This poem is a retelling of the biblical story. According to the biblical episode, when Jesus was about to be sentenced, Peter denied that he knew Jesus. However, Jesus, being the miraculous lord, foresaw this event. So, he forgave him. He knew Peter was doing that due to the mortal fear of oblivion. If one is true at one’s soul, lying merely on external pressure does not much affect one’s consciousness. As long as the conscience is pure, a person sails through this worldly journey. Whatsoever, this poem features this biblical story and highlights the mental state of Peter on that day.
Explore In the Servants’ Quarters
Hardy presents the story in a story-like format. The conversation between Peter and one of the servant-girls depicts what is going through his mind. They have seen Peter on the night before with Jesus. For this reason, they know that Peter is lying. Still, they go on teasing him. It seems they are trying to agitate him and want to hear the truth from his mouth. However, Peter lies to each of them. At last, he remarks he will be damned in hell if he lies. In this like way, Hardy presents the mental state of the speaker.
‘In the Servant’s Quarters’ consists of seven five-line stanzas. The poet does not have any conventional rhyming pattern in the text. Hence, the poem is in free verse. Along with that, the lines of the poem are prosaic. These are long. While the last line of each stanza is comparably shorter than the previous lines. Moreover, the poet writes this poem from a first-person point-of-view. For this reason, this poem is an example of a lyric too. Apart from that, the poet mostly uses the iambic meter in this poem. The rising rhythm of the work refers to the mental state of the speaker. However, there are a few metrical variations in this poem.
Hardy makes use of several literary devices that are important in understanding the overall idea of the poem. The poem begins with a rhetorical question or interrogation. Thereafter the poet uses a transferred epithet in the phrase, “She flung disdainful glances.” Readers come across a metaphor in the line, “I, too, was drawn in part by charms I see before me play.” Here the poet either refers to the spark of fire or the magical qualities of Christ. Moreover, the third stanza contains irony and sarcasm as well. Thereafter, the following stanza begins with a palilogy. Hardy also uses alliteration in this piece. Readers can find the use of anaphora in the first two lines of the fifth stanza. Lastly, the final line of this poem contains a polysyndeton.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
‘Man, you too, aren’t you, one of these rough followers of the criminal?
All hanging hereabout to gather how he’s going to bear
Examination in the hall.’ She flung disdainful glances on
The shabby figure standing at the fire with others there,
Who warmed them by its flare.
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.
‘No indeed, my skipping maiden: I know nothing of the trial here,
Or criminal, if so he be. – I chanced to come this way,
And the fire shone out into the dawn, and morning airs are cold now;
I, too, was drawn in part by charms I see before me play,
That I see not every day.’
In the previous stanza, the poet makes it clear that the girl and others in that room have sensed something suspicious about Peter. 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 can reveal Peter’s feelings in this answer. He portrays him as stumbling across his words in an attempt to escape their interrogation and disdainful glances.
‘Ha, ha!’ then laughed the constables who also stood to warm themselves,
The while another maiden scrutinized his features hard,
As the blaze threw into contrast every line and knot that wrinkled them,
Exclaiming, ‘Why, last night when he was brought in by the guard,
You were with him in the yard!’
In the third stanza 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. However, from this section, it is clear that Peter followed Christ from the very end he could. As the situation went against his will and capacity of endurance, he yielded to his fears. It resulted in the admittance of his innocence. Whatsoever, in his heart, he was aware of the fact he was doing wrong with his friend.
‘Nay, nay, you teasing wench, I say! You know you speak mistakenly.
Cannot a tired pedestrian who has footed it afar
Here on his way from northern parts, engrossed in humble marketings,
Come in and rest awhile, although judicial doings are
Moot by morning star?’
In the third stanza, Peter tries to prove his innocence anyhow. But, everyone knows the reality or understands it from his facial expressions. However, the poet does not depict it in this stanza. Whatsoever, when the girl asks him why he was seen with Christ on the night before, 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 is produced.
‘O, come, come!’ laughed the constables. ‘Why, man, you speak the dialect
He uses in his answers; you can hear him up the stairs. So own it.
We sha’n’t hurt ye. There he’s speaking His syllables
Are those you sound yourself when you are talking unawares,
As this pretty girl declares.’
The fifth stanza of ‘In the Servant’s Quarters’ is ironic. Readers like those present in ‘In the Servant’s Quarters’, are already aware Peter is lying. No matter how much he tries to prove his innocence, those men have sensed it through Peter’s hesitation. However, he tries to act as normal as he can, burying his true emotions. 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 sha’n’t hurt ye”. Still, Peter refuses to admit to knowing Jesus. It is fear of suffering and death that grips him so hard that he cannot even speak the truth even if they are giving assurance of nor hurting him.
‘And you shudder when his chain clinks!’ she rejoined. ‘O yes, I noticed it.
And you winced, too, when those cuffs they gave him echoed to us here.
They’ll soon be coming down, and you may then have to defend yourself
Unless you hold your tongue, or go away and keep you clear
When he’s led to judgment near!’
In this stanza, 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. Therefore, 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 the 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.
Moreover, 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 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.
‘No! I’ll be damned in hell if I know anything about the man!
No single thing about him more than everybody knows!
Must not I even warm my hands but I am charged with blasphemies?’…
– His face convulses as the morning cock that moment crows,
And he stops, and turns, and goes.
In the last stanza 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 these 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”.
An ancient New Testament story tells of Peter’s betrayal after the arrest of Jesus. Just a day before 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. 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 raising the dead. He dared not argue with him. But he must have been confused, as he probably felt genuine 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.
The following list of poems is similar to the themes of Hardy’s poem, ‘In the Servant’s Quarters’. One can refer to the following poems for better understanding.
- Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend by Gerard Manley Hopkins – In this poem, the poet uses the passages from the Bible to express the speaker’s frustration with God.
- Thou Whose Spell Can Raise the Dead by Lord Byron – It’s one of the best-known poems of Byron. Here, the poet describes the fate of King Saul and his sons from the prophet Samuel’s perspective.
- Cædmon’s Hymn by Cædmon – In this Old English poem, the poet praises God and his creation of Heaven and earth for humankind.
- A Time for Everything by King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 3) – The words of Solomon in this verse, are the words of God himself, spoken through him. Understanding the text, helps one to understand the mindset of God, the creator.