CAPE Literature- Thomas Hardy Poems

Question: CAPE 2013 Q. 15



Poetry can be deemed enjoyable by its memorability or the relatability of its content.  As such, poems which discuss the human condition are often memorable and enjoyable because they present universal human experiences, aided by skillful use of poetic techniques.  Thomas Hardy’s poems are memorable for precisely this reason.  His poem Neutral  Tones relates a dying relationship and the complex emotions experienced by each party.  His effective use of pathetic fallacy and imagery aids in this presentation.  However, his poems To an Unborn Pauper Child and A Backward Spring discuss varying attitudes to life by using both imagery and personification respectively.  Varying complexities in rhyme scheme and variations in tone also aid in the memorability of these poems.

Neutral Tones makes full use of nature and colour imagery to highlight the emotions experienced at the end if a relationship.  The overall backdrop of the scene was described as ‘gray’, the sun being ‘white as though chidden of God’.  Even the leaves which lie on the ‘starving sod’ are dead and gray, emphasizing the bleakness of the situation.  This is also pathetic fallacy as the deathly winter landscape mimics the smile on the woman’s face which was ‘the deadest thing,/Alive enough to have strength to die’.  The dominant image if death illustrates exactly how dispassionate the relationship was.  The idea of nature existing as a backdrop for human events as proposed by critic Alan Pound in his piece Critical Perspectives is exemplified in this poem.  Aside from imagery, the poem utilizes a detached tone, and the persona and his lover remain unnamed throughout the poem.  This lends a universality to the poem and thus makes it memorable because readers can easily identify similar situations in their own lives.  The complex nature of a failed relationship is offset too by the simple abba  rhyme scheme and a controlled use of tetrameter.  This is a frequent feature of Hardy’s poems, contrastingly simple rhyme schemes are juxtaposed against complex subject matter.

In contrast to this simple rhyme scheme and complex subject matter, A Backward Spring contains a complicated ababcd rhyme scheme which complements its complicated subject matter.  This is representative of the complexities of human behavior in the face of challenges.  The poem explores various attitudes to life’s challenges by personifying plants to represent different human responses.  For example the ‘…bush afraid to bloom’ illustrates people’s reluctance to make new starts in the face of disasters such as war.  However, ‘the snowdrop’s face displays no gloom’, showing that people are optimistic in the face of struggles.  Many are also recklessly optimistic like the primrose that ‘pants’ , a representation of people who push on relentlessly toward an end despite the clear dangers.  In personifying the plants and flowers, Hardy illustrates varying attitudes to life during the Great War in a creative and memorable way which enhances reader enjoyment.   A Backward Spring is unlike many of his other poems in that nature is the main subject or persona of the poem as opposed to a backdrop for human events.  Rather, nature represents humans and their differing responses to struggle.  Overall, both Hardy’s representation of nature and his similar rhyme scheme and subject matter make A Backward Spring a highly enjoyable and memorable poem.

To an Unborn Pauper Child does make extensive use of imagery, both to highlight the dark, chaotic nature of life and the innocent, protected oblivion of an unborn child.  Through describing the ‘skies that spout fire and blood’ and ‘earth that quakes’, Hardy warns the unborn child to ‘cease’ rather than be born and live in such a cruel world.  Such imagery suggests chaos, death and destruction and serves as an ominous portent of future tragedies in store for the child.  It helps to further Hardy’s case that the child would be better off dead than living in the world.  In contrast, the gentle, protected image of a ‘wombed soul’ in a ‘shut plot’ emphasizes the unknowing vulnerability of the child, highlighting again why it should be protected from the world.  Additionally, as in Neutral Tones, Hardy contrasts difficult aspects of the human condition with a simple aabbcc rhyme scheme.  This contrast provokes thought in the reader and perhaps makes the poem generally more memorable and enjoyable.  He also varies the tone of the poem, stanza 1 connotes a warning, or an impending sense of danger.  However. This tone slowly changes to protective and finally hopeful as Hardy wishes for the child to have ‘scope’ and reflects in his final views of human nature.  In To an Unborn Pauper Child Hardy also uses nature as a backdrop for human activities, however, this is done to a lesser extent than in Neutral Tones.

In conclusion, while a range of poetic techniques does enhance a poem’s enjoyability, time and rhyme schemes are also important poetic elements.  Thomas Hardy’s poems Neutral Tones, A Backward Spring and To an Unborn Pauper Child all make use of these techniques and elements thus making them highly enjoyable.  Their discussion of various human issues makes them relatable and universal which also maximizes reader enjoyment.


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