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A Short Analysis of Thomas Hardy’s ‘I Look into my Glass’

A summary of a popular Hardy poem

‘I Look into my Glass’ was published in Thomas Hardy’s first volume of poetry, Wessex Poems, in 1898. Hardy was then nearly sixty, and the poem reflects his growing awareness of age. The poem is a short one that uses plain language, so perhaps little analysis is needed; nevertheless, below we include the poem and then try to unpick some of its features.

I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, ‘Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!’

For then I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity.

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.

NPG 2929,Thomas Hardy,by William StrangA short poem, with a simple message, this. A short summary conveys this much: the speaker looks at himself in his mirror (or ‘glass’) and sees his wrinkled and ageing skin, and wishes that his heart was similarly weakened and reduced. The implication, of course, is that the speaker’s romantic leanings are those of a young man, even though the speaker himself is now old. The heart that beats in his aged chest is that of a young man still capable of feeling love, romantic longing, and infatuation (Hardy himself was known for his infatuations with younger women, well into late middle age; he was in his later fifties when he wrote ‘I Look into my Glass’).

If the heart that beats in the speaker’s chest had shrunk as thin as the skin that covers his ageing body, he wouldn’t care about the people in his life who no longer care for him. But sadly, he concludes, this is nature’s way: time and age has taken away his youthful looks but leaves him the (useless) desire. There is an air of anxious irritation in the alliterative ‘fragile frame’ in that final stanza, which suggests one whose body has grown cold with age – and, indeed, with the cold hearts that have shunned him.

A short poem about growing old, written in the clear and simple language we find in much of Thomas Hardy’s poetry. If you liked ‘I Look into my Glass’ you might also enjoy W. B. Yeats’s great poem about growing old (or one of several great poems he wrote about growing old), ‘Sailing to Byzantium‘.

Image: Thomas Hardy by William Strang, 1893, public domain.

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About interestingliterature

A blog dedicated to rooting out the interesting stuff about classic books and authors.

Posted on December 2, 2016, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I love the poignancy that runs through this one. Many thanks for your analysis…

  2. The master speaks : fragile frame instantly brings to mind ‘ well our feeble frame He knows ‘ and then ‘ fickle freckled in Hopkins masterpiece.

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