In the Servants’ Quarters by Thomas Hardy

An ancient New Testament story tells of Peter’s betrayal after the arrest of Jesus. Just a day prior to the incident this poem, In the Servants’ Quarters, refers to, Peter had promised Jesus that he would stay with him, even if it meant death (look up verse). But Jesus, knowing what was about to happen, told Peter, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times”. Peter was silenced. He had seen his Lord Jesus perform miracles, healing the sick, and even rising the dead. He dared not argue with him. But he must have been confused, as he probably felt in genuinely when he said that he would follow Jesus even to death. But Jesus knew the depths of his heart. He knew what would happen when fear set it. And Jesus wanted Peter to know that he would still be forgiven, even though he would do the unthinkable- deny his friend.

This poem, In the Servants’ Quarters, speaks into that story, and gives the reader insight as to what Peter may have been feeling, and the pressure he was under at the time when he denied knowing Jesus at all.


In the Servants’ Quarters Analysis

Lines 1-11

Just as in the biblical story, a servant girl asks Peter whether he is one of the followers of Jesus. Thomas Hardy writes in such a way in In the Servants’ Quarters that readers can hear the disdain in her voice and picture Peter’s reaction to the interrogation. She asks him, “Man, you too, are you, one of these rough followers of the criminal?” It is interesting in Hardy’s poem that he portrays the girl as assuming Jesus to be a criminal. When reading the original story, it is hard to imagine why Peter did what he did. But when readers can understand that at the time, Jesus was viewed as a criminal. He was sentenced to death for blasphemy. The servant girl, among the others warming themselves by the fire, looked on all the criminals with disdain. They probably looked at Peter this way, too, believing that he was foolish enough to follow a criminal around for years. For this reason, Peter immediately feels the need to defend himself. And he does. He acknowledges her “disdainful glances” and he answers, “No indeed, my skipping maiden: I know nothing of the trial here”. In the biblical story, Peter simply answers, “No. I do not know the man”. But Hardy is able to reveal Peter’s feelings in this answer. He portrays him as stumbling across his words in attempt to escape their interrogation and disdainful glances.


Lines 12-23

In these lines of In the Servants’ Quarters, as Peter tries to clear himself of the charges being made against him,  the men at the fire only laugh at him.  They say, “ha ha!” and the servant girl continues, exclaiming, “Why, last night when he was brought in by the guard, you were with him in the yard!” Upon hearing this, Peter denies knowing Jesus for the second time. He replies, “Nay, nay, you teaching wench!” Hardy reveals to the reader Peter’s anger as it builds. The first time he denies knowing Jesus, he calls the girl a “skipping maiden” but the second time, he calls her a “teasing wench”. Hardy uses this language to help the readers to understand Peter’s point of view, the ridicule he was experiencing, and the anger that it produced.


Lines 24-29

But the men continue to laugh at him, and they question him yet again, claiming, “you speak the dialect” and challenges Peter to “own it”. He even promises, “we shant hurt ye”. Still Peter, refuses to admit to knowing Jesus.


Lines 30-38

Then the servant girl speaks up again. It has become apparent that she is particularly the one who irks Peter and angers him with her questions and glances. She has noticed something peculiar. She begins her accusations again. She says, “you shudder when his chain clinks” and “you winced…when those cuffs they gave him echoed to us here”. These observations, Hardy takes liberty to imagine himself, for they are not mentioned in the biblical account. However, the reader can imagine Peter involuntarily wincing when he hears any sound that reminds him of the suffering of his friend. And so even though he is verbally denying knowing Jesus, his body language says otherwise. And this servant girl picks up on Peter’s inability to hide his mourning for the suffering of his friend. However, Peter is still afraid for his own life now that Jesus has been taken for a criminal. At one time, Peter followed a man that many loved and revered. Although Jesus always had people who wanted him dead, for the most part he was followed and revered and loved. He performed miracles that people could not deny. When Judas betrayed him and turned him over to the authorities, he went from leader of the people to criminal. Jesus himself was prepared for this, but Peter was not. Hardy’s poem reveals Peter’s reaction to this change in a way that allows the readers to imagine what it must have been like for him.


Lines 39-43

In these lines of In the Servants’ Quarters, when the servant charges him, for the third time, with being a follower of the “criminal”, Peter’s final denial comes out in a curse. He says, “No, I’ll be damned in hell if I know anything about the man!” At that moment, the rooster crows, and Peter remembers how such a short time ago, he felt that he never could deny Jesus. But in a few short hours, Jesus went from leader to “criminal” and Peter went from resolved follower to one who denied his savior. Hardy reveals this feelings in a way that takes the reader a step deeper and makes him consider things from Peter’s point of view.

Hardy also paints a vivid picture of Peter’s repentance. The biblical account says that Peter runs away and weeps at the sound of the rooster’s crow, when he realizes he has done exactly what Jesus said he would do. But Hardy describes Peter’s facial expression and body language in a way that allows the reader to feel his pain. He says that his “face convulses…and he droops, and turns, and goes”.

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