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POEMS OF THOMAS HARDY: NOTES FOR STUDENTS

WAR POEMS The Going of the Battery Drummer Hodge The Man He Killed Channel Firing In Time of "The Breaking of Nations"

POEMS ABOUT EMMA The Going The Haunter The Walk The Voice At Castle Boterel During Wind and Rain

OTHER POEMS: PHILOSOPHICAL & AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL POEMS The Darkling Thrush Shut Out That Moon To An Unborn Pauper Child Afterwards

Comments on individual poems:


War Poems: These five pieces show a great diversity of attitude, and we cannot,, on their evidence alone, identify a clear-cut opinion of war to which Hardy consistently adheres. While "Channel Firing" presents a horribly pessimistic view of man's bellicose stupidity, the poem which follows it is triumphantly optimistic in asserting the fact that the good things of everyday life will survive when wars are long-forgotten. "The Going of the Battery" captures the sadness (for those left behind) which war brings, but no criticism of war is stated or implied, and the reference to "Honour" in the fourth stanza suggests that the soldiers' cause is worth fighting for. In "Drummer Hodge", while he shows the tragedy and waste of war, and perhaps implies that Hodge's sacrifice is rendered futile by his ignorance of the land over which he is fighting, yet Hardy makes no explicit criticism of war. In "The Man He Killed", on the other hand, Hardy's skilful device of the narrator's vain attempt to justify his action, is an obvious indictment of war, as it is clear that he has no reason to kill his "foe".

The Going of the Battery:


The sub-title points us to the fact that the poem is spoken by a narrator who is one of the deserted wives. Hardy's concern in this poem is not really with war as such, so much as with the effect on the wives of the departure of their menfolk. The poem is written in the first person as if spoken by the wife of a soldier: evidence of Hardy's desire to see the situation through the eyes of the women so deeply affected by the leaving of the men. The jaunty rhythm, internal rhyme (in the first and third line of each stanza) and frequent alliteration ("through mirk and through mire"; "great guns were gleaming") echo the brisk marching pace of the soldiers. However the highly-contrived rhyme and the somewhat stilted syntax to which it leads (as in the penultimate stanza) make the narrator's mode of address seem somewhat unnatural: the reader does not (as one does with "The Man He Killed") have a clear and immediate sense of the narrator's character. Stanza 1 Knowing that soldiers are "light in their loving" i.e. inconstant, the narrator acknowledges how foolish she and her friends have been to choose such men as husbands, even without the additional hardship of losing them to uncertain battle in a distant country. Note the internal rhyme: "sad ... mad", "choosing ... loosing". This will recur in every stanza. Stanza 2 Undeterred by the driving rain the women walk through the blackness and through the mud underfoot. The despondency of the women as they trudge along is contrasted with the enthusiasm and eagerness of their menfolk "stepping steadily - only too readily!", almost as if the latter do not realise that he swifter their pace, the sooner will come the parting from their wives. This fact does not apparently cross the soldiers' minds, or, if it does, they are not unduly concerned about it. Stanza 3 "There" in the first line, is not identified, but is evidently a station or point of entrainment. To the narrator's eye, the field guns, draped in tarpaulins resemble monstrous animals: "living things seeming there". This personification (or more precisely animation) of the guns is developed by the references to mouths ("upmouthed") and "throats": an apt image not only because they are round and open, but also because, though they are yet still ("blank of sound") they are "prophetic to sight"; one can see that they will, in due course, be heard. Stanza 4 The gas-light, obscured by the driving rain, sheds faint and eerie light on the faces of the wives ("pale" both because of the faint light, and because they are chilled and fearful) as they wait for a farewell kiss and embrace their men, entreating them ("a last quest" = a last request) not to seek danger which can honourably be avoided: to be brave but not foolhardy. The use of the word "court" may be inadvertent on the narrator's part, but Hardy evidently is aware of the sense in which the army is a rival of the wives for the affections of their men, who "court" danger in battle as eagerly as they might once have in a literal sense courted their wives and sweethearts. Stanza 5 The train, bearing all the men of the battery, ("all we loved") moves out, and the women sigh audibly, their eyes blinded (with tears, to say nothing of the rain and the gloom). As they retrace their steps, slowly now, and alone, the women pray for the safety of their men. Note the clumsiness which the internal rhyme creates in the highly stilted third line 3

of this stanza. Stanza 6 One of the women despairingly voices her fear that the men will never return, but the narrator contradicts this fear and asserts that God or benevolent fate ("some Hand") will guard the ways of the men and bring them home safely sooner or later. This assertion bespeaks a confidence which the narrator wishes to have but which may not really be so assured. The first and last stanzas of the poem make it clear that the narrator is anxious about the fate of the men. The hope that they will be safe is asserted almost as if to invoke protection over them: she must realise that soldiers are, in fact, often killed or wounded in battle. Stanza 7 The pathos of the women's position is shown skilfully in this stanza in the presentation of the contrasting hopes and fears of the wives. In the night, "when life beats are low", the women are the prey of "voices" (their own imaginations or malicious spirits?) which "hint" at a less happy lot for their menfolk. The narrator and her companions, however, try to be brave and to wait in trust (trust in "some Hand" protecting the men) to see what will happen in the end. The poem only refers to war insomuch as it represents danger to the men and so, possible heartbreak to their wives. There is neither suggestion that war is wrong, nor patriotic celebration of battle: the cause for which the men are fighting is apparently immaterial. It is merely implied by the contrasting attitudes of the men and their wives that war is exciting to soldiers but distressing to their wives, who try to come to terms with this distress, realising that marrying soldiers necessarily involves such risks as they now face.

