Thomas Hardy

‘Heredity’ by Thomas Hardy is a persona poem personalizing the titular speaker who brags about its ability to outlive individual human lives.


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.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Traits within families outlast the lives in the family

Themes: Immortality, Nature

Speaker: Heredity

Emotions Evoked: Disgust, Pride

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

'Heredity' by Thomas Hardy is a short persona poem about the uplifting features of heredity. Yet, it somehow bears Hardy's signature pessimism about the fate of human existence.

Heredity’ by Thomas Hardy is a short poem in which the personified concept, Heredity, tells of its enduring characteristics. Thomas Hardy was known to write poems about man’s hopeless fate to live and die without a meaningful, or meaningful enough, purpose as dictated by time and other cosmic forces.

However, this poem is one of Hardy’s less pessimistic poems, showing that at least something besides human life transcends time.

Thomas Hardy

I am the family face;Flesh perishes, I live on,Projecting trait and traceThrough time to times anon,And leaping from place to placeOver oblivion.

The years-heired feature that canIn curve and voice and eyeDespise the human spanOf durance -- that is I;The eternal thing in man,That heeds no call to die


Heredity’ by Thomas Hardy is a persona poem in which the titular speaker, a personified concept, tells of its traits.

Heredity’ is a simple and straightforward poem. In the beginning, the speaker, Heredity, introduces itself to readers. Its person, one can say, is a poetic definition of heredity, as expected and as opposed to its biological definition. It simply tells that it is the reason traits like one’s face within families are passed down through generations. At the end of the poem, Heredity praises itself for being the only thing about man that does not die.


Heredity’ by Thomas Hardy is a poem of two sestets. It is a rhymed free verse, following the rhyme scheme ABABAB CDCDCD. There is no consistent meter, however, Hardy limits the syllable count per line to six or seven syllables. This fairly steady number of syllables gives ‘Heredity’ a memorable rhythm. Enjambment is present throughout the poem.

Except for the last line of the poem, Hardy uses punctuation appropriately to indicate a pause or end to a thought. Not ending the poem with the appropriate punctuation is significant. This represents the undying nature of the poet’s persona: Heredity.

Literary Devices

  • Personification: This is the dominant device in the poem. ‘Heredity’ as a whole is the personified voice of the concept heredity. It refers to itself as “I” while relating, and even boasting of, its characteristics. In line 2, the word “flesh” is given the human quality of dying, “perish(ing).”
  • Metonymy: Metonymy appears in line one stanza one. “Family face” replaces the word “heredity,” effectively describing a quality of heredity which is passing down features, including that of the face.
  • Inversion: Inversion is evident in the second stanza. The first four lines in this sestet do not follow the normal sentence order of subject-verb-predicate. Rather, it follows the order predicate-verb-subject, only introducing itself “I” after mentioning yet another one of its features.
  • Synecdoche: Line two, stanza one contains a synecdoche. The word “flesh” is a part of man that represents the whole of man. When the speaker says “flesh perishes,” it really means man dies.
  • Caesura: Caesura appears at several points throughout the poem. Hardy introduces pauses within lines using commas or dash.
  • Parallelism: This literary device appears in stanza two, line two. This line’s special structure of nouns following the conjunction “and” improves the rhythm of the poem overall.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
Over oblivion.

The opening stanza of ‘Heredity’ goes straight to the point of definition. Not far off into the poem, it becomes obvious who “I” is: Heredity itself. The Oxford Languages dictionary rather defines heredity dryly as “the passing on of physical or mental characteristics genetically from one generation to another.” Heredity the speaker, however, takes on a more excitingly poetic approach to introducing itself.

Though this approach is to be expected, after all this is a poem, Heredity’s tone here reveals it to have a boastful personality. For instance, mentioning that man dies in line two is unnecessary to its introduction, but Heredity mentions it anyways as if to brag that it does one better than the species itself.

Stanza Two

The years-heired feature that can
In curve and voice and eye
Despise the human span
Of durance — that is I;
The eternal thing in man,
That heeds no call to die

Stanza two of ‘Heredity’ confirms the boastful nature of the poet’s persona. More than that, it shows the speaker’s scorn for the human fate. In a strange sense, one can liken the speaker’s voice to that of Hardy’s itself seeing as they both share a passionate dislike for the fact that men eventually die. As Heredity puts it in line four, they see this fate as one of “durance,” of bondage.

Heredity lauds itself for breaking free of this bondage. In the last two lines, one can sense its relief in being able to do so. If indeed Heredity’s voice is reflective of Hardy’s, one can also imagine that the poet himself is relieved by the fact that at least something about man is “eternal.”


