Thomas Hardy Poems
Analysis of In Tenebris II
Psalm 142, verse 2: “No man cared…” This Biblical verse applies perfectly to “In Tenbris”, a poem written out of despair for the society Hardy in which lived. He expresses his pity and contempt for the materialist citizens and power hungry rulers. The rhyme scheme is a playful and simply happy one (abab), something similar to a child’s poem. This frisky rhyme scheme is in sharp contrast to the mood of the poet and the feel of the poem. The pattern may reflect the optimism of society, which is in fact, hollow and full of grief. It is worth noting that each stanza ends with the word ‘here’. It may be a cryptic attempt to tell the reader that he is not being noticed, or ‘heard’ (a homophone). Just as most readers would ignore the double meaning behind ‘here’, the society is ignoring Hardy’s cries and warnings. The poem exhibits dusty/smoky imagery. Unlike sunny weather, dusty weather may symbolize allusion. In dust or smoke, we can’t see properly, and hence don’t realize the reality of what’s going on around us. The people of his society are blind ad fooling themselves with their optimism. Perhaps that is the message he wishes to send to his readers. Images of wind and breezes symbolize how this happiness is temporary, like our stay in this world. “Breezily go they breezily come; their dust smokes around their career”The poet uses sarcasm as a unique way of expressing his feelings. It also emphasizes the graveness of the situation: “And my eyes have not the vision in them to discern what to these is so clear”. Hardy talks about the reason for their happiness and optimism. He implies that there is nothing to be happy about; these blind people see something that’s not there. “Their dawns bring lusty joys, it seems their evenings all that is sweet” indicates that lusty joys have sexual implications. It is unlikely that the poet, being a man of nature, considers sex the ultimate sweetness. The people around him, apparently feel they’re enjoying the best of their times. It is Hardy who knows that there are things to life other than money, power and sex. There’s nature which holds endless elements waiting to be explored. Thomas Hardy is famous for his pessimistic poems; naturally, extreme optimism would irritate him. Hence, a sense of hatred against the rulers can be seen in the poem. The rulers or elite class give the impression that everything’s fine in their kingdom, their subjects along with themselves are happy and are living the best times of their lives: “All’s well with us” and “Our times are blessed times”. Their entire lives (similar to our) revolves around their career, and new ideas to make money. In a hectic life like this, they often forget to appreciate things of beauty like nature or religion: “Their dust smokes around their career”. The ones (like the poet) who complain are whiners. They’d complain even if everything was right. “Ruers ought to rue”. ‘Ruers’ isn’t a word of the English dictionary. The poet made up this word to reflect their made up stories about perfect lives. However, the poet implies that the only thing these rulers will be affected by is Nature. When Nature “echoes back the shouts of many and strong”, they’ll realize how wrong they were in indulging in evil practices. Perhaps nature echoes by natural disasters. The poet feels alone. As if he’s the only one who recognizes the causes for misery and pain. He alone is miserable in a world of optimistic people. “There are many smiles to a tear.”“Let him in whose ears the low-voiced Best is killed by the clash of the First,Who holds that if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst,Who feels that delight is a delicate growth cramped by crookedness, custom and fear,Get him up and be gone as one shaped awry; he disturbs the order here.”The last stanza exhibits a newfound confidence in the poet. It’s a sudden shift from the miserable, whining person to a condescending, authoritative one. However, this stanza is written form a third person’s view, possibly the elite class of society. Hardy refers to himself as ‘he’ and yet repeats the same thing he mentioned in the previous stanzas: He just doesn’t belong in that time. The stanza describes Hardy from a different point of view. There is a contrast between the Best and the First. Keep in mind that this is the elite class speaking here. So, according to them, the best would be the exact opposite of what Hardy believes to be the best. The First may symbolize nature, as it was the first thing on earth. On the other hand, the ‘Best’ may be new technology developing in that era. The best is low voiced, kind of like devil whispering in your ear. Society wants to get rid of those who give preference to Nature over technology people like Hardy.”Who holds that if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst.” In the age of new developments and industrialization, some believed that spending money on these inventions wasn’t justified with people dying of hunger and poverty. According to them, in order to move forward, a look at the poor (worse off) was required. People like Hardy. “Who feels that delight is a delicate growth cramped by crookedness, custom and fear.” Delicate growth gives us and image of a flower growing. Images from nature are deliberately inserted in the poem to emphasize their lack of appreciation of Nature. This delicate growth, love of Nature is cramped by what other people might think. I mean a person who does nothing but sit by flowers all day will encourage people to talk about him. Plus, the love of nature was being replaced by love for technology which he considered to be “crooked”. Moreover, in that time people had low tolerance to pre-marital sex. Hardy may be referring it as love was also cramped by custom in those days. His parents had made love before marriage too, and had become the topic of discussion for many years. People like the poet didn’t belong in the society. Instead of describing society as in the first three stanzas, Hardy describes himself. It is possible that he justifies himself and his views to his readers.
Hardy’s Presentation of Grief in “Neutral Tones” and “I Look Into My Glass”
The poems under study are Neutral Tones (“NT”) and I Look Into My Glass (“Glass”). Both poems focus on loss of a different kind: “Glass” expresses the loss of Hardy’s youth; “NT” focuses on the death of Hardy’s estranged wife, it grieves the loss of their love. Although the losses are different, both poems use the vehicle of time to express Hardy’s sadness, “Glass” through the passage of a day and “NT” through the passage of the seasons.
