control over any of the smaller worlds that may or may not exist in our world. In fact, we can’t even see things so microscopic with the human eye. Should that put us at ease? Should we assume that greater beings, whether they exist or not, can’t even see us? After going through this whole process in our minds, we come back to realize that whether any of these things exist or not, we really can’t do anything about it. A lot of this doesn’t necessarily have to actively go through the reader’s mind; it may just be a subconscious process while they’re reading the poem. That’s the beauty of poetry, it evokes strong emotion but in a subtle way.
The last metaphor in the poem is one that really gets to the reader. The idea that a world may exist in the ear of a girl is simply astounding. A simple object like an earring, that no one really gives a second thought to. An object that is but an ornament to a girl, something she uses to accessorize herself with. This one object may in fact be comparable to a whole world carrying smaller people within it. The verse is very straight forward and simple, “A World of Worlds, as Pendents in each Ear.” The message behind it though, is just a strong as the verse is simple, a there are many strong connotations related to it. One inference is that the woman, the mother, the “creator” in a sense, rests this world on her ear. Relative to our world, where females are responsible for giving birth and nurturing our children. This again relates our own world to the smaller world, but this time not to something greater that exists outside of our world, but something within our world. It puts women in a position of power, and perhaps conveys that just as the world in a woman’s ear rests its fate upon her, so does the balance of our own world. It’s a very interesting idea, and it’s fairly difficult to explain clearly, but there is definitely a strong implication of female empowerment that rests in the last 2 verses.
In the end, the poem leaves us with three major things. Firstly, there is the idea that there may be other beings in the universe much larger, and much smaller than us; an idea that we rarely ever consider. The second thing is a question of our own sense of belonging in the universe, and what power we hold for our own existence. Lastly, the poem has suggestions of female empowerment and the idea that the balance of our world, as well as other worlds, may depend on women more than society has come to believe.