When and where was ‘Heredity’ published?

Heredity’ was published in a poetry collection, Moments of Vision, in the year 1917. This collection, in a sense, was Hardy’s response to Darwin’s theory of evolution which was the talk of the town at the time. Darwin’s new theory then had Hardy questioning a lot about humans, including their belief in God.

What is the inspiration behind the poem?

Darwin’s theories on evolution and natural selection, added to Hardy’s pessimistic view on human existence, inspired the poem. In the collection to which ‘Heredity’ belongs, Hardy poetically pens down his thoughts on Darwin’s theories while slowly relinquishing his previously held Christian belief on the subject of man’s creation. Despite Hardy’s pessimism, however, ‘Heredity’ notes that something about humans survives beyond them.

Is there an overall tone and mood in ‘Heredity?’

In ‘Heredity,’ the speaker’s tone is boastful overall, its mood arrogantly uplifted. The speaker, Heredity, is proud to outlive man’s fate, something it mocks throughout the poem.

Is ‘Heredity’ lyric poetry?

Lyric poetry is a short poem in which a speaker expresses personal emotions to an audience. A defining quality of lyric poetry is that it is always written in first person. Having had these qualities, one can call ‘Heredity’ lyric poetry. Thomas Hardy wrote numerous poems of this sort.

Similar Poetry

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Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was known for his pessimistic outlook on life and humanity; this is reflected in his poetry. Even though 'Heredity' is one of Hardy's more popular and less pessimistic poems, it is still no exception to Hardy's signature tone and mood.
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20th Century

Thomas Hardy wrote poems between the late 19th century and the early 20th century. 'Heredity,' in particular, was written in the 20th century after Darwinian theories were revealed to the world. 'Heredity' as a poem represents a poetic transition from the age of Romanticism to the age of science and scientific reasoning. Hence, it is evidently an important pivot for the times.
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Hardy's poems are known and lauded in the English poetry society and even beyond due to their ability to refuse the status quo and take solitary stances on controversial issues. Hardy's poems, including 'Heredity,' expressed rather individualistic thoughts in a smooth, straightforward and even gloomy manner that had its own strange sense of charm.
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Immortality is a dominant theme in this poem. The poet persona, Heredity, celebrates its immortality relative to the human lifespan. It mentions it "heeds no call to die," unlike man whose "flesh perishes."
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Nature is an underlying theme in the poem though not in the romantic sense. The concept of 'Heredity' itself is a natural one. The passing down of traits from generation to generation is an event set to occur in nature, just like the death of man.
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Heredity's scorn for humanity's short existence is evident throughout the poem. The poet persona, though it does not have to, takes every available opportunity to express its disgust for man's predetermined fate to die.
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The speaker, Heredity, expresses pride in its attributes from the first line of the poem. Its boastfulness becomes increasingly apparent and somewhat overbearing as it continually highlights its freedom to live against the confinement of the human lifespan.
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This poem though briefly, highlights an aspect of its definition: the family. It talks about being the "family face." The phrase portrays one quality of heredity, the quality that enables one to spot similarities in looks within a family.
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The poem briefly touches on the fate of human existence, almost as if Hardy could not help but express his ideology through his poet persona. The poet persona, Heredity, chides humanity for its fate, the "durance" of its lifespan as opposed to Heredity's freedom from it.
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All in all, 'Heredity' as a poem highlights an aspect of humanity, the scientific aspect. It brings to the reader's awareness the fact that we are, more or less, made up of traits that have been passed down through generations.
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Whether or not it be a result of Heredity's boastfulness, the poem highlights the mortality of man by contrasting it with the poet persona's immortality. The poet persona takes it upon itself to remind readers how brief the human lifespan is, and how it has the capacity to transcend that span.
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Free Verse

This piece is an unconventional free verse in the sense that it is a rhymed free verse without a consistent meter. Despite its inconsistent meter, the poem maintains a smooth rhythm with its steady syllable count and an occasional use of parallelism.
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This poem embodies all the features of lyric poetry. This is unsurprising considering Thomas Hardy was quite known for writing this genre of poetry. The poem is short, written in first person and expresses rather personal feelings, as all lyric poems do.
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Anastasia Ifinedo Poetry Expert
Anastasia Ifinedo is an officially published poet. You can find her poems in the anthologies, "Mrs Latimer Had A Fat Cat" by Cozy Cat Press and "The Little is Much" by Earnest Writes Community, among others. A former poet for the Invincible Quill Magazine and a reviewer of poems on several writing platforms, she has helped—and continues to help—many poets like her hone their craft.

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