In “Glass”, the verbs cleverly highlight the passage of time and the pain of the loss of Hardy’s youth. In the first two lines, “look” and “view” are both in the present tense: Hardy is both literally looking into his mirror and figuratively looking at himself, being both retrospective and introspective. However, with the sight of his aging skin, the tense quickly changes to the conditional. Hardy wishes that his heart were as “thin” as his “wasting skin”. He wishes his heart weren’t so full of feeling and passion, that he had the moderate, dispassionate feelings of an old man; for then it would not hurt if someone did not reciprocate his feelings. In the final stanza, he reverts to the present tense, and the verbs he uses here highlight both his pain and his passivity. Time, personified, is the aggressor and is robbing him of his physical youth. The assonance in the last stanza, emphasises the aggression of time, as does the sudden quickening of pace in the last two lines and the use of active verbs (“shakes”, “throbbings”).
Hardy feels lonely, unloved and slightly betrayed by the “hearts grown cold to me”. If his heart were not so full of passion, then he could approach old age and death without distress, in a calm fashion. He grieves that this is not the case and that, though his body is old, he still has the feelings of a young man. He thinks time has been mischievous by taking away his youthful looks whilst retaining all his feelings. The poem is dominated by contrasting images of eve and noon, inward youth and external decay. He compares his body to the end of a day, whereas his emotions are at the meridian. Passion, which is at its zenith, seems to shake the “fragile frame” of the body. Hardy projects the image of a person suffering passively at the hands of others through phrases such as “hearts grown cold to me” and “Time, to make me grieve”.
In “NT” Hardy uses the seasons to convey time. He begins by describing winter in the past tense. He describes it as dull, grey and lifeless. All of this is a metaphor for the aftermath of his relationship with his wife, describing the lack of feeling between them, where once there had been joy and warmth. He talks of “the starving sod”, inferring that there is no sustenance, warmth or comfort. His use of words, such as “fallen” and “starving” highlight the death of the love that once existed between them. Hardy deliberately doesn’t describe his wife in the first stanza, preferring, instead, to describe the bleakness of the scene. This bleakness is also emphasised by the lack of movement and energy seen throughout this stanza. He then goes on to describes his wife’s eyes as cold, uninterested, bored and perhaps a little perplexed (as to the fact that she had ever loved Hardy). They passed some social niceities between them but these words sounded even more hollow because of the lack of warmth, love and intimacy that had once existed between them. Hardy then goes onto to describe his wife’s smile as dead, but even that dead smile disappeared, to be replaced by a bitter rictus grin. Hardy is haunted by the image of his wife’s face, silhouetted by a cold, harsh sun, a stark tree and a desolate pond edged with the grey leaves of the ash, a tree which symbolises sacrifice. The title of the poem implies that Hardy can speak of his wife in a neutral voice because there are no feelings there, only emptiness. It also refers to the fact that they just exchanged banalities and didn’t have a full-on row, However, Hardy is not neutral. He is very negative and embittered by the experience, saying “that love deceives”. Now, every time Hardy feels unloved, wronged or hurt, he sees his wife’s face by the pond. His bitterness is further emphasised by the use of the phrase “God curst sun”, with its short, harsh sounds. The overall impression of Hardy’s dramatic monologue is of decay and the loss of love and vitality.
Hardy coveys grief in both of these poems using the passage of time and many other methods (some analysed above). “Glass” is thoughtful and there is rather a slow pace, which is emphasised by the regular rhyme scheme and numerous punctuations. “NT” is not as languid in pace and has a “choppier”, more aggressive tone. Strongly negative words, such as “starving”, “deadest”, “die”, “deceives”, “wrong”, “God curst” and “ominous” dominate. The main difference to me is that, in “Glass”, he comes across as sad, full of lamentation and suffering but in a passive, almost accepting fashion. In “NT”, he comes across as angry, hurt and bitter. Whilst he cannot have done anything to stop or slow down the passage of time and the aging of his body, one wonders what he did to his wife to make her feel such antipathy and bitterness towards him. In “Glass”, Hardy is almost harking back to the good old days, when he was young in body and heart. In “NT”, it is as if there were no good old days (when obviously he was once in love with his wife, otherwise he wouldn’t have married her and wouldn’t have felt so bitter towards her- the love/hate oxymoron.) It is as if he wishes those days had never been, that he had never married. One poem is full of sadness and regret, the other full of anger and pain. All of these feelings are manifestations of grief.
They say grief moves through denial (which Hardy does in the first stanza of “NT” by deliberately not talking about his wife), to anger, pain, acceptance and sadness. Hardy knows aging is inevitable but grieves the effect time is having on his body. Hardy grieves the relationship he had with his wife but was an active participant in the relationship; he might well be cursing himself for having married her in the first place, thinking he could have saved himself the pain.
The Power, or Powerlessness, of Nature: Eliot’s ‘Preludes’ and Hardy’s ‘Afterwards’
The conflict between humanity and the natural world is one that spans back into an ancient past, perhaps beginning with the myth of Prometheus – punished for granting the gift of fire to mankind. Due to this, it is unsurprising that both modernist poet T.S Eliot and victorian poet Thomas Hardy are so concerned with the power dynamics of nature in their poems ‘Preludes’ and ‘Afterwards’. Whilst Eliot’s poem moves between claustrophobic settings to portray the natural world as powerless and trapped, humans are characterised as able to choose whether or not they rejuvenate the power of nature. In contrast, Hardy’s perspective of nature is far more powerful, and is shown to transcend the barriers of time, whilst also memorialise the memory of human beings.