Drummer Hodge
This economical and very restrained poem contains no explicit condemnation of war, but the implied criticism can hardly be missed. The editor's note, that this is "one of the greatest of all war poems" seems somewhat extravagant and his reference to "sheer horror" seems melodramatic and inappropriate, though the "waste and pity" of war appear in Hodge's fate. The language of the poem is for the most part simple and natural and conveys with clarity what befalls Hodge. Stanza 1 "They" are not identified but are evidently Hodge's fellow soldiers, members of a burial detail. The use of the monosyllabic pronoun is most economical. Hodge is thrown, not lowered with dignity and propriety, into his grave. He is not even placed in a coffin (there is no time, or inclination from his superiors, to find one) and is buried "just as found" (a phrase better suited to an object than a person) as if his body has not even been properly laid out, a suggestion confirmed by his being thrown into the ground. Hodge is given no headstone to mark the site of his burial, and so the only landmark to show the position of his grave is the "kopje crest/That breaks the veldt around". The foreignness, to Hodge, of his resting place is made emphatic by the use of Afrikaans terms such as "kopje" and "veldt", and by the strangeness, to him, of the stars that rise nightly over his grave. The concluding reference to the stars recurs in the remaining stanzas of the poem, providing a kind of linking motif. Stanza 2 The contrast between the simple English boy, "Young Hodge the Drummer", fresh from his west-country home, and his remote and alien resting-place is here further developed in the references to the "Karoo" (another Afrikaans term), to the scrub and barren soil, and, again, to the foreign constellations which Hodge would have witnessed before his death, but too rarely ever to come to know them. Stanza 3 Yet, despite his ignorance of his surroundings, Hodge will now be a part of the South African veldt for ever. The roots of "some Southern tree" will be nourished by his remains. This stanza, too, ends with a reference to the alien constellations which will "reign" forever over Hodge's grave. The pathos of Hodge's fate is made more striking by the restrained manner in which Hardy relates his burial. His innocence and youth make his premature death seem all the more wasteful.

The Man He Killed


Superficially a simple, uncomplicated piece, this is, in fact, a very skilful poem heavilyladen with irony and making interesting use of colloquialism. The title is slightly odd, as Hardy uses the third-person pronoun "He", though the poem is narrated in the first person. The "He" of the title and "I" of the poem is evidently a soldier attempting to explain and perhaps justify his killing of another man in battle. In the first stanza the narrator establishes the common ground between himself and his victim: in more favourable circumstances they could have shared hospitality together. This idea is in striking contrast to that in the second stanza: the circumstances in which the men did meet. "Ranged as infantry" suggests that the men are not natural foes but have been "ranged" i.e. set against each other. The phrase "as he at me" indicates the similarity of their situations. In the third stanza the narrator gives his reason for shooting the supposed enemy. The conversational style of the poem enables Hardy to repeat the word "because", implying hesitation, and therefore doubt, on the part of the narrator. He cannot easily think of a reason, and the reason, when it appears, "because he was my foe" is utterly unconvincing. The speaker has already made clear the sense in which the men were foes: an artificial enmity created by others. "Of course" and "That's clear enough" are blatantly ironic: the enmity is not a matter of course, and the claim is far from "clear" to the reader, and the pretence of assurance on the narrator's part is destroyed by his admission beginning "although ...". The real reason for the victim's enlistment in the army, like the narrator's, is far from being connected with patriotic idealism and belief in his country's cause. The soldier's joining was partly whimsical ("Off-hand like") and partly the result of economic necessity: he was unemployed and had already sold off his possessions. He did not enlist for any other reason. The narrator concludes with a repetition of the contrast between his treatment of the man he killed and how he might have shared hospitality with him in other circumstances, or even been ready to extend charity to him, prefacing this with the statement that war is "quaint and curious", as if to say, a funny old thing. This tends to show war as innocuous and acceptable, but the events narrated in the poem, as well as the reader's general knowledge of war, make it clear that conflict is far from "quaint and curious" and Hardy employs the terms with heavy irony, knowing full well how inaccurate such a description really is. This is a rather bitter poem showing the stupidity of war, and demolishing belief in the patriotic motives of those who confront one another in battle. The narrator finds no good reason for his action; Hardy implies that there is no good reason. The short lines, simple rhyme scheme, and everyday language make the piece almost nursery-rhyme like in simplicity, again in ironic contrast to its less than pleasant subject.

Channel Firing
This, one of the few humorous poems in the selection, is by far the most savagely critical in its scornful condemnation of man's incorrigible desire for conflict. The poem is spoken in the first person by one of the dead buried in a church the windows of which have been shattered by the report of guns being fired for "practice" in the English Channel. So great is the disturbance that the skeletons believe Judgement Day (and so, the resurrection of the dead) to have come and so, in a gruesomely comical picture, are represented as suddenly sitting up in readiness for the great day. The humour then takes an irreverent turn as Hardy introduces God to the proceedings, reassuring the corpses that it is not time for the Judgement Day but merely "gunnery practice", adding that the world is as it was when the dead men "went below" to their graves. That is to say, every country is trying to make its methods of destruction more efficient, and shed more blood, making "red war yet redder". The living are seen as being insane and no more ready to exercise Christian love than are the dead, who are perforce "helpless in such matters". In other words, they do nothing "for Christes sake". Note how the archaic spelling adds to the humour of the piece. God continues, observing that those responsible for the "gunnery practice" are fortunate that it is not the day of judgement, as, if it were, their bellicose threats would be punished by their having to scour the floor of Hell. While the suggested punishment is somewhat ridiculous, and so comic, it is almost a fitting one: certainly Hell seems the appropriate place for the warmakers. With a hint of malice God suggests that He will ensure that His judgement day is far hotter, though He concedes that He may not bother as eternal rest seems more suited to the human condition. The scriptual image of the blowing of the trumpet which signals the end of the world used literally by God Himself seems rather comic. God's remarks being at an end, the skeletons voice their own opinions of the gunnery practice, wondering if sanity (taken to mean a rejection of armed conflict) will ever be achieved by man. Significantly, while many of the skeletons nod as if to suggest that man will never learn, the parson regrets having spent his life giving sermons which have had no effect on his congregation: "preaching forty year" has made no difference to his hearers. The final stanza of the poem eschews the somewhat surrealistic humour of the preceding lines: instead, Hardy writes of how the threatening sound of the guns, ready "to avenge" (to avenge what?) resounds far inland, as far as the places he names. The landmarks to which Hardy refers are not chosen merely to provide authentic local detail: by invoking the dead civilisations of the past Hardy sets the poem in a far more expansive historical time-scale. Perhaps he further suggests that civilisations (including his own?) are doomed because man's nature never makes any moral advance.

