COMMENTARY ON HARDY POETRY (PART 3)*
Shadow on the Stone
Where the Picnic was
After a Journey
Your Last Drive
The Shadow on the Stone
The Druid stone is the inspiration for the poem. It is symbolic of an ancient oracle which could see into the spiritual realm. The stone is no ordinary one, as it broods like a living object. The white colour used to describe it represents its desolation as the word lone confirms in the second line. It is the reflection of a tree’s shadow on the stone that shapes in the imagination of the persona the reflection of his lover (Emma).
The second stanza is still built on the imagination of the persona as he confesses, I thought her, and although he has learnt to get used to her absence,. It takes a verbal reassurance for the persona to believe the lady is right behind him. In a state of self doubt again, the only thing he could hear is the fall of a leaf. Is the silence that pervades the setting synonymous with the ghostly presence of the lady? Still on his attempt to create a sense of reality out of unreality, the persona decides not to turn his head to assure himself of her presence. It is as if l he knows she is not there, but does not want to face the reality, so it is better for him to live in his make-believe world.
The temptation to look back for confirmation of the lady’s presence grips him again, but he refuses, but at this point, he adds a little optimism with the word there may be. This sense of consciousness still grips the persona as he walks softly and decides to leave the memory behind and still not turning back to kill the joy of her not being there.
Power of imagination
Reality versus Illusion
The poem is built around the persona who retrospectively argues within himself that what is not real is real. There is the use of neologism (a word formed by the writer to suit a particular purpose)-in unvision, unturned. This is to create the persona’s attempt to change the course of reality. Personification is also employed in stone… broods, shifting shadows. All these point to the power of making life out of something as inanimate as the stone.
Tone, Mood, Atmosphere
The tone is reflective as the persona tries impose his imagination on an illusion. However a sense of sadness is created in the mood created as one may begin to pity the persona as he tries to live in an unrealistic world. The atmosphere is sombre and sublime.
Where the Picnic Was
The first stanza describes the setting of the picnic in summer. In the same stanza, the second journey to locate this same setting is described, this time round in winter. To capture the effort it takes to attain this level of satisfaction, the persona has to slowly climb, through winter mire, scan and trace before reaching the spot which has become forsaken.
The second stanza dwells on the situation on the second visit to the picnic site in winter when the cold wind blows and the grass is gray. The ugliness of the location is depicted by the descriptions of charred, sward. All these things though unpleasant are symbolic and are (sic) relic of the past.
The persona once again relishes being here again just as he has been here last year. It could be that visit to the site has become an annual ritual to reconnect with the memories of the first picnic. More details of the first picnic are then revealed. It involves four persons, but a lot has happened since then. Two have wandered to embrace urban life which is equal to being lost (To Hardy, anybody not acquainted with nature is as good as being lost).Thus, the poem describes the city as where no picnics are. The last of the four, Emma has died.
The poem is made up of 9 lines each stanza focusing on a part of the picnic. Language is simple and accessible, but expressed through monologue.
The ample use of enjambment in stanza 1 to show the eagerness of the persona in running to the spot. Stanza 2 is marked by end-stops and caesura as the poem becomes cautious. Assonance used also in charred and sward to capture the harshness of winter.
Tone, Mood, Atmosphere
The tone is full of nostalgia .The mood and atmosphere are mournful cold and sombre.
A place where a memorial event takes place is more important than the event itself. The picnic spot is such a place.
The Phantom Horsewoman
The poem is an the account of the persona and his rather complex and interesting encounter with the phantom horsewoman, who represents Hardy’s late wife, Emma.
One marked feature of this poem is its objective tone. The persona in the poem is being observed and it is an account of this observation that forms the poem. The persona is viewed to be queer because of his strange behaviour of looking into space as if lost. Looking at the sands and seaward is symbolic of aimless looking. This is the opinion of the observer, but for the persona, there is something he could see that others could not appreciate.
The tone of the poem still continues on a sceptical tone with They say. Ironically, what the persona could see is more visible than a concrete object. (briny green) .The poem becomes more detailed from here, painting a positive image. There is softness and passion about the description of the phantom horsewoman in a sweet soft scene. It is obvious here that it is the memory of the persona that brings the sweet memory of Emma in Phantom Horsewoman.
The objective tone of the poem is also echoed at the beginning of the first stanza in of this vision of his they might say more. The experience of the persona becomes more real and now he sees the image of Emma, not only everywhere, but even in his imagination as aptly described, in in his brain-day as if on the shore and the persona is far away. The shore here is symbolic of the dividing line between the terrestrial and the celestial worlds.
The last stanza of the poem ends in the usual conclusive, resigned and meditative tone. A contrast is brought between the persona and Emma here. While the former who still resides in the physical world withers daily, Emma in the spiritual realm is not subjected to the decadence often caused by the passage of time. Another contrast between the two worlds is the setting where Emma rides, which is still the physical world where the persona still resides, the shaggy and shaly Atlantic spot. All these are captured and kept safe in the memory of the persona, the ever- happy, exuberant image of Emma.
