A Wife in London by Thomas Hardy

This poem, A Wife in London, by Thomas hardy has a unique way of presenting a tragedy. The words are light and simple, yet the effect heavy and real. The opening of this poem reveals that it will tell of a tragedy. The rest of A Wife in London follows this simple, yet effective form of syntax.


A Wife in London Analysis

Stanza 1

I–The Tragedy

She sits in the tawny vapour
That the City lanes have uprolled,
Behind whose webby fold on fold
Like a waning taper
The street-lamp glimmers cold.

This stanza paints a simple, yet beautiful picture for the readers. The title, ‘A Wife in London’, has already revealed that the poem will be about a wife in London. Therefore, when this stanza describes the “she” who “sits in the tawny vapour”, the readers know immediately that this woman is someone’s wife, and that the setting is in London. The rest of the stanza describes the cold and empty streets of London. The only light is a small street lamp that “glimmers cold”. This gives the readers the image of a young wife who sits alone in the dark cold city of London.


Stanza 2

A messenger’s knock cracks smartly,
Flashed news is in her hand
Of meaning it dazes to understand
Though shaped so shortly:
He–has fallen–in the far South Land . . .

In this stanza, the silent cold of London is interrupted by a messenger. Because the title is simple and straight forward, readers cannot help but feel apprehensive at the arrival of this messenger. The fact that his knock “cracks smartly” also suggests that his message is about to bring pain to the lonely woman. The news is something that “flashed…in her hand” and left her feeling dazed, and unable to understand. She read the news that “he has fallen in the far South Land”. In this case, the “he” is quite obviously the woman’s husband. After all, readers know that she is someone’s wife, but the identity of her husband is not revealed. It is only obvious that she is alone in London, even though she is a wife. Thus, readers can immediately assume that the “he” mentioned in the second stanza must be her husband. The wife, then, has just received the news that her husband has fallen. This London wife received this devastating news while she was quite alone in London.


Stanza 3

II–The Irony

‘Tis the morrow; the fog hangs thicker,
The postman nears and goes:
A letter is brought whose lines disclose
By the firelight flicker
His hand, whom the worm now knows:

This stanza, titled, The Irony, allows the devastating news to sink in for the readers. The day after the London wife found out that she was a widow, she received a letter from her husband, written in his hand. He had written the letter to her shortly before he died, and news of his death had reached her before his letter could. Thus, to this woman, the letter was as if it came from the grave. The fact that the “fog hangs thicker” on the morning after news of her husband’s death symbolizes the way the wife feels the weight of her husband’s death even more on the day after she heard the news. The true meaning of losing him is weighing heavily upon her heart. The fog of the London morning symbolizes the way the woman feels as her new identity as a widow sinks in. It is as she observes the fog that the postman appears again. As she reads the letter by the flicker of the firelight, she realizes that it comes from “his hand, whom the worm now knows”.


Stanza 4

Fresh–firm–penned in highest feather –
Page-full of his hoped return,
And of home-planned jaunts by brake and burn
In the summer weather,
And of new love that they would learn.

The description of the lines written in the letter symbolizes the pain in the woman’s heart. Just like the letter, the pain is “fresh” and “firm”. The letter tells of her husband’s desire to return home. Ironically, he was already dead by the time she received his letter expressing his “hoped return”. His letter had also told of his travels and the difficulty in coming home in the hot summer sun. He told her “of new love that they would learn” when he would finally return home from war. By the end of this poem, the reader can feel the pang of death. These words written, seemingly from beyond the grave, yet coming from a man not ready to die. The words told of hope for a future and longing to come home and love his wife. The readers can experience the heartache the woman must have felt as she read these words only one day after she heard the news of his death. This allows the readers to grasp the true frailty of life. This man, young and strong, was certain that he would come home. Yet, news of his death reached his wife before that very letter would reach her hands. This resonates with readers because most people, especially young people, are fairly confident they will wake up the next day. The young man in this poem, even though he faced the perilous circumstances of war, still held a confidence that he would wake up the next day, and the next. He was sure he would soon be home with his wife, holding her in his arms. Readers can identify with this man because most of us are looking forward to a long life filled with love, and possibly marriage and children. The fact that this was snatched from a man who was so confident that he would make it home, allows the readers to truly feel the sting of death. This death was not expecting by either the wife nor the man himself. Both expected to be reunited, and yet, in an instant, they were separated forever. A Wife in London has a very simple and straightforward way of portraying the frailty of human life. No matter how confident a person may be, tomorrow is never guaranteed. In a moment, death can snatch a person up, leaving others to mourn in their absence.