Although the poem is comical, the humour is of a grisly kind, and "Channel Firing" is not a light-hearted piece. The humour is deployed to serious effect: to disclose the stupidity of those who wish to make war. While the passages spoken by God are rather comically stilted, the narrator's contribution is written in un-affected, natural and unobtrusive manner, which, with the simple iambic tetrameter and simple ABAB rhyme scheme make the argument of the poem easy to follow, not hampered by the kind of stylistic clumsiness from which, say, "The Going of the Battery" suffers, nor the affected, rather inflated vocabulary of "To an Unborn Pauper Child".

In Time of "The Breaking of Nations"


This is a simple and unpretentious piece marked by a rather un-characteristic optimism which is in marked contrast to the resigned, almost fatalistic, character of the preceding poem. Hardy presents the reader with a series of three impressionistic glimpses or cameos of everyday, rural life and suggests that these will persist, unchanged, while kingdoms rise and fall, and long after the details of the various wars have been forgotten. First Hardy shows us an old horse being led along, slowly, as it breaks up the clods of earth with a harrow, both the animal and the man leading it walking half-asleep. A sense of peacefulness is created by the slowness of the harrowing and the silence of the scene. Next Hardy describes the equally slow and peaceful burning of the weeds, which, he asserts, will continue despite the passing of "Dynasties". Finally, he depicts as girl and her lover, also silent as they whisper, and assures us that their story will outlast the stories of war. These three simple and everyday details of the scene are used by Hardy to represent work (seen as work of an agricultural nature, for it is this which sustains life) and love (which also sustains the life of the race). These things, he claims will survive, in spite of "Dynasties" and "wars". This is an unusually optimistic poem, but the optimism is asserted rather than reasoned: perhaps Hardy implies that the things he describes are so fundamental and natural to human existence that they must survive, whereas kingdoms and wars are not essential to man's life- a very different conclusion from that drawn in "Channel Firing".

Poems about Emma:


In these poems Hardy explores the guilt he feels for his neglect of Emma over the latter years of their marriage. He uses his writing to absolve himself of this guilt and come to terms with it. The Going: "The Going", like most of the pieces in this section, is written in the first person; here Hardy evidently speaks for himself. The poem is in the form of a monologue addressed to Emma, containing many questions, the answers to which only she can supply. Hardy asks Emma why she did not alert him to her imminent death, but left him "as if indifferent quite" to his feelings, without bidding him farewell: neither softly speaking words of parting, nor even asking him to speak a last word to her. He notes how, as the day dawned, he was unaware of what was happening to his wife, and of how this "altered all". Hardy asks Emma why she compels him to go outside, making him think, momentarily, he sees her figure in the dusk, in the place where she used to stand, but ultimately distressing him as, in the gathering gloom, he sees only "yawning blankness" and not the familiar figure of Emma. Turning back to the days when Emma's youth and beauty captivated him, Hardy wonders why, in later years, the joys of their courtship were neither remembered nor revived. He imagines how they might have rekindled their love by revisiting the places where they met while courting. Finally Hardy concedes that what has happened cannot be changed and that he is as good as dead, waiting for the end ("to sink down soon") and, in conclusion, informs Emma that she could not know how so sudden and unexpected a passing as hers could distress him as much as it has. The metre of the poem is surprisingly lively, though the rhythm breaks down in the disjointed syntax and brief sentences of the final stanza. The brief rhyming couplet in the penultimate two lines of each stanza exaggerate this jauntiness, which seems rather inappropriate to the subject of the piece. Though the reader sympathises with Hardy's evident grief, it is difficult not to be a little impatient with his tendency to wallow in self-pity. He reproaches Emma for leaving him, and thinks despairingly of his and her failure to rekindle, in later years, their youthful affection: yet, one feels that this is a tragedy largely of his own making. He has, after all, had some forty years in which to "seek/That time's renewal". The fact that he only expresses regret at his failure to do so when the possibility has been removed by Emma's death casts doubt upon the sincerity of his grief.