- The decadence of the physical world versus the serenity of the spiritual world.
- The power of imagination or memory
- Reality versus illusion.
Unlike most poems of Hardy, this poem takes on an impersonal and objective tone based on other people’s observation of the persona’s behaviour. This to an extent adds some level of objectivity to the poem. So, there is a kind of detachment between the persona and the lady on horse in the poem.
There is also the use of synecdoche (using part of human body to represent the whole.) in the first stanza-moveless hands and face.
The choice of words (diction) also helps to create a sense of feeling and passion the poet wants to create in using colours in stanza 2-briny green and rose bright in stanza 3.
More clear than today
A sweet soft scene
He withers daily
Time touches her not
She rides gaily in his rapt thought
The rhyme scheme of the first stanza is an irregular format ofabcbcbca.This to a large extent mirrors the confusion of the persona as he tries to make meaning of his life and existence. The second stanza where some sanity appears to have come into the persona due to his encounter with the phantom figure of the lady, the rhyme scheme becomes rather regular. The sense of confusion in the persona re-appears in the third and last stanzas which once again are irregular with abcbcbca and abcbcbcaa respectively. This mirrors the conflicting picture of the persona’s sorrow and the lady’s joy.
Alliterations and assonance are used in comes; craze in lines 3 to capture a sense of harshness to convey the uneasiness of the persona. The assonance in craze and haze also shows a feeling of lifelessness. The deplorable emotional state of the persona as reflected in the physical setting is also captured in shagged and shaly in the last stanza (line 6).
Tone, Mood, Atmosphere
The first stanza starts on a cautious, meditative tone. The ample use of end-stops, caesuras and even rhetorical questions show this. The tone is impersonal. However, the tone in the second stanza becomes more passionate and in the third stanza, it takes on a casual one. In the last stanza, the poet attempts to create a meeting point between the persona’s feeling and exhilarating freedom of the Phantom Horsewoman.
The poem starts against the background of scenic wandering western sea and Emma riding with so much freedom and excitement .The beauty of the scene below is described from above on the Beeny Cliff. The time is summer in March. The experience is still being described in stanza 3, as the lovers are covered with a cloud followed by the rain and then the colourful background as the sun burst out again. In the forth stanza, the poet brings forth how he would wish for him and his lover to visit the same spot again and relive the experience of the past, especially the words shared. The last stanza draws a contrast between two situations, of the beauty of that spot, where they share their experience and the irony of the fact that Emma would not be around and nor knows nor cares for Beeny.
Power of memory
Beauty of nature
The poem is built round the descriptive power of Hardy in using imagery to portray the beauty of nature. Examples are:The opal and the sapphire …Wandering western sea…Waves…engrossed in saying their ceaseless babbling
Words are chosen to convey a vivid sense of the beauty of nature. The sense of freedom of the woman is captured as her hair flapping free. The power of colour especially its beauty is used in the poem in the nether sky, clear–sunned March, Atlantic dyed, purples prinked.
The poem has a regular rhyme scheme of aaa throughout the poem. Each line is marked by end-stop which is used to control the awe the persona feels concerning the beauty around him. To further strengthen this feeling of awe, there is the use of rhetorical question. The caesura in the middle line of stanza 5 is meant to draw attention to the absence of Emma. The use of alliteration in wild, weird western shore is to portray the awe-inspiring and expansiveness of the beauty of nature. Repetition is also used in the last line of stanza 1 to convey a sense of devotedness in the love between the persona and his now late lover.
Tone, Mood and Atmosphere
The tone maintains a certain level of calmness throughout the poem as it appears as if the persona is trying to control his exuberance in the face of the awe of nature that surrounds him. Though the theme of departure or death is introduced in the last stanza, it does not appear to becloud the beauty of nature expressed.
This is perhaps one poem where Hardy allows the sweet memory of Emma especially the nature- awed beauty of that experience to becloud his sense of loss. He is probably celebrating the enduring power of the beauty of nature as capable of erasing the grief of loss.
After a Journey
The poem is one of the Emma poems. As it is the case in some of Hardy’s poems, the memorial significance of a particular location is stressed. In the first stanza, the persona is being led by a ghost or a phantom (This reminds one of fables where ghosts lead people to a cliff to lead them to their death).The use of the word whim however shows that the persona is being led on by his own imagination. Instead of the agent of nature as represented in unseen waters’ ejaculation comforting the personal, it further accentuates his sense of loneliness. The sense of lack of direction is also made in this first stanza. However, some level of concreteness uphold the sanity of the persona, which are the vivid memories of Emma that he carries in his mind such as the nut-coloured hair, gray eyes and rose flush.
