Thomas Hardy – analysis of three poems
- Pages: 9
- Word count: 2117
- Category: Poems
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An epitaph is an inscription upon a tomb, in few verses for the casual observer to read carefully. It is usually carved in stone and is very synthetic. The Elegy is much more lengthy than an epitaph. The two genres differ not only in lengths, but also in subject matter, since the epitaph is a ‘report’ concerning the deceased, the elegy is an expression of ‘mourners” sorrow. As for the setting and space, the epitaph is part of a spatial monument, the elegy of a temporal ritual.
Epitaphs are normally about the deeds and qualities of a particular deceased person and they claim our attention; whereas funeral elegies are about the thoughts and feelings of those who mourn. “Afterwards” has an elegiac quality and embodies numerous sensory impressions and language used is emblematic of Hardy’s style. It is mostly complex in meaning. Rhythm, rhyme and punctuation, not only give an appropriately solemn, funereal quality to the poem, but these also guide the reader to the final climax of the poem ‘Till they rise again, as they were a new bell’s boom’.
As with many other poems, the structure gives a sense of diminuendo; from ‘Present’ to ‘Future’ or to even ‘eternity’ as implied by the former verse. The poem opens with an image of the personified ‘Present’ that ‘latches’ behind the speaker. Hardy uses the word ‘postern’ which probably is associated to ‘posterity’ and to the succeeding generations. Hardy refers to his life as a ‘tremulous stay’, this image connotes to the word ‘tremor’. Thus, he alludes to the fact that he was old, when he wrote this poem and is now concerned about what his reader will think of his work ‘will the neighbours say’.
Although, the dismal tone which is perceived at the beginning of the poem, the language used conveys visual imagery of nature, which is perceived ‘Delicate’ and positive. Thus, it is in the month of May, when green leaves “delicate-filmed as new-spun silk” vibrate in the breeze. Here, Hardy might have used this simile, to associate the new leaves with the innocence and youth that the poet has lost. The “new-spun silk” can be also associated with the silk of a cocoon, within which the process of metamorphosis occurs, emphasizing a new life (probably rebirth).
The stanza then ends with a question posed to the reader; he is keen to know if he will be remembered as “a man who used to notice” the smallest natural elements. He emphasizes that people do not see ‘such things’. The tone of the poem changes into a dismal one, conveyed by images of death, for instance the word ‘dusk’. Moreover, this verse recalls the image of the dying smile and with an ‘ominous bird a-wing’; here it’s the ‘dusk… like an eyelid’s soundless blink’ and a ‘dewfall-hawk’ that crosses ‘the shades to alight / upon the wind-warped upland thorn’ (lines 6-7). Again, Hardy uses supernatural elements.
In the third verse the speaker asks if spirit may continue to ‘pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm”. The latter, may evoke the idea of him being in a grave, in the ‘nocturnal blackness’. The author uses dramatic irony as he represents his death, the image is of a hedgehog that “travels furtively over the lawn”, which metaphorically alludes to his spirit that would do the same. As is the case in many other Hardy’s poems, here winter is associated with death in “Afterwards. ” However, the ‘full-starred heavens’ give a more positive attitude, also “they rise again”.
This seems to be conveying the idea of resurrection of all mankind. Here, we may take “they” to mean also both ancestors and ‘postern’ who have heard and will hear the bell throughout history. At the end Hardy looks on after death recalling the title of the poem ‘Afterwards’. Moreover, there is the image of those who will come after Hardy, gazing to the night skies and remembering the poet. With the poem’s conclusion, as the church-bells ring, emblematic of the comforting message of Christianity that we may be remembered affectionately by the living.
The poem, then, becomes Hardy’s bell of ‘quittance’, a song celebrating his life. In conclusion, the poem possesses an “eulogistic” quality, in fact, Hardy would have wanted to be remembered for his love of nature and probably wanted to be remembered by this poem. The numerous sensory impressions of the poem, coupled with the conflict of faith and the informing details of Hardy’s life as a “man of Wessex,” make this poem a suitable ‘epitaph’ for Hardy. ‘During wind and rain’ The poem depicts Emma’s family, through Hardy’s memory.
Hardy is visiting another place from his past with Emma, and again the harsh passing time is the major theme. As long as Hardy is alive, objects and places, as ‘gravestones’, will have her name carved on them. Here, he remembers a moment when the family had gathered to “sing their dearest songs”. Hardy evokes a memory of music and immediately after the reader is reminded of the passing time and decay. “Ah, no; the years O! /How the sick leaves reel down in throngs. ” Thereafter, the music has ceased and sounds of the dead winter leaves being blown by the wind, are the only thing which can be heard.
The word ‘reel’ aptly conveys the idea of the leaves falling, as “throngs” evokes the sound of dry leaves being brushed together. In these lines Hardy is preparing the reader for the ‘storm’, while subtly and tacitly he is excellently describing what happens in one’s mind when we remember somebody which we dearly love, but lost. At first, these memories bring joy, like music to our ears, but then we feel completely tormented by those same joyful memories, because those people who brought us that joy are now gone forever.
In the second stanza, Emma’s family is remembered during their ordinary activities, when ‘elders and juniors’, work in the garden to make “the pathways neat/And the gardens gay. ‘ Through these lines we get a glimpse of Emma’s family lifestyle. They used to live according to rural customs, in strict contact with nature. This relationship, is a very Victorian theme. In fact, Victorian poets used to find peace in their escape into nature, which brings them comfort and find in ‘hearthside ease’.