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The Haunter: Imaginatively, and most pathetically, Hardy writes this plaintive and moving poem from the point of view of Emma. It is written in the first person, with Emma as the imaginary narrator. It is almost as if, in putting these words in the mouth of Emma (who, in the poem, sees Hardy as oblivious of her presence) Hardy is trying to reassure himself that she forgives him and continues to love him. Though Hardy does not know it, Emma's phantom follows him in his meanderings, hearing, but unable to respond to, the remarks he addresses to her in his grief. When Emma was able to answer Hardy did not address her so frankly; when she expressed a wish to accompany him Hardy would become reluctant to go anywhere - but now he does wish Emma were with him. She is, but he does not know this, even though he speaks as if to Emma's "faithful phantom". Hardy's deep love of nature appears in his choice of the places where he walks, the haunts of those given to reverie: where the hares leave their footprints, or the nocturnal haunts of rooks. He also visits "old aisles" (whether the aisles of churches or natural pathways in woods and copses is not made clear). In all these places Emma's ghost keeps as close as "his shade can do". "Shade" is ambiguous: it is used here to mean "shadow" (Emma is as close as his own shadow to Hardy) but the term more usually means "ghost" - which is evidently very appropriate here. Again, Emma notes that she cannot speak to Hardy, however hard she may strive to do so. Emma implores the reader to inform Hardy of what she is doing, with the almost desperate imperative: "O tell him!" She attends to his merest sigh, doing "all that love can do" in the hope that "his path" may be worth the attention she lavishes on it, and in the hope that she may bring peace to Hardy's life. The lyrical trochaic metre and subtly linked rhyme scheme seem in keeping with the optimistic content of the poem, unlike "The Going", in which the liveliness jars with the sombre, self-pitying character of the piece. Instead of (as in "The Going") reproaching Emma, for leaving him without warning, here Hardy celebrates her essential fidelity and benevolence which she retains, even in death. While the idea of Emma as the faithful phantom is, of course, entirely fanciful it is strikingly plaintive and touching. The Walk: This is a simple piece in which Hardy uses a device which marks many of these poems: contrasting events before Emma's death with the present. Before Emma died Hardy would take his accustomed walks alone, not perturbed by (because not really thinking of) the fact that Emma was left at home. Returning to the same spot "just in the former way" i.e. alone again, Hardy tries to identify a difference, and realises it lies not in what he sees around him, but in his sense of the emptiness of Emma's room in the house to which he will return.

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The Voice: As in "The Haunter" Hardy imagines Emma trying to communicate with him. The poem is in the first person, and Hardy is the speaker, imagining that Emma calls to him, telling him that she is not the woman she had become after forty years of marriage, but has regained the beauty of her youth, of the time when her and Hardy's "day was fair". Imagining he can indeed hear her, Hardy implores Emma to appear to him, in the place and wearing the same attire which he associates with their early courtship. Hardy introduces, in the third stanza, the mocking fear that all he hears is the wind and that Emma's death has marked the end of her existence - that she has been "dissolved" and will be "heard no more". The lively anapaestic metre of the first three stanzas gives way, in the final stanza, to a less fluent rhythm, capturing the desolate mood of Hardy as he falters forward, while the leaves fall and the north wind blows, as Emma (if it is she) continues to call. The poem begins optimistically with a hope that Emma is really addressing Hardy but by the end this hope has been replaced by a belief that the "voice" is imaginary. Though the vigorous anapaestic metre of the poem helps convey this initial hope, it proves unwieldy for Hardy, as is evident in the clumsy third stanza, where "listlessness" is rhymed with Hardy's unfortunate coinage "existlessness", and we find the gauche and repetitious phrase "no more again" in the stanza's final line. At Castle Boterel: This poem was written during March 1913 when Hardy visited Cornwall after the death of his wife. Castle Boterel is Boscastle about a mile from St. Juliot where Emma lived when she first met Hardy. Travelling along a road near Boscastle, Hardy recalled a particular incident which took place on it between himself and Emma forty years before. Stanza 1 The poem opens in the present with Hardy driving to the junction of a lane and highway in a wagonette with drizzle falling. (a) What is the effect of "drizzle bedrenches", and "fading"? and "glistening wet"? They suggest the sombre, unhappy quality of the present. He looks behind him physically, the adjective "fading" suggesting (b) increasing distance and fading light, and therefore the lessening importance of present reality. Stanza 2 In the backward look he sees backwards in memory to a scene many years before on the same road when he and a girl were overtaken by night: "benighted" (c) what is the effect of "In dry March weather"? It contrasts with the present wet, unpleasant March weather and suggests the greater happiness of the March of the past. It continues in the present tense - "We climb the road" - the intensity of his memory making the recollection seem for the moment reality. (d) Comment on the use of accurate details in the picture given. The "pony sighing and slowing" and the description of Hardy and Emma alighting to "ease the pony's load" gives a sense of a particular and real moment. The alliteration of 's' dramatises the pony's fatigue. Stanza 3 In the third stanza Hardy suggests that what he and Emma did and talked about then does not matter but the "something that life will not be baulked of" is the real importance of the occasion. What this "something" was is not clear but it seems to refer to a declaration of 12

love. Only the loss of hope and feeling could deny this "something" Hardy says. The idea of the future is very fluid in this stanza. It is both the past's future (what that moment led to) and the present's future for the significance of that moment will outlive the present day of drizzle and last until hope is dead/And feeling fled. Stanza 4 What is really important about this occasion is emphasised in Stanza four. While it filled only a minute, Hardy asks if ever there was a "time of such quality" in "that hill's story" and states that he believes there never was. (e) Explain "A time of such quality" and "Though it has been climbed foot-swift, foot-sore,/By thousands more". "A time of such quality" and "Though it has been climbed ..." imply that there were many moments recalled perhaps by the "thousands more" who have climbed the hill but "one mind", Hardy's, is convinced that of all the hill's moments one in particular is pre-eminent. The stanza expresses the idea that it is the quality of life which is important rather than its length and in saying this is expressing a defiance of Time. Stanza 5 In this stanza Hardy increases the time-scale to the pre-human (f) How? "Primaeval rocks" emphasise the great age and permanence of the hill, and Hardy reflects on how much of transitory life they must have observed. (g) What is the real significance of this place? In spite of the age of the rocks and all that they have seen, to Hardy the rocks seem to record in colour and shape that "we two passed." In a sense this is a defiance of Time. Time cannot alter the quality of that moment. Stanza 6 This idea of the defiance of Time is continued in this stanza. (h) Explain how, making sure you explain the phrases "Time's unflinching rigour" and "In mindless rote". Time, in bringing death, and ruling "from sight the substance" of a person, is personified as a stern taskmaster who will stop for no one and is like a mindless machine in repeating the process. But Hardy's memory allows him to see "one phantom figure" - Emma - even though Time has removed the real person, "the substance". In this way Hardy is able to defy "Time's unflinching rigour".