The second stanza goes further into retrospection of the personal and the turbulent relationship they had in the past. It is as if he is trying to make some atonement for the past wrong. He also wants an urgent response of validation from Emma to probably erase his sense of guilt in what have you now found to say of our past-His sense of guilt continues, but he still tries to analyse the past situation of both the good and the bad times, until coming to the summation that things were not actually palatable towards the end of their marital life compared to the latter. The stanza ends on a note of resignation of all’s closed now, despite Time’s derision. (Time in its ever present nature gives hope that the damage can still be corrected, but the persona is realistic enough that this is impossible.)
The third stanza starts on a positive tone of the sweet memories of the spot visited; its waterfall, fair hour and the fair weather. However, the stanza once again ends on a sad note of the persona comparing the early years of their relationship when she was aglow and now (in view of their last years) when she has become thin.
In the last stanza, there is a sudden realization of how he has been transported imaginatively to this symbolic spot. To make the moment more vivid, he has to depict the movement of some animals as they exhibit some level of activity. From this spot, imageries depicting departure and eternal separation are employed in vanish from me, stars close their shutters, dawn whitens hazily. The persona’s attempt to discountenance this truth however appears unsuccessful through the use of the exclamation mark in line 6. To him, as long as he could keep alive the memory in his mind, his lover is never dead. It is this tone that concludes the poem-Our days were a joy, and our paths through flowers.
Change or transition
Imageries of auditory and visual powers.
Unseen waters ‘ejaculation
Summer gave us sweet, but autumn wrought division
Stars close their shutters and the dawn whitens hazily
Cave…with a voice
The language is generally accessible .It is vivid and dramatic as it gives mechanical description of details. The language is highly expressive. There is clever economy of expression making the language succinct, yet effective in lines such as …stars close their shutters. There is also ample use of symbolism in words such as cliff (symbolic of the highest point of their relationship), nut, summer, autumn, waterfall, cave, birds and flowers.
There is ample use of end-stop, especially in the first stanza to mark the cautious state of the persona. Rhetorical question also adds effect to this. The exclamatory ejaculation of the persona in whither,O whither is to accentuate his agony of helplessness. For all the stanzas, the last four lines often which have irregular rhyme scheme often have a rather sad and meditative tone.
Tone, Atmosphere, Mood
A sense of despair is found in the first stanza and often marked by his attempt to make meaning of his sense of loneliness. In the second stanza, the tone turns to asking different questions, this time occasioned by a sense of guilt. Rhetorical questions help to achieve this effect. In the third and forth stanzas, the tone gets more sorrowful .However, the sense of sorrow is made lighter towards the end as if the persona is trying to impose his cherished sweet memory on the loss, which is the reality that is ever-present .
Your Last Drive
This poem possesses almost all the features of Emma poems. This first stanza recounts the experience of the lady –persona as the light of the borough reflects on her face and even the beautiful view she appreciates. However, beneath all these is the sense of ignorance of death coming a week later.-To be in a week the face of the dead.
The narration continues as the lady ignorantly passes the spot where she would be buried a week later. The sense of permanence of the physical place of burial is contrasted with the theme of brevity of life.
Sense of guilt felt by the male-persona continues here, because he was definitely not there to share what would have been the last memorable moment with his lover. In a tone of justification, he tries to assert that even his presence would not probably have made any difference. Is it because he has not been so intimate with her to have been able to read her body language?
The forth stanza turns dramatic as the lady –persona is made to reply to some of the yearning questions of the man. She expressly states the needlessness of anything that her male lover may do after her demise. His countless visits to her burial site, his thoughts on her loss, his criticism of her flaws and even praises of her are now useless, because when he should have exercised all these when she was alive, he did not do it.
The last stanza is the reply of the male-persona to the thoughts of his lover. It is a tone of resignation and justification that though she may not appreciate all these gestures again, yet he would still have to keep her memory nourished. There is a hint of anger in his tone her as he refers to her as Dear ghost, a somewhat sarcastic tone. He continues with the justification that she too probably has to share in his present plight as she has never got to know him intimately too. The stanza ends in resignation of there being no way to right the wrong of the past-You are past love, praise, indifference, blame.
- Suddenness of death
- Travails of physical world versus the tranquillity of the spiritual world.
- Lost Opportunity
The poem is built round the monologue of the male-persona, though in stanza four has to inject a dialogue with his dead lover. The poem is dramatic as every detail of movement, change of setting is captured.
Epithet-haloed view, heedless eye, flickering sheen
The poem uses a regular rhyme scheme of ababcc.The caesuras in stanzas 1 and 2 are to capture the sense of regret and sorrow of the persona. Stanzas 1 to 3 employ quite a lot of run-on-line or enjambment to create a sense of artificial lightness, but in the last two stanzas, the sorrow is deepened and this warrants the ample use of end-stops.
Tone, Mood and Atmosphere
The poem sounds like a dirge or an elegy .The sense of regret felt by the male-persona creates this feeling. Though he tries to justify himself, yet he is not able to successfully impose this justification on the sense of loss that pervades the whole poem.