Overall Structure: Hardy splits the poem into two parts, with two very different structural styles:
1. Part I takes a ballad form; 8 English quatrains with a mostly ABCB rhyme scheme, but with the occasional use of an alternate scheme when emphasis is required. Hardy uses very simple language throughout this stanza the images presented are equally so.
2. Part II contains three stanzas of 12 lines, with an alternate rhyme scheme. Consequently, the poem loses its sense of ballad and, as the lines increase in length, becomes more abstract and deep. This allows for an increased intensity, both in the content and exploration of the images produced. It allows for no more emotive punctuation either!
Despite being linked in content, the two parts have very different structural nuances.
Difficult Language Notes:
Halt and hoary is an archaic phrase for old and grey.
Natures lament, Man and Nature, Relationships
Notes on Part I
The poem must be discussed separately, in terms of its parts, before comparing the two. However, Hardy writes in such short stanzas that analysing each one would be pointless, yet the meaning behind Hardys Part I is described very gradually. Therefore, a summary:
Hardy writes, in the first person, of a couple who work in forestry. It is assumed that the persona is female (or otherwise homosexual, which would present an interesting perspective) and is called Marty South in this case, the ambiguous name is quite certainly female. South is a character originating, as mentioned before, from Hardys earlier work The Woodlanders. South is engaged in a relationship with a partner upon whom she dotes, but is slighted due to the males wandering eye. South writes to explain his apparent indifference towards her.
However, Hardy uses this idea of suffering (in relationships) and applies it, in Part II, to the trees that the pair plant.
Relative movement of the two characters is of great importance to Hardy or rather, the fact that the persona doesnt move and therefore suffers the cold of the blast and breeze. This is made clear, along with the setting for her predicament, in the first stanza; He fills the earth in/ I hold the trees. The woman has no mobility.
This is made clearer in the second stanza; what I do/ Keeps me from moving/ And chills me through. More importantly, though, he does not notice. This simple observation of a married man not noticing his wifes routine suffering (suffering, as it is later revealed, which is endured only to be near him.) is shocking to the reader. The wife is made initially into a tragic beast of burden this lack of physical motion will eventually come to represent her inability to achieve any motion in life. Hardy deliberately utilises the understatement and plainness of speech to accentuate this fact. In the next stanza, he reveals why.
He has seen one fairer. Again, utilising understatement, Hardy introduces (in a noticeably less fixed reality) a third figure to the poem the males true love interest. Hardy, by portraying such a betrayal from the victims eyes (as well as condemning the male to interest based upon attractiveness alone) again achieves a sense of sympathy from the reader. The males eye¦ skims me as though I were not by. Apart from the obvious sense of being ignored, Hardys use of skims is particularly effective in emphasizing the males partial glimpse of his partner.
[Add. Note: The last line of each stanza is somewhat contracted, drawing attention to it. It is therefore noticeable that each 4th line features an emotive sentiment all express revealing elements of the characters relationships. This is equally accentuated through the rhyme scheme, which draws both the 2nd and 4th lines together.]
Hardys key emphasis next is that since she passed here the male has thought only of (the new) her and the forest; the woodland hold him alone. Equally, the persona is busy with her thoughts presumably in the form of this reverie! This stanzas final line is particularly noticeable through its contraction. On a different note, there is an element of complaint in the personas tone; she never win[s] any small word of praise!
This highlights a coming theme, in that the pair fail to talk to each other at all. They are both equally silent with their thoughts and he, as above, never offers praise nor, it seems, any verbal or emotional contact. What makes the relationship tragic is that she makes no effort either:
The final two stanzas of the first part require more focussed analysis, as they begin to move to action on the part of Marty or rather (as it may be) to further inaction.
Shall I not sigh (1) to him
That I work on
Glad to be nigh to him (2)
Though hope is gone (3)?
Nay, though he never
Knew (4) love like mine,
Ill bear it ever (5)
And make no sign (6)!
Desperation, along with paradoxical pleasure, dominates Hardys final stanzas: sighing has always been a poetic expression of desperation, enforced by the visible expression of hopelessness (3). One therefore questions Martys judgement; if she is aware that her relationship with her male partner has been afflicted to its present demise (an argument further supported by the use of the past tense at (4)) then why does she stay there? Why is she unable to move herself physically, emotionally or verbally from her fixed spot? She is like the tree which she plants; immovable but suffering because of it.
Much as one can muse upon Hardys own Modernist views (see the previous poem for the question of Modernist principles upon human suffering) on the matter, the persona suggests a very simple answer see (2). She still loves the male. This creates a scenario an immovable object, enduring suffering, refuses to resign from desperation because Nature/emotion has dictated it must stay which is passed on to Part II.
[Note the irony of the persona: she says, through the medium of literary suspension, that she can make no sign. But we are reading it¦ Shes making a sign, therefore¦ So, perhaps Marty Souths Reverie is her paradoxical sign?]