Literature

A Short Analysis of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Song of Hope’

‘Song of Hope’: not a title we’d necessarily associate with Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), who elsewhere even coined the word ‘unhope’ to convey his own deep despair (in his poem ‘In Tenebris’). But ‘Song of Hope’ is the title of a Thomas Hardy poem, which we reproduce below, followed by a brief analysis of its meaning.

Song of Hope

O sweet To-morrow! –
After to-day
There will away
This sense of sorrow.
Then let us borrow
Hope, for a gleaming
Soon will be streaming,
Dimmed by no gray –
No gray!

While the winds wing us
Sighs from The Gone,
Nearer to dawn
Minute-beats bring us;
When there will sing us
Larks of a glory
Waiting our story
Further anon –
Anon!

Doff the black token,
Don the red shoon,
Right and retune
Viol-strings broken;
Null the words spoken
In speeches of rueing,
The night cloud is hueing,
To-morrow shines soon –
Shines soon!

NB ‘shoon’ is a British dialect word that means, basically, shoes.

‘Song of Hope’ lives up to its title: one can imagine a crowd of men in an alehouse in rural Dorset shaking their tankards to it, like something straight out of one of Hardy’s novels. The use of repeated rhymes in each stanza reinforces the lyric quality, and the short lines give it an upbeat, jaunty feel, in keeping with its subject. Each stanza of ‘Song of Hope’ is rhymed abbaaccbb.

The overall message of ‘Song of Hope’ is easy to summarise. Hardy acknowledges that whilst today may have been filled with sorrow, tomorrow will be another day, and so it’s appropriate to ‘borrow’ some hope in preparation. Hardy knew well the depths of sorrow, but this poem addresses the need to hope for brighter days amidst the darkness. This too shall pass, and no matter how hard it is to believe right now, the clouds will clear and joy will be gleaming brightly once more.

Hardy then uses the motif of the dawn – ushered in by the lark, known for singing at that time of day – as a symbol for the dawning of this new, hopeful day. If the darkest hour is just before the dawn, then dawn is only an hour away – and as the song gathers momentum as it continues, so does its message of hope.

Hardy’s speaker then urges everyone to remove their black clothing and don red ‘shoon’ or shoes (for dancing, maybe, or for going out into the world again?). The strings of a broken instrument can be mended, so the song of hope can continue as tomorrow approaches.

‘Song of Hope’ is an unusually uplifting poem for Thomas Hardy. Curiously, it was one of nine poems he chose to include in the Library of the Royal Dolls’ House at Windsor Castle (built for Queen Mary in the early 1920s). You can find out more about this royal dolls’ house here.

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