Thomas Hardy – She Hears the Storm

The poem is rhymed in a simplistic ABAB, with alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter giving a song like quality. Initially this tone doesn’t seem to sit well with the subject matter – where a storm is described in dark, dramatic terms, contributing to the pervading mood of ‘anxiety’. However, at the final stanza, where the gothic atmosphere is shed at a sort of volta (as anticipated by the conditional ‘should’ in stanzas 1 and 2), the proverbial sounding ‘Earth grants all her kind’ justifies the metre and rhyme by suggesting a sort of fable or proverbial truth.

The identity of the speaker,  as well as the other figures who appear in the poem, remains ambiguous. We suppose at first that the ‘she’ of the title is addressing us. The anxiety felt by the speaker appears to stem from a lack of trust in the ‘he’ of stanza 2. The eye-catching double noun ‘roof-tree’ is a significant point of focus for this first part of the poem. Shared with or provided the ‘he’ of stanza 2, it is clear that the speaker feels it inadequate protection from the storm, or at least fears that it will become so, now that ‘he is getting old’. There is a striking cohesion of the tenor and vehicle in the image of ‘roof-tree’. The poem’s central metephor, the storm, represents life’s troubles, hence a ‘roof-tree’ is a protection or assurance against misfortune. The combining of the two nouns encourages us to see the description as both figurative and literal. The man of stanza 2 provides an actual roof as well as more general protection. However, lines 7 and 8 give us an unmistakable sense that his power to provide is waning.

The opening of stanza 3, ‘But now’, gives a powerful change of direction to the poem, bringing us into the speaker’s present. Here the storm still rages, but we have been removed from the anonymous ‘road’ setting of stanzas 1 and 2, and placed in the identifiable, domestic setting of the ‘chimney roar’ and ‘Mellstock Leaze’. The speaker has found a more tangible and hence robust source of protection, a sense carried by the increased specificity of the description.

The final stanza brings another change in the tone of the poem, as we leave the scene created and the poem is summarized. The speaker’s lack of concern contrasts with the‘anxiety’ of stanza 2. The last stanza appears to mirror and invert stanza 2, making the reader question the speaker, in disregarding ‘wayfarers’, who lack the protection only recently afforded to her. Clearly the speaker has gained the security she sought, although the anonymity of the ‘he’ s in the poem makes us unsure whether it has been provided by the same man of stanza 2.

The changed metre of the penultimate line (5 stresses instead of 4) perhaps signifies a change in speaker, as the ‘she’ of the title is now refered to in the poem. The confusion of pronouns is added to by the introduction of a personified ‘Earth’, with either of the last two ‘her’s refering to Earth instead of the ‘she’. This ambiguity makes it difficult to establish the meaning or attitude of the final lines. Perhaps triumphant in the ‘she’ of the poem finding security, perhaps wry and cynical in the phrase ‘all her kind’, reflecting that others are not so lucky.

That poem might be read as a meditation on the way women move from the protection of their fathers, the he who is getting old where the ‘roof-tree’ also has a conotation of the family tree, to the security of a husband (him of the ‘storm-tight roof’). The voice that enters in the last two lines perhaps reflects on the pride and nonchalance of a woman in a comfortable situation, with the ambiguous ‘all her kind’ suggesting that it is a luxury only guaranteed to beautiful women or those of a certain social status.


3 thoughts on “Thomas Hardy – She Hears the Storm

  1. This is bullshit. The storm-tight roof that earth grants all her kind is death. There is nothing else that makes moderate sense. The speaker’s father died and she is reflecting.

    • Haha, fair enough, although I don’t think that’s quite fair. That meaning has been pointed out to me before since I wrote this, and I agree it is convincing and has a certain neatness to it. But the fact that it didn’t occur to me at the time doesn’t invalidate the entire analysis. In fact I just read this for the first time in about half a year and I’m quite pleased with it for an early effort.

      Poems aren’t just riddles or maths problems with an ‘answer’ to be found. I think good poetry is as a rule big enough in scope and complex enough in feeling that you can never quite fit your mind round it and hold it all in front of you in one go, at least not conciously. If you can make it mean something for you and if you can talk about the words on the page then it’s not bullshit.

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