Lament by Thomas Hardy

Hardy titled this poem aptly. The word “lament” is defined as an expression of grief or sorrow, usually of a passionate nature. A reader should be prepared for the solemn mood of the text and perhaps hazard a guess about the subject matter that’s going to be discussed.

 

Summary of Lament

‘Lament’ by Thomas Hardy describes the life and death of a woman who took great joy from social interaction and the pleasure of others.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a woman who would’ve loved to be at a particular party. This person’s temperament was perfectly suited to this occasion and if she had been there, she would’ve improved the who gathering. It turns out that the reason she wasn’t there was because he is “shut” up under the grass. She is dead, and far from the joys of her friends.

As the poem progresses the speaker continues to mourn her loss and the attitude she brought to her life every day. By the end, he realizes that everything around him, all the stuff from the party, is worthless now that she’s gone. The woman is in a place where none of the earthly joys she used to love can reach her. This is what causes him the most pain.

 

Poetic Techniques in Lament

‘Lament’ by Thomas Hardy is a four stanza poem that is separated into sets of eleven lines. The lines follow the unique pattern of ABABCCDDEEE, alternating end sounds in each stanza. 

In regards to meter, the lines are also very consistently structured. They do not follow one pattern, instead, the number of syllables varies within the stanzas (but remains the same stanza to stanza). The first seven lines contain five syllables each. Then line eight has six, line nine has four, and lines ten and eleven reverts to five. 

The varying number of syllables, and especially the fact that they are mostly uneven, leaving a dangling stressed syllable at the end of most lines, force a reader off-balance. These lines feel unresolved as if there is always something else to say. This fits perfectly with the content of the ‘Lament.’ 

 

Speaker and Mood

Hardy’s speaker mourns for the loss of a woman, someone that he felt would’ve loved to continue living. Due to the content of the poem, the mood remains quite dreary and dark throughout. He is not hiding from his grief, but facing it head-on and sharing it with a listener or listeners. In part, his state of mind comes from survivor’s guilt. His state of mind is made clear at the end of the poem as he speaks on the fact that “she” is shut away from the world but “we” are “staying.” 

 

Analysis of Lament 

Stanza One 

How she would have loved 

A party to-day! – 

Bright-hatted and gloved, 

With table and tray 

And chairs on the lawn 

Her smiles would have shone 

With welcomings…. But 

She is shut, she is shut 

From friendship’s spell 

In the jailing shell 

Of her tiny cell. 

In the first stanza of ‘Lament,’ the speaker exclaims over a particular woman who is missing from “A party to-day!” There are many elements of the party that he thinks the woman would’ve enjoyed being a part of. These include the fashions worn by the women and all the “table[s]” set out with “chairs on the lawn.” Just the fact that this seems like an environment the woman would’ve enjoyed tells the reader a bit about her socially. 

At this point, it is impossible to know why the woman is not in attendance. It could be for a perfectly innocent reason, or something darker (as hinted at by the title). The speaker imagines what it would’ve been like if she had been there. She would’ve smiled at everyone, giving out “welcomings” just with a look. 

In line seven of the first stanza of ‘Lament’ is where the tone changes. No longer is the speaker wistful, now he comes across as depressed. His words are dark. Hardy utilizes the refrain in the next line, the speaker states that “She is shut, she is shut.” The fact that the phrase is repeated twice emphasizes the way the speaker felt about the situation. In the repetition, he admits his deep emotion on the subject. 

This person, an unknown woman, is shut away from friendship and love. She is jailed in a “shell” of a place. It is tiny and far separate from the speaker. 

 

Stanza Two 

Or she would have reigned

At a dinner tonight

With ardours unfeigned,

And a generous delight;

All in her abode

She’d have freely bestowed

On her guests…. But alas,

She is shut under grass

Where no cups flow,

Powerless to know

That it might be so.

If the woman absent from ‘Lament’ had “reigned” at the party that night then she would’ve loved and been loved. The dinner would’ve been filled with genuine “ardours” or passions, and everyone would’ve shared their friendship and love with one another. 

The same pattern plays out in the seventh line, at the halfway point the tone changes again and the speaker states that she is “under grass.” This gives the reader a big hint in regard to the fate of this woman. She is not just stuck somewhere, she is dead. She’s buried under the ground, “shut,” as he states, away from the party. In this place, there are no “cups” flowing with wine. She is powerless to do anything, or even know what’s going on above her. 

It is clear from these lines that the speaker feels this person would’ve added a lot to the environment of the party. It also becomes evident as the poem progresses that her absence at the party is just a small part of the pain the speaker is going through. The party is set up as an initial example, but the loss of this person is much more all-encompassing. 

 

Stanza Three

And she would have sought

With a child’s eager glance

The shy snowdrops brought

By the new year’s advance,

And peered in the rime

Of Candlemas-time

For crocuses… chanced

It that she were not tranced

From sights she loved best;

Wholly possessed

By an infinite rest!

Hardy’s speaker in ‘Lament’ returns to a happier line of thought. He is again imagining what the woman would’ve been like if she’d ben there with everyone at the party. There was the snow that night, just a little brought on “By the new year’s advance.” This would’ve thrilled her to no end. She would have gone outside, like a child, and celebrated.

The year progresses in his mind to “Candlemas-time” a Christian holiday celebrated on February 2nd. At this time of the year she would’ve looked through the frost of the season to see the “crocuses,” a type of flower, growing. This speaks to her positive outlook on life and her desire to always see the best in a situation. 

This all would’ve happened, had not she been lost from sight. Again, the stanza alters in the seventh line. The woman is described as having been “tranced / From sights she loved best.” As if taken into a trance, the woman was drawn to “infinite rest.” This raises some questions about how she died. 

 

Stanza Four 

And we are here staying

Amid these stale things

Who care not for gaying,

And those junketings

That wed so to joy her,

And never to cloy her

As us they cloy!… But

She is shut, she is shut

From the cheer of them, dead

To all done and said

In a yew-arched bed

In the final lines of ‘Lament,’ the speaker describes how “we,” those who are still alive, are “staying / Amid these stale things.” This is his real opinion of the structures of the party. He does not care for the chairs and tables anymore.Since she’s gone it is all old, useless, and meaningless.

These objects meant something to her when she was alive but now, to the speaker, they are “cloy[ing].” There is too much, too close to him, and it disgusts him.

In the last lines of ‘Lament’ the speaker again uses the phrase “She is shut, she is shut” in the eighth line. This time, he refers to something more genuine than a party, simple emotion. The woman is lost to the “cheer of them,” her friends and possessions. Her life is done, and now she is stuck in a bed made of yew, a coffin. 

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