In ‘Preludes’, Eliot presents nature as powerless to the rising force of industrialism which is shown to suffocate and control both the natural world, and the poem’s city-dwellers. The setting detail of a ‘lonely cab-horse’ moving through the city’s outskirts is used in the first stanza to immediately present ‘natural’ creatures as enslaved by the surrounding cityscape: the compound noun ‘cab-horse’, implies that even powerful creatures such as the horse have been distorted into mere functions of the city’s industrial machine, designed to maximise economic profit through performing unnatural roles such as ‘cabs’. The effects of industrialism on the animal are deepened by the ‘steam’ and ‘stamp’ of the horse- dynamic verbs which draw correlations with the movements of a machine, with the monosyllables also mirroring the utter force of the city-scape on the animal, and by extension, the natural environment. If the ‘horse’ is an emblem of diminished ‘power’, Eliot’s later ‘sparrow’ can be seen to symbolise the concept of human and animalistic liberty, which is similarly restricted by the destructive setting: ‘And the light crept up between the shutters,/ And you heard the sparrows in the gutters’. The nouns ‘shutters’ and ‘gutters’ literally trap Eliot’s ‘sparrow’ on the page- and to do this with perfect rhyme suggests the sparrow will ever be overpowered by the claustrophobic city setting, even when shunned to the outskirts. That the traditional natural symbol of hope (‘light’) is characterised here as sinister and invasive through the verb ‘crept’, further underlines the discouraging idea that even natural ‘light’ is not able to illuminate or redeem Eliot’s ruined metropolis. Nonetheless, ‘light’ also enjoys more positive description throughout the poem, most notably in its first mention: ’And then the lighting of the lamps’, which might be read as injecting a glimmer of hope into the verse. Whilst the structure of the line as closing the first stanza might promise a future in which the ‘decay’ of the stanza is eclipsed by natural power, it must be noted that the ‘light’ here is manmade, thus holds no semblance to natural authority.
Perhaps Eliot is trying to make the point that whilst a hopeful future in which the cityscape is vanquished is an attainable one, this must be sought through human effort rather than any action of the natural world: the alliterated ‘l’ creates a sense of urgency and pace, thus encourages the audience to awake from their ‘dogmatic slumbers’ and take heed to save their landscape before it is too late. In this way, nature is portrayed as having the potential for extreme power, but only if humans are able to establish themselves in opposition to the increasing process of industrialisation, unlike Hardy’s poetry, in which nature is presented as an unstoppable force able to overcome human folly. A lethargic semantic field is used in the first stanza of ‘Preludes’ to describe nature in the city (‘winter…settles down’, ‘burnt-out ends’), to foreground a sense of tiredness and lack of action- almost as if the city has given up on itself. Alternatively, the catalogue of references to commonplace human activity in the first stanza from ‘burnt-out ends of smoky days’, to ‘a gusty shower wraps/ The grimy scraps’ implies that mankind can be held responsible for this natural decay. One critic deemed Eliot’s characters ‘a culture less, faithless mass of people’, which is unsurprising when considering that the ‘grimy scraps’ might refer to all that is left of human lives that fall like ‘withered leaves’, unable to exert authority over the industrialist society they have created, and therefore are unable to rejuvenate the power of the natural landscape. Indeed, Eliot’s frequent enjambments and use of free verse further this sense of disorganisation, conveying a sense of pessimism in which neither humans nor natural forces are able to exert or gain any power. To conclude, it is clear that the natural world, for Eliot, is shown as powerless to the actions of humans and also the limitations of industrialism which Eliot characterises as seeking to destroy any inkling of natural life within the city. Nonetheless, Eliot makes clear that mankind has the capacity to reformulate the power of nature through taking action to quell the destructive effects of 1910s capitalism, marking nature as having the potential to become a powerful force. Whilst Eliot’s ‘Preludes’ warns of the destructive influences humanity is able to have on the environment, Hardy’s ‘Afterwards’, in contrast, is a testament to the union and harmony between nature and the individual.
In ‘Afterwards’, the narrator imagines a future following his death in which the romantic beauty and power of the natural world remains intact- arguably conveying a sense of optimism lacking from Eliot’s ‘grimy’ and ‘broken’ landscape. This natural charm is set up from the poem’s first stanza, in which the rich lexical choices used to describe nature are linked through alliteration and internal rhyme to colour nature as a creative and vibrant force able to overcome the human limitations of mortality- a subject matter given little description despite it being the poem’s central theme: such evidence of this is the claim that ’the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings’, which, when juxtaposed with the sparse language used to describe the narrator after death (‘He is a man who used to notice such things’) makes nature seem all the more powerful due to its ability to replace lost human lives with new and more vibrant natural lives. The fluctuating descriptions between that of humanity and the environment throughout the poem mirror this cycle of natural life replacing and invigorating the lives of men, and yet, the poem ends, not on natural imagery, but with the imagined dialogue of the onlookers at the poets death: ‘He hears it not now, he used to notice such things?’. This might imply that it is not nature in itself that is a powerful force, but the human ability to notice and find beauty in nature, which seems likely considering Hardy wrote this to be read out at his funeral, thus would be more concerned with ensuring his imaginative ideas were met with praise by future audiences, rather than how nature is perceived in itself.
