‘Moments of Vision‘ by Thomas Hardy is a short 20 line poem that can be divided, for the purpose of easier reading, into four sections of five lines. Each section of five begins with the speaker referencing “That mirror” and each section ends with a question. Additionally, every third line ends with the word “mirror” and the second and fourth lines of each grouping of five lines rhymes.
Summary of Moments of Vision
The poem begins with the speaker describing a mirror that is able to make men transparent. It can see through all the layers of lies and all the facades that one puts on from birth to death. It allows the viewer to see themselves as they truly are. The speaker is very curious to know who is able to force a person to see themselves like this. Who is in control of the mirror?
Continuing on, the speaker tells of how the mirror can break through one’s layers with no trouble. There is nothing that can be done to stop it, it is like a “dart.” Whoever is in control of the mirror is able to force the viewer to consider the worth of their own mind and heart as they see their reflection.
The mirror works particularly well at night when one is the deepest into the hours of “ache.” It does not require light to function, only vulnerability. Why, the speaker asks, can man not always see the deepest parts of himself when he is awake?
The poem concludes by saying that all men will be tested by this mirror, that is either controlled by God or by man himself. One might be caught unawares when it happens, but it will happen. It will reflect back to the world the actions of a life, whether they are good or bad.
Analysis of Moments of Vision
Which makes of men a transparency,
Who holds that mirror
And bids us such a breast-bared spectacle to see
Of you and me?
The speaker of this poem begins by referencing the “mirror” that will haunt him throughout the poems entirety. He speaks of this mirror as something that makes men transparent. By viewing themselves within it, men can see through the facade they may wear on a day to day basis, to their true selves.
The speaker knows this mirror exists, but is unsure who wields it. He wants to know who has to power force “you and me” to see “ourselves,” “breast-bared.” The vulnerability, while important, is uncomfortable and often time hard to accept. He refers to this image of himself as being a “spectacle” it is entertaining, as it will show him everything he does not realize about himself.
Whose magic penetrates like a dart,
Who lifts that mirror
And throws our mind back on us, and our heart,
Until we start?
The next five lines also begins with the same two words, “That mirror.” In this section of the poem, “That mirror” is said to have “magic” that is able to “penetrate him like a dart.” There is no hiding from it, it will cut right to the core of who one is. It might be a painful process but there is nothing one can do to stop it.
The next two lines once more asks who it is that “lifts the mirror” up to the speaker and his companion, and forces their minds “back on us, and our heart.” More simply, he is repeating his previous question by asking, who is it that forces us to see our minds and hearts so clearly? This question is almost an accusation, as if the speaker is irritated by the fact that he is made to confront himself.
Works well in these night hours of ache;
Why in that mirror
Are tincts we never see ourselves once take
When the world is awake?
The metaphorical mirror that is forcing the speaker to confront himself is not like a normal reflecting glass. It “Works well” in the hours of the night. Specifically, when the speaker is feeling “ache.” When at night, in the dark, one is trapped in memories and moments of reflection, either about past actions taken or not, that is the time when the image is clearest.
The next lines, instead of once more demanding the wielder of the mirror reveal himself, the speaker asks about it’s general function. He wants to know how it is possible that in these moments of reflection “tincts,” or variations, of himself are revealed that he never thinks about. These parts of his life are not on display “When the world is awake.” How, he asks, is this possible?
Can test each mortal when unaware;
Yea, that strange mirror
May catch his last thoughts, whole life foul or fair,
The final five lines describe the overall impact of viewing oneself from a place of perspective. The mirror is able to “test each mortal when unaware.” It is often when one least expects it that one will be forced to confront their own life choice and who one has become.
The final lines describe the mirror’s ability to capture or “catch” a person’s “last” actions and “thoughts.” They will be recorded and reflected whether the actions were “foul or fair.”
The final line asks where this image goes, who benefits from it, and who will be able to see it.
By the conclusion of the poem the reader may have come to the conclusion that the wielder of the mirror is some kind of higher being who seeks to connect one with their inner-self. Additionally, the entity in control of the mirror can be considered to be the person doing the reflecting. Only deeply, and unconsciously, can one come to the decision to truly look back on their own life.
About Thomas Hardy
Hardy is best known for his novels, Tess of the D’Urbevilles, and Jude the Obscure both of which he completed in the 1890’s. These two books, while extremely popular now, were given negative reviews upon publication, perhaps leading Hardy towards poetry. Hardy published eight volumes of poetry throughout his life and has been extremely influential on poets such as Frost, Auden, and Phillip Larkin.
He died in 1920 and his ashes were placed in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey in London.