Moreover, the aim of his representation of village life is thus done partly to metaphorically argue about those local values at the point of their vanishing, thus Hardy’s recording of family traditions, folk-tales, popular songs and dances, and the vanishing vocabulary of the Wessex dialect; and his registering the impact of other changes of rural life. Nonetheless, “the white storm birds wing across the sky;” announce the coming of a storm. Here, the title is recalled. Later, while they are “blithely breakfasting all” the wind removes the dead rose from the wall.
The alliteration “rotten rose is ript,” are three simple alliterated words but convey a complex image. We get the impression of the wind’s strength and the fragility of the ‘rotten’ flowers, the latter are probably a metaphor for old age when people a more fragile, just like the ‘tremulous leaves’ in ‘Afterwards’. In the fourth stanza, the family is now moving to “a high new house. ” Here, Hardy refers to their possessions as if wanting to highlight their material comfort. Thus, he might be metaphorically emphasizing their efforts and hard work which have been paid back to them.
Although they possess the “brightest things” the “rain-drop ploughs” down on their gravestones; which implies that after their death, time will even erase their lives and only through future generations’ memory the dead can be brought alive by. In this poem Hardy’s rigor in structure and rhythm can be traced. In the second line of each stanza, we denote the members of the family “He, she, all of them”, then the “Elders and juniors”, the “Men and maidens” stanza and each stanza begins with the personal pronoun “they”. In stanzas 1 and 3 “Ah, no; the years O! ” is repeated in stanzas 2 and 4 “Ah, no; the years, the years”.
He also gives us an understanding of their rural dialect by using the exclamation such as “yea” “aye” in stanzas 12 and 4. The use of such slang seems at first to ruin the poetical style, however these words gives us more detail to who the characters were and reflect the rhythm of the song, sung by the family. In conclusion, ‘During Wind and Rain’ is another example of elegy, it is a lament for the destruction which time and fait bring to everything. 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.
Rhyme is also handled very aptly and follows an abcbcda pattern, so the first and last lines are linked by rhyme emphasizing the contrast and at the same time continuity throughout the poem “yea/play”, “aye/gay”, “yea/bay”, “aye/day”. Continuity is also conveyed through annual changes which metaphorically mirror the changes in the human condition. What strikes the most is the poem’s richness of imagery and sound, which incredibly bring Hardy’s memory alive. He uses his memories to a further extent, to represent his life but at the same time everybody’s.
His poems are eternal. ‘After a journey’ Hardy fails to ‘Wither, O whither will its whim now draw me? ‘. There is a desire but absent voice and a need to ‘track’ the presence of Emma’s ghost in the landscape governs much of the sequence, and typically Hardy does not discover the presence signaled by ‘voice’, but rather, at best, a vision of his dead wife as she once was which he can sustain only momentarily. In the opening line of ‘After a Journey’ ‘Hereto I come to view a voiceless ghost’, eliminates the possibility of speech.
Again, the poem deals with the immanence of memory and the production of an image of Emma; an image of courtly love. Probably, Hardy writes this poem in the period of recovery through his assertion that Emma ‘will have, Dear, to vanish from me’. However, Hardy probably ‘love triumphs over time’, asserting that ‘all’s closed now, despite ‘Time’s derision’. Hardy’s uncertainty and tension is even conveyed through the metre. The number of syllables in each line varies between 9 and 15, but each line is regular in that each contains 4 stresses.
The title emphasizes the result of the undertaken ‘Journey’, however the poem seems to speak about the actual journey. It is about the poet’s resolution of feelings during the journey and retrospection. The poem itself is the vehicle for resolution and is the means by which the journey comes to reality. The actual voice in the poem is that of Hardy’s conscience. ‘I come’, he argues as if an obligation. The first two lines speak of a spiritual mourning – as one might feel in forcing oneself to face the memories of one whom one has betrayed emotionally.
Thereafter, the mood slightly seems to change into that of spiritual exhaustion. By using the word ‘whim’, Hardy possibly wants the reader to understand how he feels, as if justifying himself for viewing his wife as a ghost, he is out of control. The latter is also emphasized by the line ‘Up the cliff, down’. The stresses in this metre accentuates the fractured and uncertain nature of the poet’s thoughts. In addition, the ‘up, down’ convey an idea of the poet’s loss of direction , who then settles down, as emotionally more deep – ‘lonely, lost’.
Hardy emotions are like ‘Unseen waters’, metaphorically symbolize life and the subconscious, which he confronts in this poem. Hardy’ s use of language is very apt, he describes Emma as a ‘rose flush’, which recalls line 23, ‘all aglow’. The image of her is intensely physical, perhaps implicitly sexual. The reader gets strongly engaged in Hardy’s memory. The sounds of wind and nature as a whole, coupled by the ghostly presence of these ‘gray eyes’ and the direct speech lead throughout his journey until the final lines when surprisingly the ghost vanishes from him.
As if awaken by the ‘whitens hazily’, the reader is now prepared to find a happy ending. Hardy’s ending seem positive and assuring. At the end of the poem, there is a harsh rhyme (‘lours/flowers’) and a declaration which, it seems to me, can only be read ironically and hopelessly against the background of loss ‘I am just the same as when/Our days were a joy, and our paths through flowers’ nearly as if stating ‘but you are not’. The ‘Trust me … though Life lours’ introducing this declaration might imply a recognition that trust may be betrayed.