The poem opens with an image of the pearls that the speaker wears and warms at the behest of her mistress. The speaker notes that in the evening she grooms her mistress and transfers the pearls from her own neck to that of her mistress, readying her for a night out.
Throughout the poem, the pearls are an important symbol of the speaker's relationship to her mistress, and the speaker uses several techniques to center them within a strong image at the poem's opening. For example, the meter begins irregularly:
Next to my own skin, her pearls.
Both possessive terms—"my" and "her"—are unstressed while the nouns they describe receive stress, creating a parallel pattern that encourages a comparison between the speaker's skin and her mistress's pearls by placing them side by side, on equal footing. The initial caesura between "skin" and "her" also allows them to literally sit "next to" one another, as the poem describes, creating juxtaposition between the two phrases. The skin belongs to the speaker, emphasizing her physicality, while the pearls she wears belong to her mistress, associating her with wealth and luxury. This image sets up the contrast between the two women and begins to shape their dynamic. The second caesura contains the initial image so that it is short and cogent.
Over the next two lines, the meter becomes regular, settling into trochaic pentameter, meaning that there are 10 syllables in each line following a stressed-unstressed DA-dum DA-dum pattern:
bids me | wear them, | warm them, | until | evening
The steady rhythm begins to build momentum, drawing the reader into the poem. To do so, the speaker uses asyndeton, omitting a conjunction between “wear them” and “warm them” so that the rhythm is unbroken. Furthermore, the asyndeton results in the immediate repetition of /w/, /r/, and /m/ sounds, which exaggerates the meter and creates sonic interest.
This is part of a larger trend of repeating sounds that complement one another, an effect known as euphony, which can be observed in the many soft /m/, /n/, and /l/ sounds, which give the poem a delicate, airy atmosphere. Sibilance, a hissing effect caused by repeating /s/ sounds (such as "mistress bids"), as well as internal rhymes (“her pearls” and “wear […] hair”), also help to build this lyrical, harmonious mood.
Much like in line 1, the meter becomes irregular in this stanza’s concluding line, driving home the final image with three long stresses:
round her cool, white throat.
This description is important because it builds contrast between the two women by creating juxtaposition the mistress's cool skin and the speaker’s warm skin, which will become a key symbol in the coming lines.
Finally, the enjambed breaks between these first lines introduce a structural trend—all of the lines are about the same length and are arranged into quatrains, so they appear organized and neat on the page. However, the speaker breaks the lines mid-sentence or mid-clause, where someone reading aloud would not typically pause, creating erratic fragmented sentences. The sentences are even further divided by the caesurae that this structure necessitates and the speaker uses freely. This internal chaos, exacerbated by the regimented standards (that is, the tidy quatrains) to which it must conform, mirrors the speaker’s struggle to suppress her desires in accordance with social expectations. In other words, she looks calm and collected from the outside, but like these lines, she's in turmoil on the inside.