Alternatively, it could be argued that Hardy’s goal throughout the poem is not to prioritise his ideas about the natural world above the natural world itself, but to mark nature as a medium for carrying on his legacy and commemorating his intellect after death. Such interconnection between the narrator and nature is evident as the poet uses the metaphor of a ‘dewfall-hawk… crossing the shades to alight’ to symbolise the transcendence of the speaker’s soul into a metaphysical afterlife, whilst also departing from the tendency of the romantic poets to place nature on a pedestal far removed from human interaction in suggestions that the power of humanity and that of nature is interlinked. Indeed, this is also a reference to the classical underworld of the Greeks – the shades being ghosts that resided in Hades- which reinforces the power of nature as spanning back to an ancient past, whilst simultaneously being able to overcome death in the current day, unlike Eliot’s use of classical allusion in ‘Prufrock’- the closing sirens singing used to exaggerate his isolation from nature rather than his connection with it. Hardy wanted to be remembered here as a ‘lover of nature’, writes critic Allingham, a phrase suggesting a beautiful relationship between the pair which is developed through the idyllic imagery used to describe his post-humous landscape, as those commemorating his death ‘Watch the full-starred heavens that winter sees’. The image of a star-scape here might serve to memorialise and sensationalise the public perceptions of the speaker post-death- as people are able to look skywards to remind themselves that his ideas still hold significance – and in this way, nature is given full power to preserve memory and remind people of past feelings. Furthermore, the lexis ‘full-starred’ is just one example of the many compound adjectives littered throughout the poem used to present nature as ever-changing and able to adapt into countless different forms, creating an overall message of hope through implying that nature will continue to flourish despite the limitations of time. Overall, it cannot be denied that the natural world is indeed seen as a powerful force in Hardy’s verse, in its capacity to not only transcend the limitations of mortality itself, but also in its ability to commemorate and uphold the ideas of human beings after their death- allowing them to be faintly resurrected, for their loved ones, in natural surroundings. In this way, Hardy subverts Eliot’s message in ‘Preludes’ that human action is able to uphold and secure the power of nature, through suggesting that it is indeed the power of nature which can ossify the power of the human imagination after death.
It is clear that both Hardy and Eliot through their verse present the natural world as having the potential for extreme power. In ‘Preludes’, Eliot asserts that this power must be unlocked by human efforts. Yet nature in Hardy’s ‘Afterwards’ is given individual power in its ability to exert force over human perceptions of thought even after death – presenting an arguably more powerful portrayal of the natural world as nature prospers regardless of the limitations of human activity.
Positive Men, Negative Women?: Unfortunate Gender Connotations in “A Sunday Morning Tragedy,” The Newcomer’s Wife,” and Other Poems
The poetry of the Victorian novelist Thomas Hardy contains some progressive ideals which challenge negative stereotypes associated with women in the Victorian era; notable here are poems such as ‘A Sunday Morning Tragedy’ and ‘The Newcomer’s Wife’. He challenged the Victorian sexual double standard, which ‘upheld different standards of chastity for men and women’ and marginalised unmarried women for sex outside of marriage. Nevertheless, Hardy also contradicts this progressive attitude in poems such as ‘At an Inn’ and ‘A Trampwoman’s Tragedy’, by conveying a greater sense of empathy toward male characters than female characters, thus attributing negative connotations to a female gendering.
To a certain extent, Hardy could be seen as challenging the importance of Victorian society’s rule and the extent to which they dictated the lives of Victorian women. In the poem ‘A Sunday Morning Tragedy’, Hardy writes from the viewpoint of a mother, whose daughter is seemingly jilted by her lover, as she lived in ‘poverty’, despite being pregnant. The mother is portrayed as a socially conscious individual, who responds to her daughter’s apparent misfortune by acquiring a drug to ‘balk ill-motherings’, a phrase which leads to the mother postulating as to ‘why should they’ be considered ‘ill-motherings’. The negative connotations of the adverb ‘ill’ infer that illegitimate children are somehow imperfect, whilst the plural form of the noun ‘mothering’ implies that the mother of the child should take sole responsibility for an illegitimate child. Hardy challenges the widely held Victorian societal belief that a mother who bore an illegitimate child should face ‘condemnation from their community’, simply for conceiving a child outside of wedlock, despite not being solely responsible for the conception of the child. Victorian society’s attitude toward illegitimate children often culminated in the murder of these children. Hardy discovered one incident in 1885, which served as an inspiration for the poem, where women dropped their illegitimate children into the river below, to rid themselves of the shame that the children brought upon them. As Hawkins states, “it was these disfigurements and mutilations of the natural sexuality of women that aroused in Hardy a deep feminist sympathy.”. Through ‘A Sunday Morning Tragedy’, Hardy expresses his dislike toward the standards of Victorian society, mainly as a result of his own experience to the damage that these values had upon the lives of numerous young women. Thus, Hardy’s poetry rejects the notion that a female gendering should evoke negative connotations, as it questions the lack of equality in the treatment of men and women, in regard to society’s double standard of sex outside of marriage.
Hardy continues his remonstration of Victorian society’s ideals, thus promoting progressive feminist ideals, in his poem, ‘The Newcomer’s Wife’. According to Barry, the focus of feminist criticism ‘is on the heroine’s choice of marriage partner, which will decide her ultimate social position and exclusively determine her happiness and fulfilment in life, or lack of these’. Conversely, in ‘The Newcomer’s Wife’, it is the husband’s fate and social position that is determined by his wife. Therefore, to some degree, the female character has some power, as her previous actions influence the fate of her husband. Nonetheless, one could argue that this portrayal of the female character evokes negative connotations. Hardy writes from the male perspective, which infers to the reader that he emphasises more with the husband than the female character, who is demonised for her sexuality. The husband ‘knows nothing of [his wife’s] past’. The use of the negative adverb ‘nothing’ evokes a sense of sadness and futility; the husband is completely unaware of the impact that such an embarrassment will have upon his life. Thus the reader is made to feel sorry for the husband, more so than for the wife. In addition to this, in the bar, the people refer to the newcomer’s wife as having enjoyed ‘many a love-campaign she had enjoyed before his reign’. Hardy reinforces the sexual double standard by ascribing positive connotations to a male character. Various legislation such as the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 enforced this double standard. By law, women could be divorced on the grounds of their adultery alone, while it had to be proved that men had made the adultery worse by committing other offences. By perpetuating the Victorian sexual double standard, Hardy cannot be said to be evoking positive feminine connotations, as he appears to advocate ‘sexual inequality’. In this poem, he appears to blame women for their ‘love-campaigns’, perpetuating the Victorian double standard against women, which therefore furthering the statement that a masculine gendering is supposed to evoke positive connotations whereas a feminine gendering evokes negative ones.
