Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘I Said To Love’ is about love and the difficulties that love creates on people. From reading this poem, it could be seen that he created this poem in light of his wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford, who died in 1912. Thomas Hardy struggled significantly with Emma’s death, even after marrying Florence Emily Dugdale in 1914 – a lot of Hardy’s poems about love are directed at Emma to help him deal with her death such as ‘Under The Waterfall‘.
Summary of I Said To Love
In short form, this is a love poem by Thomas Hardy that looks at loss and a sense of regret for what he has lost (referring to his passed wife, Emma). He comes across as having a bad experience with love that has punished him with feelings of remorse and pain come across in this poem. With this pain, Hardy personified Love so that he can take out the pain on the personification of Love.
The poem starts off with the following lines:
I said to Love,
Straight away, Hardy is personifying Love to make it sound like he is having a conversation with Love (also achieved by capitalizing the ‘L’ so Love is more a name in this context than an emotion). This could be because he cannot talk to his love, Emma, as she has passed away so the only way he can express his emotions is by personifying the emotion that is causing him pain. It also suggests that the only way to cope with his pain is to personify the emotion that has caused him the pain.
“It is not now as in old days
When men adored thee and thy ways
All else above;
Named thee the Boy, the Bright, the One
Who spread a heaven beneath the sun,”
I said to Love.
Love has changed from what it felt like to Hardy in the past, ‘It is not now as in old days’. We can believe this to be referring to the love he had for his passed wife, Emma, who he loved for who and everything she was, ‘men adored thee and thy ways / All else above’.
The reference to ‘the Boy’ could suggest of a child, created together in love. However, Thomas Hardy never had any children so this could be referring to a regret of his that he wished he did have a child with Emma since he talks about the Boy as ‘the Bright, the One’. By using alliteration with the ‘b’s and capitalizing ‘Boy’, ‘Bright’ and ‘One’ gives some importance to the ‘Boy’ – it could well be seen as a symbol for love between people.
However, a different interpretation could be that Hardy is referring to religion and Jesus Christ in this section. Hardy was a Christian but not a dedicated one at that. Therefore, although he is talking about ‘heaven beneath the sun’, it is more likely he is using ‘heaven’ to describe the feeling love creates that it is on the same level as heaven.
It is clear from the use of ‘I’ throughout the poem that Thomas Hardy is talking in the first person backing up the point that this poem is from his perspective.
Hardy repeats the first line of each stanza at the end of the stanza to give some emphasis on its excerpt for the last stanza. This could suggest that the structure is consistent until the end, giving some closure to the poem that the structural changes due to love departing.
I said to him,
“We now know more of thee than then;
We were but weak in judgment when,
With hearts abrim,
We clamoured thee that thou would’st please
Inflict on us thine agonies,”
I said to him.
Straight away, by referring to love as ‘him’ gives Love masculinity. This was an interesting choice since Love has more feminine traits than masculine traits. However, by choosing Love to be male makes love seem quite harsh and less forgiving.
Hardy describes how both he and his lover knows more about love now than before ‘more of thee than then’ bringing around a sense of hindsight. He also makes clear that love blinds people’s judgement, ‘were weak in judgement’. This could suggest that when he was in love with Emma, he may have made mistakes that he regrets in hindsight and it is only now, when he has lost Emma and not in love, that he realizes his true mistakes.
Hardy makes clear that love made their ‘heart abrim’, that he was full of love. But because of this, love, when gone, inflicted ‘on us thine agonies’. Without love, Hardy is deeply in pain.
In terms of rhyming, the poem follows AABB rhyming – the second and third lines are AA and the fifth and sixth lines are BB. The first, fourth, and seventh lines have their own separate rhyming, to help give the whole poem fluent rhyming throughout.
I said to Love,
“Thou art not young, thou art not fair,
No faery darts, no cherub air,
Nor swan, nor dove
Are thine; but features pitiless,
And iron daggers of distress,”
I said to Love.
In this stanza, the theme becomes extremely negative describing the feeling that love has caused Hardy. He uses religious words such as ‘cherub’ to make clear that love can make one feel like an angel, who is described in the bible as attending to God. The use of swan and dove creates a theme of purity, since both birds are white in colour and represent purity and peace. Therefore, in this case, Hardy is illustrating that love is not always pure and peaceful – it is sometimes corrupt and full of ‘iron daggers of distress’ (using alliteration again on the ‘d’s). Love does not always produce positive feelings.
“Depart then, Love! . . .
– Man’s race shall end, dost threaten thou?
The age to come the man of now
Know nothing of? –
We fear not such a threat from thee;
We are too old in apathy!
Mankind shall cease.–So let it be,”
I said to Love.
The start of this stanza goes against the structure seen before this stanza. Instead of saying ‘I said to Love’, Hardy wants to say goodbye to Love. The exclamation mark increases the emotion of the first line, making clear that Hardy wants Love to depart because of the pain it has caused him.
He goes on to suggest that Love threatens men ‘does threaten thou?’ since it clouds the judgement of people.
However more interesting, the last few lines describe the clearest how Thomas Hardy feels. He is not scared or fearful of Love anymore because he is ‘too old in apathy’ – he does not have an interest in falling back in love to feel the pain of heartbreak again. Therefore, because he does not fear love anymore, he feels that mankind will take control of love so that it does not cause such pain to one again.
Ultimately, Thomas Hardy has had a bad experience with love. By looking at his historical context, it is clear that he had a strong love for Emma. Due to this, when she died, he was heartbroken and struggled to comprehend the loss (and instead, created poems like this one to deal with the pain). However, he is now too old to feel the pain of love anymore as he lacks any interest in love. Therefore, it could potentially be seen that to take control of love, one must show apathy towards it and give up on loving.
The use of exclamations at the end illustrates that Hardy has some anger to love, that it is making him feel so terrible. This explains why he chose to make Love a man and not a woman. From feeling so hostile to Love he almost seems like he wants to fight and take out his frustration and emotions on Love to cope with the pain of Emma passing away. Of course, he cannot metaphorically fight Love if it was a woman as this would revoke any sympathy the reader may have had for Hardy – by making Love becomes personified as a man enables Hardy to treat Love much harsher and more hostile so that more of his emotions can be amplified and directed to the male personification of Love.