‘I look into my glass’ by Thomas Hardy is a short three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Each of these quatrains follows a consistent rhyme scheme, conforming to a pattern of abab cdcd efef. A reader should also take of the fact that the ends of lines one and two of stanza three come close to rhyming with lines two and four of stanza two. This is known as a half or slant rhyme. It helps to create a sense of unity between the different sections.
In regards to meter, the text is mainly formatted in iambic trimeter. This means that almost every line contains three sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second stressed. There is one consistent exception though, the final line of each stanza. All three of these lines are written in iambic tetrameter. Rather than three, they have four sets of two beats per line.
Hardy chose to compose this piece from a first-person narrative perspective. This means that a reader feels as if they are hearing an account of the speaker’s deepest inner thoughts. This is the most effective way to craft a work that deals with something so personal. It also alludes to the possibility that these were Hardy’s own thoughts, a claim bolstered by the works which were published alongside ‘I look into my glass.’
Hardy originally published this piece in Wessex Poems, released in 1898. It is one of the many in this collection that dealt with themes associated with aging. Hardy was around 60 years old at the time the pieces were written, and his evolving understanding of what it means to age is present in the text.
Summary of I look into my glass
The poem begins with the speaker describing how when he looks into his mirror he sees his wrinkled and “wasting skin.” Although he is able to recognize himself, he cannot reconcile what he sees in the mirror with what he feels in his heart. He might look like an old man, but he still feels young.
This tension, between youth and age, pulls at him constantly. He is unable to escape his own emotions and now, in the last years of his life, is left alone to deal with the dark future and the much lighter past.
Read more poems by Thomas Hardy.
Analysis of I look into my glass
I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, ‘Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!’
In the first lines of this piece, the speaker begins by telling his reader what happens when he looks into his “glass,” or mirror. It is clear from the first two lines that the most important theme of the text is going to be aging and its physical and mental symptoms.
When the speaker looks into the mirror he sees an unfamiliar version of himself. His skin is “wasting” and stretched thin across his bones. It is less the sight of his face that shocks him like the way it does not fit in with his internal age. He speaks out loud to himself, wishing that his heart had shrunk along with his skin. Initially, this seems like a strange thing to wish for, but it makes sense when considering the limitations of his body. He still feels young inside, but is unable to act on those impulses. This creates a tension within his mind and heart that is hard to reconcile.
For then I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
In the next set of four lines, the speaker clearly lays out what it is about his heart that bothers him. He knows that if his heart had “grown cold,” with the rest of his body, he would be able to deal with his situation. Due to the fact that this is not the case, his “wait” for death is going to be a painful and lonely one.
He is left to deal with these strong emotions while waiting seemingly “endless[ly]” for the final end to come. There is no one in his life to wait with him. This is seen through the line “hearts grown cold to me.” The world around him has changed too, its warmth has turned its back on him.
The speaker also adds that in an ideal world, in which he was not plagued by these emotions, he could wait with “equanimity,” or calm and patience. Now though, his mind and heart are raging.
But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.
In the final four lines the speaker addresses ‘Time.” He tells the reader that it is due to the passage of time that he has become split between the past and the present, while worrying about the future. Time is at once stealing from him and letting “part abide.” The “part” that is allowed to abide is the youthful inclination of his heart. His physical strength and appearance have been stolen.
The last two lines tell of how “Time” is constantly shaking his “fragile frame.” This speaks to the deterioration of this body, but also to the pains of loss and want. He might be physically headed towards an eventual death but his heart can’t fathom its approach. The poem ends on this dark note. There are no real thoughts of hope for the future.