Stanza three

The narrative moves on and now the rival is serving the guests tea using silver sugar tongs and silver salver.

Such pretentiousness seems wholly designed to induce maximum discomfort for the speaker and there is an underlying suggestion that the hostess is enjoying seeing her visitor squirm.

On the surface, she is the perfect attentive host, glossing over the couple. Yet the effect of being in this claustrophobic, stuffy environment has affected the speaker.

A mahogany console table

Like the furnishings, she describes herself as all edges, a surface, a shell. The atmosphere is loaded with tension and apprehension as we wait to find out which one of these rivals will break first.

In the second half of this verse the speaker begins to reveal more about the nature of this relationship and the reason for the antipathy.

She casts the rival firmly in the role of combatant asserting that soon she will fight capped tooth and polished nail for her survival.

The repetition of the word 'fight' emphasises that for all the contrived politeness and civility, underneath something dark and dangerous squirms beneath the surface.

This is slightly incongruous, given the polished, gleaming, ornate and lavish surroundings.

In the penultimate line a clue is finally given as to the root of the rivalry. The speaker describes how she sips her tea deferential, daughterly.

We can deduce finally that the speaker has accompanied her lover, to be introduced to his mother, perhaps for the first time as a prospective daughter-in-law.

Unlike the women, he seems oblivious to underlying tension between his mother and his lover.

The root of the tension then is the mother’s fear that she is about to be usurped by her son’s partner - that she will no longer be the principal object of his affections.

Of course this is a natural rite of passage that all parents and children must experience but the speaker seems keenly alert to the reluctance of this mother to relinquish her place without a fight.

Now the details of the care and attention to the house and its furnishings mentioned in the earlier stanzas takes on a more sinister meaning - if she is so obsessed with the objects in her home, how much more protective and possessive is she likely to be with her own child?