Thomas Hardy

At Castle Boterel by Thomas Hardy

‘At Castle Boterel’ was written in 1913. The poem remembers a certain moment in life that is associated with a deeply significant memory.

‘At Castle Boterel’ was written in 1913. The poem remembers a certain moment in the lyrical voice’s life that is associated with a deeply significant memory related to a relationship with a woman. ‘At Castle Boterel’ has a nostalgic tone, as it meditates on a sentimental remembrance.

The poem has seven stanzas with uneven lines and it has an ABABB rhyme scheme. The poem constructs a distinctive rhythm as the final line of each stanza is short and rhymes with the previous line, forming a couplet. These are used to make subtle emphasis or contrasts at the end of each section.

‘At Castle Boterel’ can be read as an elegiac poem, as it grieves for a loved one and recalls the memories shared with him/her. The lyrical voice refers to the present time at the beginning and at the end of the poem and to the past time in a middle section that emphasizes a description of this loved one.

At Castle Boterel by Thomas Hardy


At Castle Boterel Analysis

First Stanza

As I drive to the junction of lane and highway,

And the drizzle bedrenches the waggonette,

I look behind at the fading byway,

And see on its slope, now glistening wet,

Distinctly yet

The first stanza of ‘At Castle Boterel’ sets the scene. The lyrical voice describes the present situation he/she is in (“As I drive to the junction of lane and highway”). This presents a crossroad, both literary and metaphorically, as the lyrical voice arrives at a junction between roads, but this presents a chance to meditate over past events. Notice the scene: “And the drizzle bedrenches the wagonette”. The lyrical voice needs to stop for a moment, at the junction, and this serves as a way to pause life and “look behind at the fading byway”. Thus, the lyrical voice will introduce past events in a flashback form, which is presented through aesthetic distance (“And see on its slope, now glistening wet,/ Distinctly yet”). The rhyme enhances the narration and the final line creates an abrupt cut that will link the following stanza directly. In this stanza, the lyrical voice is isolated and gloomy, creating a depressing and nostalgic tone.


Second Stanza

Myself and a girlish form benighted

In dry March weather. We climb the road

Beside a chaise. We had just alighted

To ease the sturdy pony’s load

When he sighed and slowed.

The second stanza presents a past image. This image contrasts with the image represented in the previous stanza: the lyrical voice is no longer alone (“Myself and a girlish form”), the climate varies greatly (“In dry March weather”), and the tone is dramatically different. The lyrical voice presents this action in the same location, but at a different time. This occurs in his/her mind, as it is a memory that is being revisited. The attention is on them and their actions, rather than the scenery (“We climb the road […] We had just alighted [,…]”). The rhyme accentuates the nostalgic tone by the repetition of a “d” sound at the end of each line. Moreover, there is alliteration with the “s” sound throughout the stanza.


Third Stanza

What we did as we climbed, and what we talked of

Matters not much, nor to what it led,—

Something that life will not be balked of

Without rude reason till hope is dead,

And feeling fled.

The third stanza emphasizes the irrelevance of actions. The lyrical voice says that: “What we did as we climbed, and what we talked of/Matters not much, nor to what it lead”. Nevertheless, the lyrical voice is aware that this made him/her have feelings afterward. Notice how we are still in the lyrical voice’s memories and he/she talks about losing these feelings (“And feeling fled”) and how they become irrelevant (“Without rude reason till hope is dead”). In this particular stanza, the lyrical voice uses irony in order to convey a certain realization, alongside a sharp tone.


Fourth Stanza

It filled but a minute. But was there ever

A time of such quality, since or before,

In that hill’s story? To one mind never,

Though it has been climbed, foot-swift, foot-sore,

By thousands more.

The fourth stanza projects the feelings of the lyrical voice. The memories are traced back (“It filled but a minute”) and the lyrical voice describes the moment in which he/she felt strong and powerful feelings. Nevertheless, these feelings appear not to be reciprocated. The lyrical voice uses a rhetorical question in order to express this and to create a tone of regret (“But was there ever/A time of such quality […] in that hill’s story?”).  With the comparison to the mountain, the lyrical voice creates a symbolism and, at the same time, he/she answers his/her own question. Many others have already climbed this mountain (“By thousands more”). Notice how the lyrical voice prioritizes quality in memories over quantity or length because of what he/she said from the beginning (“A time of such quality”).


Fifth Stanza

Primeval rocks form the road’s steep border,

And much have they faced there, first and last,

Of the transitory in Earth’s long order;

But what they record in colour and cast

Is—that we two passed.

The fifth stanza of ‘At Castle Boterel’ increases the time-scale in the memory. The lyrical voice goes back in time (“Primeval rocks”) and depicts a great ancient age where rocks are lying on the road’s borders (“And much have the faced there”). This image serves as symbolism, as the rock represents emotions and feeling because they too go up and down and through “transitory in Earth’s long order”. Notice the alliteration on the fourth line, used to emphasize the importance of these rocks.  These indicate the feelings and the fact that both the lyrical voice and the loved one felt them (“But what they record in colour and cast/Is-that we two passed”).


Sixth Stanza

And to me, though Time’s unflinching rigour,

In mindless rote, has ruled from sight

The substance now, one phantom figure

Remains on the slope, as when that night

Saw us alight.

The sixth stanza intensifies the characterization of time. Time is presented as rigorous (“unflinching rigour”), mindless (“In mindless rote”), and powerful (“has ruled from sight”). Thus, Time is personified as an unforgiving taskmaster. Nevertheless, the lyrical voice talks about his memories (“The substance now, one phantom figure”) and how they are still very vivid to him/her (“Remains on the slope, as when that night/ Saw us alight”). The rhyme and alliteration emphasize this powerful remembrance.


Seventh Stanza

I look and see it there, shrinking, shrinking,

I look back at it amid the rain

For the very last time; for my sand is sinking,

And I shall traverse old love’s domain

Never again.

The final stanza presents the lyrical voice’s attempts to forget these memories. The lyrical voice goes back to the present time and he/she sees this “phantom figure” “shriking, shriking”. This repetition emphasizes the lyrical voice’s gloom and desperation. He/she expresses a desire to change that memory and to get rid of it (“I look back at it amid the rain/For the very last time”). The lyrical voice has grown old and time is running out (“for my sand is sinking”). Moreover, the lyrical voice acquires a resignation tone as he/she “shall traverse old love’s domain/Never again”. These final lines create a dramatic ending to the poem.


About Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 and died in 1928. He was an English poet and novelist. Thomas Hardy was greatly influenced by southern England, where he was born and raised. His works expand through the Victorian and the Modern era. His most known works are his lyric poems which influenced great poets such as Philip Larkin, Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, among others. Thomas Hardy’s poetry concentrates on the musical aspects of language, by paying attention to the different possibilities of sound. He was greatly influenced by the Romantic Movement, and especially by William Wordsworth. Thomas Hardy viewed himself mainly as a poet, but he also wrote novels like Far from the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, and The Mayor of Casterbridge.

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Julieta Abella Poetry Expert
Julieta has a BA and a MA in Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team back in May 2017. She has a great passion for poetry and literature and works as a teacher and researcher at Universidad de Buenos Aires.
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