A Wife in London

Thomas Hardy


Thomas Hardy

Nationality: English

Thomas Hardy is remembered today for novels such as 'Jude the Obscure' and 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles.' 

But, there is a wealth of content to explore in his masterful poetry.

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 by Thomas Hardy


A Wife in London Analysis

Stanza One

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 Two

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 of ‘A Wife in London,’ 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 Three

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 Four

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 were written, seemingly from beyond the grave, yet come 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 ‘A Wife in London,’ even though he faced the perilous circumstances of war, still held 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 expected by either the wife or 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.

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Allisa Corfman Poetry Expert
Allisa graduated with a degree in Secondary Education and English and taught World Literature and Composition at the high school level. She has always enjoyed writing, reading, and analysing literature.
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