‘I Look Into My Glass’ was written when Hardy was only 57 years old and published in 1898. In this poem, Hardy revolves around the impact of time on the human identity. The main theme is the contrast between his aging physical body and his heart which is still young and vibrant. The tone of this poem is thoughtful and there is a rather slow pace which is emphasized by the regular rhyme scheme and numerous punctuations. Let’s examine it part by part:
I look into my glass.
And view my wasting skin,
And say, ‘Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!’
In this first stanza Hardy is focusing on the contrast between his ‘wasting skin’ and his emotions. As he says, ‘Would God it came to pass my heart had shrunk as thin!’ he is wishing that his heart had shrunken as much as his body had. His old body isn’t physically strong enough to cope with his strong feelings. The ABAB masculine rhymes sound strong on the tongue, creating a forceful flow to the poem. This emphasizes how realistic his description of aging and loneliness is.
For then, I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
In this second stanza Hardy is implying that if his heart had ‘grown cold’ just like his body had, he would be able to comfortably await his death. He doesn’t want to remember his past heart breaks as his body is too weak to handle all those bad memories. There is an obvious link to loneliness in this stanza. The caesura in the first line which isolates the ‘I’ automatically draws your eye to its separation from the rest of the words. It appears as though Hardy finds it easier to isolate himself and lead a lonely life if it means that he doesn’t have to deal with anymore heartbreaks. Hardy had a love interest in a woman called Florence Henniker, however his admiration wasn’t reciprocated, and this caused him much pain. These one way feelings are shown through the line ‘By hearts grown cold to me’; as he implies that those he loved didn’t always love him back. In that line there is an assonance of the letter ‘o’ in the words ‘grown’ and ‘cold’ which then also appears in ‘lonely’, this emphasises the coldness and misery of his situation.
But Time, to make me grieve,
part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.
The first two lines in the final stanza are split down the middle with the use of commas. There is a perfect symmetry as the two lines mirror each other, this emphasizes how there is a contrast between Time’s functions: ‘Part steals, lets part abide’. Time is stealing Hardy’s body but letting his heart and emotions live on. Time is personified to highlight its importance in this poem and how it’s leading to Hardy’s grieving. The metaphor which controls this poem is the contrast between ‘eve’ and ‘noontide’. Eve represents the end of his life and noontide represents his feelings of noon. Although Hardy’s old, he has the same emotions as he did when he was young. However his body can’t handle all this emotion, so he isolates himself because he’s struggling with his feelings. Hardy uses ‘throbbings’ to emphasize how his emotions are still alive, the double ‘b’s leave us feeling his passion and yet his pain.
By Olivia DeGuademar