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Stanza 7 In the last stanza Hardy returns to the present and reality, seeing the "phantom figure" "Shrinking, shrinking" repeating the word with powerful effect. (i) What is the mood of this verse? The mood is of sadness and resignation as he accepts that the moment ("it") "for the very last time,?" as he is becoming old and will never return to this place. (j) Explain "for my sand is sinking". The phrase is a metaphor of sand in an hour-glass and is a poignant reference to the fact that the poet has not long to live. The impact of the last two lines is made the more powerful by the joy of the memory now fading and the defiance of Time earlier. CONCLUSION In all the poems of 1912-3, and indeed in many more, the survival of the past simultaneously with the present is the theme which brings Hardy's poetry to its most moving pitch. It is in "At Castle Boterel" that the idea of time is most insistently expressed. It is not simply that Hardy was moved by memory: it is always the past in specific relation to some later time. Usually the later time is more bitter and drabber than the earlier, so that the past often seems more real than the present.

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"DURING WIND AND RAIN"


In this poem Hardy contrasts the happiness of his now dead wife's childhood with the inevitability of time's victory. The seven lines of each stanza of the four stanza poem tell of different aspects of Emma's life with her family. The final lines of each stanza, however, speak of decay and death. In the first stanza the family gather round the piano to "sing their dearest songs" - here Hardy evokes a memory of music - and then we are reminded of how living things change and fade: "Ah, no; the years O! How the sick leaves reel down in throngs." The music has now been changed to the sound of the dead autumnal leaves being blown by the wind - "Reel" has the sense of leaves falling and being whirled by the wind, together with being a type of song suitable for a group of people gathered round a piano. The final word "throngs" has something of the onomatopoeic sound of dry leaves being brushed together, or falling against one another. In the second stanza the family - "elders and juniors" - work in the garden to make "the pathways neat/And the gardens gay." However, these energies are as nothing in the face of time because "the white storm birds wing across the sky;" the birds' appearance means that the dark thunderstorm is coming. The third stanza sees the family "blithely breakfasting all" but the wind removes the dead rose from the wall in line 7. The alliterative effect of "rotten rose in ript," together with the harsh finality of "ript", give an indication of the wind's strength and the decayed flowers fragility. In the fourth stanza the happy family has prospered and is moving to "a high new house." Their possessions - which indicate they live in some comfort (but not extreme luxury) are scattered on the lawn all day, during the happy confusion of the move. Although they possess the "brightest things" ultimately the "rain-drop ploughs" on the carved names on their tombstones. In this poem Hardy adopts an almost mathematical precision in his rhythm and in his choice of words. The second line of each stanza, for instance, lists the members of the family: "He, she, all of them" "Elders and juniors" "Men and maidens" and each stanza begins with "they". stanzas 1 and 4, stanza 2, stanza 3,

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The final lines of stanzas 1 and 3 can be seen as being references to the wind of the title, whilst the final lines of stanzas 2 and 4 refer to the rain. The penultimate line of stanzas 1 and 3 is "Ah, no; the years O !" modified to "Ah, no; the years, the years." in stanzas 2 and 4. And the final word of the second line in stanzas 1 and 3 is "yea", anagrammatised to "aye" in stanzas 12 and 4. At the same time the main lively business of each stanza, the first five lines, refers to times of bright happiness - times, almost always, which are spent outdoors - indicating the seasons of spring or summer. Whereas the final line invariably evokes the colder seasons of autumn and winter. Hardy uses the annual changes as a metaphor for the changes in the human condition which, in reality, take a number of years; but the inevitability of each stanza's final two lines is like the inevitability of death.

DURING WIND AND RAIN PAGE 78


Although "During Wind and Rain" was written during the months after Emma's death, and describes incidents from Emma's past, it does not belong thematically to the series of poems from "The Going" to "Beeny Cliff". In those poems Hardy is facing his guilt and remorse over the reality of his marriage to Emma, and "creating a myth of their life": in the Cornwall poems he goes on an emotional journey, getting closer and closer to Emma "as at first when our day was fair" ( "The Voice" line 4) and reliving their relationship of forty years before. "During Wind and Rain" has a different concern. This elegy was apparently inspired by Emma's account of her childhood in Plymouth - which Hardy read after her death - and by his visit to Plymouth and her old home. But it is far more than a personal poem; it is a lament for the destruction and oblivion which time brings to everything. THE POEM'S UNIVERSALITY The poem is a series of pictures of typical incidents in the life of an ordinary family: VERSE 1 the family sing songs with one playing a musical instrument and their faces lit by candles; VERSE 2 they work in the garden clearing moss, tidying paths and building a seat; VERSE 3 they breakfast in summer under a tree from where they can see the bay, and pet fowl come to their knees; VERSE 4 they move to a high new house and all their possessions are laid out on the lawn all day. As in, "In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations'", it is the sense of the simple and ordinary, combined with a lack of particularity in the images, which gives the poem its universality.