Whilst Hardy does reject some negative female stereotypes, at times he fails to challenge others. Written in 1898, before the death of his wife, ‘At an Inn’ follows the journey of two lovers to an inn; possibly to begin an affair. This poem may be written from personal experience as Hardy was known to have had an infatuation with Florence Henniker, a young novelist. However, this love was unrequited, ergo Hardy makes reference to ‘love lingered numb’. Such alliteration conveys the tragic circumstance, from Hardy’s perspective, of Henniker’s rejection. The sombre, melancholic tone is further reinforced by the unusual rhythm and uneven stanza length. Nonetheless, at the time at which the poem was written, Hardy was still married to his wife, Emma Gifford, and the pair had become separated despite living in the same house. Florence Henniker, or whomever the poet is referring to in the poem, is used as a commodity for Hardy’s needs. He clearly overlooks the woman’s personal choice to remain friends because he is too blinded by his own desires. Feminist criticism examines the power relations between characters within narratives and poems. In this particular poem, Hardy, whilst he objectively does not appear to have any control of the situation, seems to trying to force the woman in the poem into a relationship which she does not consent to. The feminist critic Millet states that ‘the distribution of power between male and female characters often mirrors the distribution of power over males and females in society at large’.Thereupon, Hardy is preserving the Victorian social construct of male dominance by ensuring that the male characters within his poetry hold power over women to some extent. In ‘At an Inn’, the male character holds power by attempting to influence the emotions of the female character, which means that although Hardy might have some progressive ideals in regard to the Victorian sexual double standard and its effect on working class women, his attitude towards women he was romantically interested in suggests that Hardy presents women within some of his poetry in a negative light.
Similarly, in ‘The Trampwoman’s Tragedy’, Hardy, as he does in ‘At an Inn,’ appears to empathise with the ‘plight’ of the male character. The poet blames the female character for the misfortune of the male characters, as she ‘teased [her] fancy-man in play and wanton idleness’. The adjective ‘wanton’ implies that the female character is sexually immodest and promiscuous and that her function within her relationship is purely sexual; this reinforces the anti-feminist ideals of the Victorian era as Hardy gives power to the male character within the poem. Moreover, the woman states that she ‘would not bend my glances on my lover’s dark distress’. The use of the noun ‘dark distress’ infers that the male character is in a great deal of emotional pain, which the woman does not perceive. This lack of emotional awareness conveys that the female character does not have the intelligence or capability to recognise emotional pain in others, appearing to be ignorant and nonchalant in the face of her partner’s suffering. In both ‘At an Inn’ and ‘The Trampwoman’s Tragedy’, Hardy has a bias toward the male character due to his own personal misfortune, which causes him to demonise female characters, who aren’t necessarily at fault.
Charles Darwin dismissed the traits of women as ‘characteristic of the lower races’ and that ‘man has ultimately become superior to women’. His views were a product of his Victorian society, and so are Hardy’s. The poet fails to address the Victorian sexual double standard, as he favours the male characters in the poem, believing them to be victims of the woman’s actions rather than the woman being a victim of Victorian society, who is forced to believe that she must use her sexuality in order to assert dominance. Ultimately, the presentation of women in Hardy’s poetry is too influenced by Victorian society, and consequently a female gendering evokes negative connotations, as his work is too prominently ingrained with the societal beliefs of the Victorian era.
A Comparison of Setting: Eliot and Hardy
Victorian poet Thomas Hardy- having immensely enjoyed a childhood in the idyllic county of Dorset- was a stoic believer in the transformative power of nature which is explored through settings in both ‘Drummer Hodge’, and ‘Afterwards’ as nature is imbued with the ultimate power of overcoming death. Modernist poet TS Eliot writes of a period in which such natural power has been exhausted and polluted by an industrial landscape; and similarly conveys this through setting in his verse. Thus, whilst both poets use settings to offer insight into their central concerns; the utopian countryside settings of Hardy’s verse arguably subvert Eliot’s ruined metropolis in which both nature and human inhabitants are corrupted.
In ‘Afterwards’, Hardy uses an idyllic natural setting in order to explore the capacity of nature to transcend mortality and memorialise human life. Such is demonstrated through the vibrant imagery of a natural setting in the opening stanza, which is linked with alliteration in phrases such as ‘the May month flaps its glad green leaves’ to mark out the transformative power of nature, especially when juxtaposed with the sparse descriptions of humanity (‘He was a man…’) despite it being the poem’s central theme. Highlighting this is the structurally fluctuating descriptions between that of humanity and that of the natural world throughout the stanzas, mirroring the process of natural life replacing and invigorating lost human life. Nonetheless, the poem closes not on natural imagery, but on the imagined speech of onlookers at a funeral; ‘He… used to notice such things’, which might suggest that the power lies not in the natural setting, but in a human ability to notice and seek beauty in the landscape. Indeed, the poem was written by Hardy in order for it to be read out at his funeral, explaining the role of the setting in the poem as a vehicle for ossifying human identity after death, as demonstrated through the celestial setting of ‘the full-starred heavens’. The image of a stars-cape here conveys the power of the natural world through suggesting that the onlookers might look upwards in order to remind themselves that Hardy’s ideas still hold significance after death. Furthermore, the compound adjective ‘full-starred’ is just one of many littered throughout the stanzas, from ‘new-spun’ to noun ‘dewfall-hawk’, and when paired with the frequent use of enjambment, this hints at the frequently evolving and transforming power of nature. Aligham wrote that Hardy wants to be remembered here as a ‘lover of nature’, suggesting a beautiful union between the pair which is developed through the setting detail of ‘The dewfall-hawk com[ing] crossing the shades to alight’ as a symbol of the speaker’s soul travelling into a metaphysical afterlife. Alternatively, the ‘shades’ might act as a classical allusion to the ghosts which resided in the underworld of the Greeks, which reinforces nature’s power as spanning to an ancient past whilst additionally having power to transform human life in the present day. Eliot likewise uses classical allusion in ‘Prufrock’- and yet the closing ‘sirens’ are used to exaggerate his distance from nature as opposed to his connection with it. Throughout the poem, Hardy, unlike Eliot adheres to the romanticist tradition evident in the poetry of Blake and Wordsworth of elevating nature to an almost holy level, therefore enriches the energy of natural places as able to inspire and memorialize the memories of not only the speaker of this poem, but many renowned thinkers of the age. This conveys the idea that nature is able to improve the lives of humanity as a collective as opposed to merely individuals, and Eliot rejects such a concept in ‘Preludes’ through implications that humanity as a whole has been warped by nature, evident in the lines ‘His soul stretched across skies’, implying that nature has become a malignant force able to destroy the man.