What's your thoughts? Join the conversation by commenting
We make sure to reply to every comment submitted, so feel free to join the community and let us know by commenting below.

Get more Poetry Analysis like this in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list and get new poetry analysis updates straight to your inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.

  • Avatar dynamite says:

    It doesn’t show much about the war

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      What doesn’t?

  • Avatar Marwan says:

    I have a research about a wife in london poem.can i know whose the analysis of this poem and the date.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      It was written by Allisa Corfman on the 10th June 2017

  • Avatar Johnny Sins says:

    oof exams

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I feel your pain!

  • Avatar jonathan says:

    what kind of exam questions could you be given with poem like this?

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      You are probably best to ask your teacher. However dependant on the exam board if you go onto their webspage most of them will have past papers that you can look at to give you an idea of what to expect.

  • Thank you very much for helping me with my gcse revision it was very much appreciated,it helped me understand more about what each line ment and I got a good grade☺

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Awesome – thank you for the feedback, it makes it all seem worthwhile.

  • Thanks this will be good for the homework i was supposed to do

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      haha – Just tell them a dog meme ate it?

  • Avatar Beanstalk says:

    Uve got a v sexy profile pic 😉

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Just in case it wasn’t abundantly clear all the pictures of our contributors are computer generated. Real people don’t look like that, sorry.

  • Avatar Adam says:

    Some very nice analysis, and quite clear. However, there is a great deal of repetition and wasted words, especially visible in the first two sections, which contain some ideas several times, such as the fact that the title tells us she is a wife in London, and she is a wife, and she is in London, and we know she is a wife and in London. In this case, the idea could be dealt with in one sentence rather than over a span of lines and across two paragraphs.

    Also, it would be helpful for the essay to untie the knotty lines about the “lanes uproll[ing]” a “tawny vapour” (2-3) which appears to somehow represent a web and something folded…I find it hard to figure out what’s going on in these early lines and to identify the purpose of the particular diction here.

    • Emma Baldwin Emma Baldwin says:

      Hi Adam,
      Thank you for you comment!

      At the beginning of this piece the speaker describes the wife as sitting “in the tawny vapour” that the lanes of the city have “uprolled.” The poet is attempting to paint a confined image of the woman. She is trapped behind multiple layers, some tangibly present and others, like the vapour, amorphous. She is being seen through a brownish vapour that has come up off the street. The dirt, muck and rocks have been kicked up by pedestrians and passing horses. The layers of this misting, dirty vapour evoke the image of a smoggy London day. The fog has come in along the streets of the city, it has rolled up them. The web imagery is just there as an additional means of confining the woman into her world, which is about to get much worse.

  • Avatar Lucy Dunn says:

    well yeet

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I have no idea what this means! Am I officially old?

  • Avatar poojak says:

    i think you should have discussed the technique the writer uses and the effect it has on the reader and what it may make the reader feel and think.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Having read the analysis I think it does cover the effect it has on the reader and the techniques that cause that effect are implied. But thank you for your feedback, we always welcome it.

  • Avatar Samuel says:

    I need a wife in London

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Don’t we all, my friend. Don’t we all?

  • Avatar fat jamie says:

    this is a rubbish anayisis a 1 year old could do better than that

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      We appreciate your feedback, but if you would like to be more specific we will see if we can add to the analysis in order to make it more robust. Thank you.

    • Avatar Skinny Jerold says:

      ths is an amazing piyse of wourk

  • Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
    Scroll Up
    Send this to a friend