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ALLITERATION Alliteration plays an important part in these pictures: "garden gay", "shady seat", "blithely breakfasting", "clocks and carpets and chairs" and "high new house" capture in sound as well as sense the contentment, and perhaps the complacency, of life. STRUCTURE In this poem Hardy's sense of structure is seen at its best. constructed alike. 1. 2. The four verses are all

The first five lines of each verse describe a typical moment of family life. The second line of each set of five is a semi-refrain in which it is the sense which is repeated rather than the words: "He, she, all of them - yea, " "Elders and juniors aye", "Men and maidens - yea," "He, she, all of them - aye," Each of these lines suggests a family or natural domestic random group of people of different sexes and ages, and each ends with an affirmative: "yea" or "aye" meaning "yes". After each five-line description there is a full refrain line varied slightly in alternate stanzas: "Ah no; the years O!" "Ah, no; the years, the years." The 'yes' of the preceding lines is cancelled out by the "no" and the "years"; the refrain suggests the passing of time and emphasises the fact that all the aspects of life portrayed in the preceding lines are subject to time's destruction. This refrain is followed by a longer last line which stresses the theme and contains a multiplicity of associations. In "How the sick leaves reel down in throngs," "sick" suggests decay of death, "reel" suggests lack of control, and "throngs" suggests enormous quantities. "See the white storm-birds wing across!" is visually vivid and suggests the imminence of a storm. "And the rotten rose is ript from the wall" derives part of its power from the alliteration. "Rotten" suggests the decay of death and time, and is especially powerful when related to the "rose" normally dealt with by poets as a thing of beauty. The verb "ript" suggests the destructive violence and power of time. The last line, "Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs," is the only one which unmistakably implies that the people described are dead, and it has great power. It shows that not only are people subject to time's destruction but they also face oblivion, for even their names are erased from their tombstones by the endless processes of nature. The verb "ploughs" is particularly apt and telling, conveying as it does the idea of forecful and relentless action.

3.

4.

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RHYME Rhyme is also a significant part of the construction. Each verse is rhymed a b c b c d a so the first and last lines are held together by rhyme emphasising the contrast. Each second line - the semi-refrain line - rhymes with the fourth line of each verse which is part of the descriptive first half, and is the same rhyme throughout the poem. This has the effect of emphasising continuity: each of the four distinct memories hands on a rhyme to the next verse - yea/play, aye/gay, yea/bay, aye/day. RHYTHM The whole poem is very like a song, especially in the refrain lines and the last lines of each verse. The rhythm is broadly iambic, though the number of syllables in the corresponding lines varies.

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THE DARKLING THRUSH: CRITICAL COMMENTARY


STANZA 1 How does Hardy set the scene in this stanza? Consider the time of year, the time of day, and the place where the poet finds himself. Why does Hardy tell the reader that other people who might have been present: "Had sought their household fires?" What is suggested to the reader by Hardy's use of the phrase "spectre-grey" and the verb "haunted?" STANZA 2 What does the bleak winter landscape suggest to Hardy? How is this image developed in the next two lines? What is meant by "The ancient pulse of germ and birth"? Why is it "Shrunken hard and dry"? How does it mirror Hardy's own mood? Why does Hardy imagine that his sense of spiritual desolation is shared by "every spirit upon earth"? What is significant in Hardy's choice of the verb "seemed", to refer to his lack of fervour? STANZA 3 What is the effect of the words "voice" and "chosen", when applied to the "aged thrush"? Why is the bird's singing called "... a full hearted evensong of joy illimited"? Why does Hardy inform the reader that the thrush is "aged ... frail, gaunt" and "blastberuffled"? What light does this throw on its joyful singing? Why does Hardy imagine the thrush as flinging his soul "upon the growing gloom"? STANZA 4 Why is the bird's song described as "carolings of ... ecstatic sound"? What does Hardy mean by saying that "little cause" for the joyful singing was "wrotten on terrestrial things"? If the cause is not found in terrestrial things, where, by implication, might it be found? What conclusions does Hardy reach concerning the thrush's inspiration? Is there any hint that Hardy would like to share the thrush's hope? GENERAL COMMENTARY How does Hardy suggest his own spiritual state by images of darkness, desolation and decay in the poem?

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Do you find any significance in the fact that the poem was written on the last day of the last year of the century? What do the thrush and the poet have in common? How are they different in their attitude to adversity?

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SHUT OUT THAT MOON


This poem, one of many in the selection which explore the ideas of time and change, is among the most bitter and pessimistic: its argument is similar to that of "He Never Expected Much", though the conclusion drawn is far more pessimistic. The poem is a very formal piece, the first three stanzas reflecting on the pleasures of the past (and their loss) and arguing against the attempt to rediscover these, the final stanza offering a hard-headed advice for minimising life's pain. The poem is written in the first person, as if spoken by Hardy to another, probably Emma, as frequent reference is made to their past shared experiences. In the first stanza, in a series of imperatives, Hardy directs that the window be closed and the blind drawn, so that the moon is shut out: the reason for excluding the moonlight is the fact that it is the same moonlight Hardy associates with past happiness. The moon is referred to as "that stealing moon" perhaps (as the editor suggests) because it has stolen away youth and beauty, though a more natural and idiomatic reading would be that the moon is "stealing" (i.e. entering by stealth) into the room, trying to enter where it is unwelcome, forcing Hardy to remember. "Lutes" in the fourth line may be a metaphor for feelings of love (the lute is the traditional instrument of the minstrel of mediaeval romance) or for natural and artistic talents. These are now "strewn/With years-deep dust" - weakened or relinquished with the passing of time. The names of those once familiar to Hardy and Emma are now "hewn" on "a white stone": they have died. The moonlight is unwelcome as, retaining the beauty it had in the past, it recalls to Hardy the time before these unwelcome changes occurred, a time he wishes to forget, as the memory evokes a poignant sense of loss. The formerly enjoyable pleasure shunned by Hardy in the second stanza is that of stepping onto the dew-soaked lawn to gaze at the various constellations. The reason for forgoing this star-gazing is that this pleasure belongs to, and, in Hardy's mind, is inseparably linked with, the time when "faded ones were fair", i.e. when those people were young and beautiful who are now devoid of beauty or of life, whichever it is which Hardy believes to have "faded". In the third stanza Hardy proscribes the pleasure of smelling the scent of blossom at midnight: perhaps this is another memory of those evenings recalled in the preceding stanza. Such sweet aromas are to be avoided because they may evoke, or re-awaken, tender feelings, the same ones communicated by the scent of the blossom (note the slightly anthropomorphic touch of the verb "breathed") formerly, when Hardy was able to take life less seriously. The use of "a laugh" to mean "light-hearted" seems somewhat colloquial (it has become a modern colloquialism) but is striking and unusual in a poem written as long ago as 1904. Not only did "living" seem "a laugh", but love seemed "all it was said to be": love, evidently, no longer seems to measure up to its popular reputation, and has not kept its promise.