In ‘Preludes’, Eliot uses corrupted settings to signify his central worry of the damaging effects industrialism would have on places in Britain. Such is evident through the setting detail of a ‘lonely cab-horse’ which journeys through the city’s ‘street’ in the opening stanza, suggesting that nature has been shunned and rejected to the city’s outskirts. This is highlighted by the ‘steams’ and ‘stamps’ of the horse- dynamic verbs which correlate- with sibilance- the sounds of a machine, and this paired with the compound noun ‘cab-horse’ implies that the horse has utterly been reduced to a mere component of the city’s industrial mechanism. If the ‘horse’ is able to represent nature’s diminished power, the ‘sparrow’ symbolizes the human and animalistic liberty which is similarly entrapped by the setting: the ‘shutters’ and ‘gutters’ literally entrap the sparrow on the page, and to do so in perfect rhyme suggests little hope for nature to overpower the destructive place. This might be read as a reflection of the worries of intellectuals of the era who scorned the increased funding of industries, which led to the development of cities and construction of buildings such as sky-scrapers, and Eliot’s decision to concrete this in writing all the more heightens his discontent with such actions. Indeed, this is similar to Hardy’s use of setting to commemorate his ideas concerning nature, and yet the ‘hawk’ is emblematic of a degree of hope lacking from Eliot’s ‘grimy’ and ‘broken’ landscape. Whilst it could be argued that the ‘light’ that pervades the setting as a single line (‘And then the lighting of the lamps’) may inject a glimmer of hope into the verse, that it is end-stopped and surrounded by imagery of a sordid setting (‘stale’, ‘sawdust’, ‘lonely’) suggests that such efforts will fail to illuminate the broken setting: this gives a literal reading of one critic’s perspective that ‘the city is always presented in a negative light’ in Eliot’s verse, as does the use of enjambments and lack of fixed rhyme scheme which foregrounds the unfortunate idea that neither humans nor nature will be able to repair the destroyed metropolis. Whilst the death of Hardy’s character in ‘Afterwards’ is proven to invigorate the natural setting, the industrialist force of Eliot’s poem is proven to destroy both humans and their surrounding natural places, offering a far more pessimistic portrayal of 20th century Britain than Hardy.
In ‘Drummer Hodge’, Hardy reiterates his key concern of nature’s power through allowing a natural setting to commemorate the fallen body of a ‘Drummer’ when humans fail to do so. Hardy’s war-poem deteriorates from much commemorative war poetry of the Victorian era in its pacifist message presented through the extended image of a deceased drummer, and therefore the use of settings is imperative in signifying such a unique and controversial idea: this is developed through the use of foreign language throughout the stanzas in terms such as ‘Karoo’, ‘veldt’, and ‘kopje-crest’ used to mark out the drummer as incongruous to the setting, which is furthered by the alternating trimeters and tetrameters used to mirror the dissonance of the drummer with his surroundings. The Boer-Wars were the first major conflict of the 20th century, and Hardy was personally acquainted with a young drummer from his home county Dorset who had died during the wars, which explains one critic’s perspective of the poem as a ‘cry of rage’ for its condemnation of violence within war. Highlighting this is the abrupt opening line: ‘They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest’, with the dynamic verb and use of caesura dramatizing the intense physical violence enacted towards the Drummer. Indeed, the speaker of Eliot’s ‘Prufrock’ is similarly shunned from his home and scours the streets of his city ‘like a tedious argument’, and yet whilst there is a degree of choice in such actions, the third person voice of ‘Drummer Hodge’ allows us to sympathize to a greater extent with ‘Hodge’ due to his inability to alter his position. Nonetheless, it could be argued that Hardy offers hope for a future in which nature memorializes the soldier, as demonstrated by the line ‘Grow to some Southern tree’, which marks nature as a force for replenishment and good, especially with the prior enjambment which suggests that man and nature become one. Such a concept is furthered by the celestial motif which continues in lexis ‘stars’, ‘constellations’, and ‘eternally’, used to suggest that the drummer will be remembered and his identity reflected in the up-above setting of the sky; allowing light to have a significant degree of power lacking from the weakened ‘light’ which fails to utterly improve the sordid conditions of ‘Preludes’ setting.
