The poem begins by describing the pearls and their place on the speaker's neck. The structure of the first sentence juxtaposes the ownership of the pearls with their location. By identifying the "her" of the first sentence as "My mistress" in the second, the speaker clarifies the relationship between the two. She describes how she wears the pearls for her mistress until evening, when the speaker will brush her mistress's hair.
The speaker's mind then turns to her thoughts throughout the day, which seem dedicated to imagining what her mistress is thinking. She imagines her mistress resting in what she calls the Yellow Room, deciding what dress to wear for the evening. "She fans herself/whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering/every pearl," the speaker says, bringing her mistress out of her imagination and into corporeality. This stanza ends by describing the necklace as a rope, slack but very present around the speaker's neck.
In the next stanza, the speaker is again fantasizing about her mistress, imagining a party, where the men she dances with are perplexed by the speaker's scent lingering under the mistress's perfume. "She's beautiful," the speaker confesses without reservation. Finally, she images her mistress removing the pearls as she sleeps, naked: the heat leaves the pearls, and returns to the speaker, who "burns" as she imagines the pearls.