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After the negative injunctions of the first three stanzas, the final stanza contains positive advice. Hardy insists that his outlook in both the literal sense ("my eyes") and the metaphorical sense ("thought") be confined to the "common lamp-lit room" (the moonlight having been excluded) where the reader imagines him to be writing. He wishes his attention to be directed to trivial and unevocative things ("dingy details") and would like to restrict himself to automatic, unthinking words ("mechanic speech") only. The reason for all this rejection of pleasure, hitherto only hinted at, is given, albeit in cryptic fashion, in the metaphor contained in the poem's concluding lines: "life's early bloom" was "fragrant", but the "fruit" into which it matured was bitter. The pleasure of the third stanza has supplied the metaphor of these lines. Hardy's early experiences (the "bloom") suggested sweet fruit: fulfilment and happiness later, but instead maturity has only brought unhappiness and disillusionment, "tart" and un-palatable fruit. Overall, the poem shows how what once brought pleasure to Hardy now causes him pain because it elicits the memory of the lost pleasure and aggravates the keenness of its loss. The exact nature of Hardy's grievance is not made clear: he merely tells the reader that the promise of the "bloom" was belied by the "fruit". How, or why, we are left to guess. The poem is obviously personal and records a profound change in Hardy's attitude to life, from youthful optimism to the disillusionment of maturity. though this has been Hardy's experience, there is no attempt to prove that this experience is universal or even commonplace. The poem's value is of a statement of Hardy's outlook but the causes of his adopting this outlook are not forthcoming. The refusal to enjoy the pleasures of life seems perverse, and the fatalistic outlook to which Hardy here subscribes inevitably self-fulfilling: if he determines to find no further happiness in life then he will, of course, be unhappy, but the misery will be of his, not life's making. The style of the poem is restrained, natural and direct. The short iambic lines (alternating in length between eight and six syllables) produce a simple metre (effectively balladmetre, with an extra pair of lines) and the rhyme scheme is simple, if slightly irregular: second, fourth and sixth lines share the principal rhyme: in stanza 2 lines 1 and 5 rhyme; in stanza 3 lines 1 and 3 rhyme, while the final stanza has a full ABABAB rhyme-scheme. As an expression of Hardy's pessimism the poem is skilfully and forcefully written, though the argument (if it can be called such) is not wholly convincing. Few poems in the selection are so negative in their outlook, though there is, to Hardy's credit, the same resolute acceptance of his lot which marks such pieces as "Night in the Old Home", rather than the self- pity of, say, "Nobody Comes".

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"SHUT OUT THAT MOON"


This poem was written in 1904. Hardy's wife is still alive, but the regret at their wasted years is not greatly dissimilar in tone from that of several of the poems he wrote after she had died. For example, in "After a Journey" Hardy spoke of his sadness at the fact that he and Emma had grown apart: "Summer gave us sweets, but autumn wrought division". Whilst in this earlier poem he says, "Too fragrant was Life's early bloom, Too tart the fruit it brought!" The passing seasons of one year are seen as a metaphor for the span of an entire life with the sweets and early bloom of the youthful spring and summertime of life contrasting sharply with the bitter tasting autumnal fruits of old age. In this poem the poet desires to be locked away from the night-time outdoor sights, sounds and smells, because they unavoidably remind him of happier times which are now lost forever. After the strongly felt desire for escape we have a closely observed description of the thing the poet is anxious to escape from. The "stealing moon" ("stealing" in the sense that she steals across the sky, and, also, that she has stolen the past from him) reminds him too much of days, "Before our lutes were strewn With years-deep dust, and names we read On a white stone were hewn." Although the lute's music is metaphorical - being a reference to youthful playfulness and love and happy voices - it shows how the sense of hearing is evoked simply by a vision of the moon. The second stanza is also involved with the heavens - but here the sense of sight had previously delighted to the clear night vision of the heavenly constellations. The third stanza talks of the sense of smell - the sensations evoked by "midnight scents/That come forth lingeringly." The sweetness of the scents had, in times past, been a symbol of the sweetness that existed between the poet and his love. "When loving seemed a laugh, and love All it was said to be." The final stanza deals entirely with the poet's desire for isolation - away from these natural phenomena which arouse so many memories. He wishes to have a prison-like seclusion in which his eyes and thoughts will not be subjected to external influences, the kind that re-awake ancient associations. He craves "dingy details" crudely looming in his "common lamp-lit room," and only the most functional of language, "Mechanic speech be wrought" - the hardness of the word "wrought" (meaning something made, usually for a practical purpose) indicates a desire for unadorned simplicity. The poem ends with the observation that the tree (of life) which bloomed so beautifully in spring (youth) was to deliver a sour fruit to him in his later, autumnal, years. It would be wrong to read this poem too literally. Hardy does not really want to be locked away in hermit-like separation. Rather he is showing how the things in nature which return each year, or which are permanent like the heavens, have associations for each one of us. And if, as sometimes unfortunately happens, the happiness they were once a token of becomes sadness, the natural things, because they are inescapable, instead of bringing 23

back our happy memories, re-inforce our misery. This is an example of what is meant by Hardy's "universality" - although he talks of a very private sadness, he tells of feelings that are common to all of us, and thus he speaks for all of us.

