‘The House of Hospitalities’ by Thomas Hardy is a five stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Each of these quatrains follows a rhyming pattern of, abab cdcd efef, and so on.
The poet has chosen to structure the poem in this way to give it the feeling of a song. The poet’s speaker remembers singing the songs of Christmas within the poem and by rhyming ‘The House of Hospitalities’ in this way, the poet has created an association between the content and the rhyme scheme.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that this place, which he is either currently visiting, or at least remembering, was where he and his friends used to celebrate Christmas. They sat close to the fire and sang Christmas songs. He continues on to state that now a great deal of time has passed. He and his friends are no longer young and the places they used to love have started to fall apart.
He makes specific note of a violin that is slowly being eaten by worms, and a clock that has become frozen with rust.
The poem concludes with the speaker stating that the happy memories of the past do bring him some comfort. He is able to walk by the places he used to know and smile at his remembrances.
Analysis of The House of Hospitalities
Here we broached the Christmas barrel,
Pushed up the charred log-ends;
Here we sang the Christmas carol,
And called in friends.
In the first stanza of ‘The House of Hospitalities,’ the speaker introduces the reader to the time he will be reminiscing on, Christmas. More important than the time though, are the memories it created, such as the songs sung, the objects cherished, and now the degradation which has occurred.
It is easy to imagine this speaker within his home, or around the homes of his loved ones, moving through the physical objects associated with some of his most important memories. In the first line, he is pointing out the “Christmas barrel” which used to be pushed up near the “charred” ends of the firewood.
He also remembers that it was in these spaces, which he is either remembering or actually visiting, that he and his friends “sang the Christmas carol.” These were times of joy among friends.
It is important to note that the speaker is referring to these moments in the past tense. They no longer occur, as will be made clear in the next line.
Time has tired me since we met here
When the folk now dead were young.
Since the viands were outset here
And quaint songs sung.
In the second stanza, the speaker gets closer to what is truly bothering him about seeing these objects and remembering his experiences. Since all of these things happened to him, he has become “tired.” He has aged a great deal since then and “Time” has changed him.
It is not only the speaker who has been transformed since the days of celebration, it is all those he associated with as well. All of the “folk” are now dead, who were young all those years ago. He recalls the times in which they were all together and they celebrated the Christmas season. This was done through the serving of “viands” or various food items, and the singing of old-fashioned, or “quaint” songs.
The juxtaposition of death, age, and time, with the memories of celebration, food, and singing, make the loss more poignant. These somewhat vague descriptions allow a viewer to cast themselves into the role of speaker or friend. One is able to feel a great deal of empathy for the loss.
And the worm has bored the viol
That used to lead the tune,
Rust eaten out the dial
That struck night’s noon.
In the third stanza of ‘The House of Hospitalities,’ the speaker continues to describe the physical degradation that has occurred since he and his friends and family were together. One of these “folk” used to play the “viol,” or violin, but now a “worm” has “bored” a hole into it. It has not been used for so long that it has fallen into disrepair. No one noticed when worms started to make their way into the wood.
The speaker then turns to another physical item which represents the times that use to be, a clock. It was this clock that used to strike “night’s noon,” or midnight, but it no longer works. Just as the “viol” was ignored, so too was the clock. Rust has become so abundant on its face that it has “eaten out the dial.” It no longer moves and will never again strike midnight.
It is interesting to note that there has been a vast passage of time between the last year Christmas was celebrated, and the speaker’s current narration. One might wonder what it was that made the group stop coming together and why it is that the speaker is just now noticing the decline in his surroundings.
Now no Christmas brings in neighbours,
And the New Year comes unlit;
Where we sang the mole now labours,
And spiders knit.
In the second to last stanza, the speaker expands his view of his life to include the houses around his own. He remembers that Christmas used to bring the “neighbours” together. Now, that no longer occurs. There is no one gathering to celebrate and no one to light up the night on “New Year.” This speaks to a larger problem within the community. It is not only Christmas that is going unnoticed, but the holidays around it.
The rooms and houses which once played host to these great and festive parties, now lay empty and ignored. The “mole” has made a home for itself within the walls and the spiders are weaving their webs unbothered in the corners. There is either no one there to drive these pests off or no one present who cares enough to make the effort.
Yet at midnight if here walking,
When the moon sheets wall and tree,
I see forms of old time talking,
Who smile on me.
In the final lines of ‘The House of Hospitalities,’ the speaker concludes his memories by drawing the reader out onto a walk along the road. It becomes clear at this point that all is not lost. The memories which the speaker has been describing do not bring him complete sadness. In fact, they often come to him as he walks, “when the moon” shines on the walls and trees, allowing him to imagine the old times.
He sees some version of the past and all its inhabitants, and they “smile on [him.]” The moon, the night, and his thoughts do bring him some comfort.