In ‘Prufrock’, like Hardy, Eliot reflects on the lost identity of his speaker through use of isolated and secluded settings throughout. Such is demonstrated by the anaphoric patterning of the line ‘The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes’, with the largely repeated word choices in the following line suggesting that the speaker feels powerless and weakened by the natural setting. Furthermore, the color symbolism of ‘yellow’ implies the corruption ingrained into Eliot’s landscape, and indeed, the life of the speaker. Indeed, setting is further used to demonstrate the speaker’s inability to form connections with women through the rhyming couplet ‘In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo’, which breaks from the standard use of free verse therefore suggesting that the speaker’s unquenched sexual desires remain the root of other issues in his life. Alternatively, allusion to the Italian artist here might highlight the speaker’s feelings of inadequacy as he believes even a deceased artist enjoys more romantic success than him. This is reiterated through Eliot’s standard use of free verse and lack of fixed rhyme scheme, used to convey the central argument that Prufrock’s relationships will ever remain fractured and failed; perhaps mirroring the plight of Eliot who was known to journey around London in sexual distress, forcing himself not to submit to passions which compelled him to touch women on the street. Indeed, whilst Eliot uses free verse to highlight a broken setting, Hardy subverts this through using an interlocking ABABAB rhyme scheme in ‘Drummer Hodge’ in order to mark out the interconnection between the drummer and the comforting presence of nature. One critic has labelled ‘Prufrock’ a ‘series of incessant sexual grumblings’, which is foregrounded through the ‘streets’ the speaker follows ‘like a tedious argument’- a simile perhaps implying that it is his own bitterness that prevents him from enjoying the love of a woman. In ‘Afterwards’, Hardy suggests that natural settings are able to improve and unify humanity as they connect the speaker with those at his funeral, which contrasts Eliot’s speaker who uses setting to increasingly distance himself from humankind.
To conclude, both Hardy and Eliot make excessive use of settings in order to signify their central concerns, despite these concerns being wildly different, with Hardy’ presentation of nature as a beautiful and romanticized force for good subverting Eliot’s perspective of a broken society able to alienate both nature and the individual. Thus, it is perhaps Hardy whose use of setting best conveys his central concerns through the tone of optimism which the poems finalize upon, allowing central message of natural power to linger in the mind long after the poem has been read.
Society as a Barrier to Love in “At an Inn”
“At an Inn” is a poem written by Thomas Hardy, a composition showcasing Hardy’s longing for another woman who is not his wife, Florence. In this work, Hardy focuses on the misinterpretations of the nature of the two’s relationship from strangers at an inn. He questions the idea of fate, but also alludes to the idea of morals and societal expectations, and their impact on love.
Hardy asserts that love is very much constricted and controlled by societal norms. The most obvious allusion to this is the quotation ‘O laws of men’, which refers to the idea of the unwritten rules of mankind, working as a silent reminder of what is deemed right and wrong. Whereas love is so often portrayed as purely feelings and passion, this quotation seems to suggest that there is some form of ‘law’ or moral code that everyone is expected to follow when it comes to love. This is the law that asserts that Hardy and Florence cannot be together and the use of ‘O’ creates a sense of desperation from his perspective, in the way he seems woeful that there is nothing he can do. Due to this, we can infer that interpretations of morality play more of a part in romantic love than would have been originally thought.
Hardy also articulates this theme by use of the quotation ‘Veiled smiles bespoke their thoughts of what we were,’ which alludes to the assumption that the spectators obviously make about the couple; that they are very much in love. The use of ‘veiled’ brings to mind the idea of sight being obstructed and unclear, suggesting that the people can’t see properly, therefore they lack clarity in the things they see, misinterpreting the couple as something that they are not. The people in the inn are perhaps looking at the world through rose tinted glasses, allowing their good intentions to sway them and see the couple as something that they aren’t. The effectively have wool over their eyes and could be extended to the idea of people being in love with the idea of love. These people observe the couple and want to see love between them, so they do. It’s interesting to note the obvious dependence on perspective when it comes to love and how appearances seem to translate into false conclusions being made. In the same way, if you see two people holding hands, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily in love – the two being together in this inn together causes an assumption to be made that they are lovers. Despite what Hardy perceived them as, ‘never the love-light shone/ between us there’, the people at the inn can only use what they see to make a judgment.
The word ‘veiled’ could also link to the idea of a veiled threat, in the way something that would usually be considered a bad thing, is concealed under the pretense of love. In reality, there is a more sinister side to the pair, in the way that he is married to another women, yet is at an inn with another woman, perhaps with less than innocent intentions, despite Florence’s religious commitments. There is also the cruel way Hardy treats his wife; his meaner nature is buried beneath the facade of love with another woman. This deceptive nature almost acts as a metaphor for the human existence, in the way that looks can be deceiving and everything is not always as if appears to be. Lastly, ‘veiled’ brings to mind the idea of weddings, creating a sort of tragic irony, since in reality the two are unable to marry, considering that Hardy is already married.
As Hardy puts it, ‘maybe the spheres above/made them our ministers,’ and his use of ‘our ministers’ shows that he hopes they assume that the two are married. However it could be argued that his idea of marriage does not necessarily tie into the concept of love. Hardy doesn’t seem to believe he has any marital obligations to his wife, if the treats her unfairly and resentfully throughout their marriage and attempts to seduce Florence is any indication. Therefore it could perhaps be suggested that in reality he does not care for the idea, or the vows that come along with it, making his hopes that they appear marriage appear empty and meaningless, when his own marriage doesn’t mean anything. However, the guilt he feels towards the way he treated her when she was nearing the end of her life, shows that betroval is actually of great importance, if only in terms of how society asserts he acts. The fact that he hasn’t actually done anything with Florence yet, even though her religious beliefs make this an impossibility, shows that he does respect the binding nature of the marriage and that he still acutely aware of how society expects marriages to work, even if he doesn’t directly care for his wife. For him, it’s more the vows he said that he has to commit to, not the woman he said them to. It was considered shameful to divorce in the time period, meaning that Hardy’s marriage to Emma, so he cannot just back out of the promise he made. He is supportive of the spectators becoming ministers because, in the way that he and Emma’s marriage isn’t, their marriage would symbolise unity and giving yourself completely to another person. So even it isn’t real and just for a moment, he and Florence are united in the way that they can never be while his wife is still in the picture. The structure laments this idea in the way it has a regular rhyme scheme and it start playful, however by the end turns bitter and regretful.
