Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘At the Word ‘Farewell’’ was published in 1917, about five years after the death of his wife Emma. The poem is based on the first meeting on the couple and Hardy writes in such a way that it could almost be a eulogy for Emma. The poem is about the almost ethereal presence of Emma and how they fell in love.
Rhetorical devices and other interesting concepts:
The poem has a regular rhyme scheme of (A,B,A,B,C,D,C,D), although the line length fluctuates throughout the poem, adding to the uneasy and ghostly nature of the poem.
From the very beginning of the poem we are given a very unnatural image of ‘a bird from a cloud’ juxtaposed with ‘the clammy lawn’. The first line leads us to thinking of something very beautiful and delicate, but instead is followed by a feeling of unpleasantness or illness. This is emphasised by ‘bare-browed’. These plosive ‘b’s’ again remind us of a sensation of sweatiness and discomfort. The alliteration of ‘the dim of dawn’ adds to the somewhat ghoulish and dark feeling that Hardy has created.
Hardy shows the darkness by ‘candles alight’ for his ‘parting meal’, making the reader think of death and adding to the sombre atmosphere. Hardy uses ‘withoutdoors loom’ to show the stretched out shadows created by the flickering candles; this physical imagery draws the eye of the reader. In the last line of the stanza, Hardy utilises two caesuras: ‘Strange, ghostly, unreal.’ These breaks leave short, punchy words that add to the eeriness and unsettled atmosphere, also making the reader think about the each word independently.
In the first line of the second stanza the ‘hour’ is described as ‘a ghost’. This repetition again reminds of the dark and gloom that surrounds the poem. The third line has repetition of ‘chances’ and ‘chance’, showing the unlikelihood of seeing the woman again, but the line is juxtaposed with itself, due to ‘furthermost’ meaning that the meeting is inevitable.
Hardy personifies ‘Plan’ to show a higher plan or deity that has already been worked out for our lives. Hardy believed strongly in fate, so he may have thought that this was destined to happen. This idea is emphasised by ‘ruled us from birthtime’, and the colon ending of the stanza shows the beginning of a list to show what occurs next.
The third stanza ‘prelude[s]’ with a musical theme, once again adding to the ethereal and spiritual essence of the poem. The ‘foreshadow’ suggests as to a time before he knew that Emma was going to die, the connotations of death are brought in by ‘what fortune might weave’, this supposedly was to do with Greek mythology.
Throughout the latter half of the stanza, Hardy uses several horse metaphors, to show that Emma was very much in control of the relationship. He describes ‘rose as if quickened by a spur’ and ‘bound to obey’, he had to go and see her. This strange horse metaphor continues with the use of ‘gray’, a ‘gray’ is the proper name for a white horse; maybe Emma had a certain love of horses, but this we are unsure of. The poet also mentions going ‘through the casement to her’, it suggests going into another world solely to see her because he is so drawn to her.
In the final stanza, Hardy makes use of lots of punctuation in order to show his desperation for Emma, up until now we have seen very little punctuation so this may be the release of emotion from Hardy. Hardy uses an ellipsis and an exclamation mark to break up the goodbye; she is so intriguing that he cannot stop following her. The writer uses ‘bare boughs’ which is a contrast to ‘bare-browed’. The first part, she is hatless and free however now she has met Hardy the ‘bare boughs’ are overhead and are oppressive over now; the plosive ‘b’s’ illustrate this vivid difference from the start and end of the poem. Again Hardy uses an exclamation mark to show this this breakthrough of emotion again.
The final few lines of the poem show a turning point in the poem ‘against love by a feather’ meaning anything could have happened. Hardy then uses a caesura which is highly dramatic due to the show of feelings from Emma. The end line displays the two of them coming back to reality ‘together’, this demonstrates the newly formed love of this couple.
By Antonia Martin