‘The Flower’s Tragedy’ by Thomas Hardy is a four stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The first and third stanzas are sextets meaning they have six lines each and the second and fourth stanzas are couplets, or sets of two lines. Hardy did choose to give this piece a specific pattern of rhyme. It is a very simplistic one, following a pattern of AABBCCDD EE, alternating end sounds for the next sextet and couplet.
In regards to the meter, the lines do not follow a precise pattern, although they do correspond length-wise. For example, the first, second, fifth, and sixth lines of the first and third stanzas have either nine or ten syllables. While the middle two lines (three and four) have either four or five syllables. The couplets are similar to the sextets, but they have either ten or eleven syllables.
Hardy makes use of a number of poetic techniques including alliteration, enjambment, and caesura. These particular instances are noted within the text of the analysis, but they all help to carry the short narrative on, from beginning to end. Enjambment in particular is a helpful device, especially when a poet is seeking to enhance the drama of a phrase or scene.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the setting in which they found the flower. It was stuck in a nook, alone, in the bedchamber of a woman who had died. It had been alone for two weeks and was more a skeleton than a flower at that point. The flower appeared “mummied” as it was so waterless.
As the poem continues on the reader’s sympathy for the flower grows. Even with the addition of a few details about the woman’s death, it is impossible not to feel worse for the flower and its “tragedy.” The poem concludes with this speaker wishing that they had never found the flower in the first place. Now, in a way, they must carry the weight of the flower’s terrible end.
You can read more of Thomas Hardy’s poems here.
Analysis of The Flower’s Tragedy
In the bedchamber window, near the glass,
Stood the little flower in the little vase,
For a whole fortnight,
And withered for lack of watering
To a skeleton mere — a mummied thing.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by telling a bit about the setting. The poem takes place within a bedchamber, in which there is a “little flower in the little vase.” The repetition of the word “little” in the second line is meant to elicit sympathy in the viewer. It is just a small flower, facing the larger world. It is alone there in the room, and for many many days, a “whole fortnight,” or two weeks, it was not watered. The lack of water obviously caused the plant to “wither.”
There are good examples of alliteration in these lines with the repetition of words beginning with “w.” By the time the poem begins to chronicle the plant’s decline, it is a “skeleton mere,” or a mere skeleton, of what it was before. It appears, like a mummy, to have had all its life sucked out.
But it was not much, mid a world of teen,
That a flower should waste in a nook unseen!
In the first couplet of ‘The Flower’s Tragedy,’ the speaker emphasizes the fact that it is not noteworthy or surprising that the people in the house forgot to water the flower. There is a larger event of importance occurring, one that is the focus of the next six lines, that is, the death of the owner of the flower.
While the death of the woman described in the third stanza is sad, the language used by Hardy is supposed to make the reader pity the flower. It is “little” it is “wast[ing]” away and it is “unseen.” This is what one should expect though considering the title of the poem.
One needed no thought to ascertain
How it happened; that when she went in the rain
To return here not,
She was mindless what
She had left here to perish. — Ah, well: for an hour
I wished I had not found the flower!
In the next stanza of ‘The Flower’s Tragedy,’ the speaker explains how simple it was that the flower ended up as it did. It does not take much thought to “ascertain” what happened. The woman “went in the rain” and didn’t come back. However she died, she did it selfishly. The woman did not consider what “She had left to perish” in the house.
These lines definitely reflect poorly on the dead woman. She was “mindless” in her actions and now it is on the speaker to worry about the flower. It is their responsibility now to take on the flower’s suffering.
Yet it was not much. And she never had known
Of the flower’s fate; nor it of her own.
In the last two lines, the speaker describes the mutual lack that exists in the world of the flower and the woman. Neither knows of the other’s fate, and both met their ends alone.
It is very interesting to consider this piece in a larger context. The flower could very well be standing in for another being, such as a child, sibling, or lover, left behind when this woman died.