The use of ‘the spheres above’ making this occur presents a more romantic side of the relationship, not controlled by societal expectations, but by fate. Hardy was a staunch believer in the power of fate and the idea that everything happens for a reason; however, he seems to question it in this instance. The idea of fate relates to the idea that the planets and astrology are in some way dictating the things that occur in everyday life, which is still a prevalent thought today, in the form of horoscopes and zodiacs. Hardy seems to suggest that he and Florence were destined to meet, and to some readers may bring to mind the idea of soulmates, contrasting with the fact that, in reality, they aren’t soulmates. If they are, their paths have been laid out in a way that doesn’t allow them to be together, despite the way they may appear to people on the outside. He even goes on to resent fate for the way they have met, but in such circumstances, with the phrase ‘‘why shaped us for his sport/ in after hours?’, suggesting that God has set them up in this way, not allowing them to actually be together, for nothing more than his own enjoyment. The word ‘sport’ fits with this but also links to how love is often viewed as a chase or a game, as opposed to something serious.
Throughout “At an Inn,” Hardy seems to resent the idea of society acting as a hindrance and controller of love, as it prevents him from being with Florence. However, aside from the shackles of society he also questions the extent at which love can be defined from an outer perspective. What you see is not necessarily representative of what is true.
Analysis of The Shadow on the Stone
Thomas Hardy wrote “The Shadow on the Stone” after his wife’s death, and the ghost he mentions is his wife’s. The poem focuses on the realities of time and death. The poet’s feelings are complex, which is reflected in the complex rhyme scheme of the poem. The title shows us how Emma has always been like a shadow for Hardy. When she was alive, she followed him and now that she’s dead, according to Greek mythology, her soul has become a shadow. The stone in the poem is white as opposed to the black color of a shadow. Black may symbolize the evil way Emma was treated during the last years of her life. For convenience, I will analyze this poem stanza by stanza.I went by the Druid stone That broods in the garden white and lone, And I stopped and looked at the shifting shadows That at some moments fall thereon From the tree hard by with a rhythmic swing, And they shaped in my imagining To the shade that a well-known head and shoulders Threw there when she was gardening. A druid stone is a mystical stone of intuition and physic wisdom. Another definition of Druid Stone is a stone made by the ancient Druids. Both these definitions apply to the poem as we will later see. The stone is a representation of Hardy. He broods (or thinks) a lot on Emma’s death, which is why he writes poems. Moreover, he is a man of talent and skill and according to his fans-flawless. The color white is often connected to flawlessness or perfection. Apart from that, white also symbioses purity. It may reflect hardy’s desire to be pure or clean his soul of the sins he has committed by neglecting his wife when she needed him the most. The stone, although beautiful and full of powers, is alone – a metaphor for Hardy. The alliteration in line three suggests a sense of peacefulness and calmness. It’s as if everything is quiet when Hardy observes the garden. The shadows were probably formed by the trees behind Hardy. It’s ironic how he describes the shadow so bluntly and in only one line as if he’s been numbed. Perhaps it pains him to talk about his wife and describe her as if she was alive, or maybe he didn’t want to get his hopes up as he knows it’s only the trees. I thought her behind my back, Yea, her I long had learned to lack, And I said: ‘I am sure you are standing behind me, though how do you get into this old track?’ And there was no sound but the fall of a leaf As a sad response; and to keep down grief I would not turn my head to discover That there was nothing in my belief. The key words in this stanza are ‘thought’ and ‘sure’. He knows it’s only an illusion and yet still says he’s sure she’s standing there. The second line suggests he’s already used to the fact that she’s dead, explaining the numbness in the previous stanza. Hardy’s question is answered by the one thing that always had his back: Nature. Generally, only dead leaves fall of trees. Nature sends a message to Hardy that his wife is dead. This also shows that the place was alive when Emma was alive and now that she’s dead, so is the place. It is safe to assume that the season is autumn as leaves are falling. Autumn is the season of death and misery, setting up an excellent atmosphere for the poem. The last lines present the dilemma of the poem: He knows it’s not Emma, yet doesn’t want to turn around and confirm that fact. Maybe he wants to live in a delusion that Emma is there, watching over her. He probably doesn’t have the strength to face reality. Yet I wanted to look and see That nobody stood at the back of me; But I thought once more: ‘Nay, I’ll not unvision A shape which, somehow, there may be.’ So I went on softly from the glade, And left her behind me throwing her shade, As she were indeed an apparition— My head unturned lest my dream should fade.However, he wanted to turn around and see, face reality like a man. But then, decides against it. Hardy’s contradictory and complex feelings can be seen here. He is arguing with himself whether to check or not. In the end he finally decides not to look. The word ‘unvision’ is created by Hardy to describe a new feeling. He thought that there is no word in the English language to describe how he feels. Unvision may mean destroying an illusion. When he leaves her behind him throwing her shade, Hardy imitates his wife as she also went slowly, leaving Hardy behind. The hyphen after apparition describes a pause to think. She’s indeed an illusion, he thinks (or is she?). The thought of the shadow being a ghost crosses his mind again. In the end, he finally admits that this wasn’t real by giving it the word ‘dream’. The sound effects in the last line are worth noting. The harsh ‘d’ sound suggests that the poet is hardening. He is trying to be strong but just can’t gather up the strength to turn around.