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TO AN UNBORN PAUPER CHILD


Here Hardy considers the probable fate of a child soon to be born into poverty. This is a poem which grew from an incident that he probably witnessed in the Dorchester Magistrate's Court but Hardy's sincerity and compassion for the plight of human beings makes the incident of concern to us all. STANZA 1 The poem begins startlingly with an opening line in which Hardy addresses the child as "hid heart" because it is as yet unborn in its mother's womb, and advises it not to be born to "Breathe not" and to "cease silently". The rest of the verse gives Hardy's reason for this advice. It is better to "Sleep the long sleep" because fate ("The Doomsters") will bring the child troubles and difficulties ("Travails and teens") in its life, and "Time - wraiths turn our songsingings to fear", that is our spontaneous feelings of joy and happiness in life are turned to fear by time. Time as usual in Hardy's writings is seen as the enemy of man and the unusual conceptions of Fate as "Doomsters" and Time as "Time-Wraiths" (Spirits) suggests a conscious and deliberate process at work. STANZA 2 In the second stanza, Hardy develops the idea of the destructiveness of time urging the child to listen to how people sigh, and to note how all such natural positive values as laughter, hopes, faiths, affections and enthusiasms are destroyed by time. Set against these positive nouns are negative verbs suggesting this withering process: "sigh", "fail", "die", "dwindle", "waste", "numb". The verse concludes by stressing that the child cannot alter this process if it is born. STANZA 3 In the third stanza, Hardy vows that if he were able to communicate with the unborn before their life on earth began, and if the child were able to choose whether to live or die, he would impart all his knowledge to the child and ask it if it would take life as it is. STANZA 4 Hardy immediately, and forcefully, rejects this as a futile vow, for he nor anyone can explain to the child what will happen to it when it is born ("Life's pending plan"). The stanza contains weaknesses of style: the oddity of "theeward" and the awkward inversion "Explain none can". But the last two lines present starkly the inevitability of birth in spite of the most dreadful events Life can bring. This ability to look unflinchingly at unpalatable reality is one of Hardy's major strengths as a poet.

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STANZA 5 In contrast to the ending of the fourth stanza, the fifth one opens very gently. Hardy speaks directly and tenderly to the child, in simple monosyllables, wishing that he could find some secluded place ("shut plot") in the world for it, where its life would be calm, unbroken by tear or qualm. But with tender simplicity, and the absence of any bitterness, Hardy recognises that "I am weak as thou and bare" - he is unable to influence fate as the child. STANZA 6 The poem ends with the recognition that the child must come and live ("bide") on earth, and the hope that - in spite of the evidence - it will find health, love and friends and "joys seldom yet attained" by people.

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AFTERWARDS p.87
In "Afterwards" Hardy reflects on what people may say of him after his death, and represents them remembering him for his love and observation of the natural world. The poem is characterised by a strong sense of melancholy reflection, and very precise, and sometimes surprising, imagery. STANZA 1 The poem opens with an image of Hardy's death, an unusual personification of the present fastening, its back gate ('postern') after Hardy has departed. The adjective 'tremulous' with its suggestions of fragility, uncertainty and brevity, emphasises the transitory nature of life itself, Hardy's 'stay'. Hardy considers what neighbours may say of him if he were to die in May. He represents the month as a creature by 'flaps' comparing its 'glad green leaves' in an unexpected simile - with alliteration adding to the effect - with the wings, 'Delicate filmed as new spun silk,' of a newly-emerged butterfly. The last line, in direct speech, is the neighbours' imagined comment on Hardy's vivid awareness of the natural world. STANZA 2 The second stanza considers what may be said if he were to die at dusk. The powerful use of imagery and diction is continued ion the comparison of the coming of a hawk moth with 'an eyelid's soundless blink' a simile which conveys a sense of silence and suddenness of arrival. Hardy imagines someone, 'a gazer' watching the moth alight at dusk on 'the wind-warped upland thorn', the alliterative epithet describing how the wind has bent the thorn bushes, and thinking that to Hardy such a sight was familiar. STANZA 3 In the third stanza Hardy speculates on what may be said if he were to die in the night. As descriptions of the darkness of a summer night the words 'mothy' and 'warm' are exact and evocative. Hedgehogs are described as travelling 'furtively' an adverb which expresses the pathos of the way hedgehogs can move safely only at night, and Hardy imagines being remembered as someone who cared for 'such innocent creatures' and tried to save them from harm although he could do little for them. STANZA 4 The next stanza also considers death at night but now Hardy imagines neighbours watching 'the full-starred heavens' of a frosty winter night and thinking of him as a man who observed such mysteries, the verb 'rise' creating a subtle indication of a thought rising like the moon.

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STANZA 5 In the final stanza Hardy's imagining his own funeral bell's ringing (the 'bell of quittance'). The vision is equally clear and precise. The poet imagines that a 'crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,' that is, the sounds of the bell are momentarily carried away from the ear by a wind's blowing across their path. As the breeze fades, the sounds of the bell are heard louder as if 'they were a new bell's boom.' "Afterwards" is a good example of Hardy's art, with its control of diction and image to create the effect required, and its equal control of syntax and rhythm. Each stanza is written in a single sentence with the main verb coming late to introduce the imagined comment at the end. The repetition of this sentence structure, with the slow rhythm of the lines, gives an appropriately solemn, funereal quality to the poem.

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