‘The Frozen Greenhouse’ by Thomas Hardy is a four stanza poem that is divided into sets of six lines, or sestets. The lines follow a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABCBDB, alternating end sounds in each stanza as Hardy saw fit. The regulated sound at the end of the second, fourth, and sixth lines give each stanza a feeling of unity. It also makes the lines flow together more successfully.
In regards to meter, there is not one consistent pattern that lasts throughout the lines. The stanzas all hold lines that are of a similar length though, containing between four and six syllables.
There is a simplicity in the narrative, as well as in Hardy’s word choices, that is emphasized by the rhyme. ‘The Frozen Greenhouse’ ends up reading like a fable in which one learns a lesson about taking care of plants.
At the same time, when read on a slightly deeper level, the poem says something different. The last lines speak on the nature of tragedy and depression. The speaker explains that the main character is “colder” after what happened to her greenhouse, but doesn’t realize it. It impacted her in a way she doesn’t understand and changed her personality.
The poem begins with a young girl exclaiming over a frost that claimed all the plants in her greenhouse. She forgot to close the door, or properly seal up space and they all died. She was distraught over this turn of events and mounts the loss of the plants.
After the death of these plants, the girl becomes depressed. She is changed by what’s happened. Even later, when the speaker is passing by the greenhouse he remembers what occurred there. Although there are new plants taking the place of the old, something is different. The girl enjoys these new plants but is on the inside cold, just like the initial frost. The death of the original plants taught her an important lesson about the world and one’s own powerlessness.
The most prevalent images of this piece are those of cold weather and cold emotions. These features of life pop up again and again in this text. They are sometimes contrasted with heat, such as in the second stanza, but, the cold never totally goes away. It is clear that the cold has found a place to stay within the young girl’s heart by the end of the poem.
Analysis of The Frozen Greenhouse
” There was a frost
Last night!” she said,
” And the stove was forgot
When we went to bed,
And the greenhouse plants
Are frozen dead!”
In the first stanza of ‘The Frozen Greenhouse,’ the speaker begins with a piece of dialogue. A girl exclaims over the appearance of frost “‘…Last night!”’ This in itself is not remarkable but when combined with other factors, that “the stove was forget” and the presence of a greenhouse, it is quite dramatic. The frost, or more broadly, the cold, is the enemy in this piece. The female speaker’s emotional transformation depends on it entirely.
In the last line, the girl describes the plants as “frozen dead.” Just one of these words would’ve sufficed to get the point across, but her shock and horror are made all the clearer through the use of both. This is the introduction of a frozen and cold turn of emotion for the girl.
By the breakfast blaze
Blank-faced spoke she,
Her scared young look
Seeming to be
The very symbol
In the next lines of ‘The Frozen Greenhouse,’ it becomes partially clear how important these plants were to the girl, even when the cold had physically receded. The speaker describes how she was back indoors, far from the dead plants in the greenhouse. But the cold came with her. It’s taking root inside her mind and heart. Even though she sits at the “breakfast blaze” is she “Blank-faced.” The girl is clearly in shock over what happened.
The speaker describes her as having a “scared young look.” This is the perfect depiction of helplessness. The girl is realizing that there’s nothing she can do now to save her plants. They are gone and the tragedy is here to stay. She is to the speaker the “very symbol / Of tragedy.” The purity of the lives she was nurturing in the greenhouse, as well as her own, is gone.
The frost is fiercer
Than then to-day,
As I pass the place
Of her once dismay,
But the greenhouse stands
Warm, tight, and gay,
The speaker jumps forward from this dark morning to another. In comparison, the current moment is much colder than the day of the greenhouse-killing frost. This also speaks to a lack of control over one’s exterior environment. The frost should’ve been a one-time terror, but now it seems that it could come back, and be even worse, without warning.
The speaker was passing by “the place / Of” the girl’s “once dismay” on that particular morning. He was near the greenhouse that was the setting for the death of her girl’s many plants. This time though, rather than being left open to the cold, it is “Warm, tight, and gay.” This should be a good thing.
The old plants have been removed and the new ones are growing stronger than ever. But, they have not helped the speaker revert to her old self. It is impossible for the reader to know exactly what this self was as her emotional transformation begins in the first line, but the speaker is certain that she isn’t the same.
While she who grieved
At the sad lot
Of her pretty plants —
Cold, iced, forgot —
Herself is colder,
And knows it not.
In the last lines of ‘The Frozen Greenhouse,’ it is made very clear that the girl is not the same as she used to be. Although she has moved on from the first set of plants, those that were “Cold, iced, forgot,” she has still become colder. This event has taught her something about the world that she didn’t know before. The death of the plants had moments of failure, disappointment, anger, and helplessness the girl was forced to live through. These emotions do not leave you once you have them.
The “pretty plants” are forgotten, but so is the person she used to be. This change is not named as positive or negative by the speaker. It is now just another equally important part of the girl’s personality. All throughout her life, her collected experiences are going to continue to alter her personality and there is nothing one can do about that.