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In Tenebris(1901)

Thomas Hardy

Wintertime nighs;
MeterWintertime nighs;
But my bereavement -pain
MeterBut my bereavement-pain
It can not bring a gain:
MeterIt cannot bring again:
Twice no one dies.
MeterTwice no one dies.

Flower-petals flee;
MeterFlower-petals flee;

Note on line 5: This scansion is not quite so arbitrary as it looks. “Flower” may have been a monosyllable (even in Hardy’s r- rolling Wessex country), in which case the dimeter line would comprise a trochee then an iamb. But 4B4V honors every syllable it can, so a disyllable it is. Having conceded a trochaic “flower,” you may want to treat “petals” the same way. But that makes the line impossible to scan, within our system, as the dimeter it must be; besides, it forgets how the English language routinely accents compound nouns of this kind: “conjure-woman,” “boiler- maker,” “business-hours,” etc. heap stress on the first syllable and rattle off the rest as roughly equivalent slacks.

But, since it once hath been,
MeterBut, since it once hath been,
No more that sev ering scene
MeterNo more that severing scene
Can har row me.
MeterCan harrow me.

Birds faint in dread:
MeterBirds faint in dread:
I shall not lose old strength
MeterI shall not lose old strength

Note on line 10: Why not scan the first foot as an iamb? Because doing so would affirm the wrong thing. It would emphasize the speaker’s resolute will to resist adversity. The speaker’s grim burden here, though, is that such heroics are, for him, a thing of the past: just this is what makes him unique, and a stress on “I” makes that point tidily.

In the lone frost’s black length:
MeterIn the lone frost’s black length:
Strength long since fled!
MeterStrength long since fled!

Note on line 12: In another prosodic context this line admittedly might be a double spondee, i.e. four consecutive stressed syllables. But Hardy has just executed exactly that pattern at the end of the previous line, so plowing on into an eight-stress pileup would be a stunt both ludicrous and inappropriate to the sense of the stanza, which does not vaunt the speaker’s strength but instead concedes his frailty.

Leaves freeze to dun;
MeterLeaves freeze to dun;
But friends can not turn cold
MeterBut friends can not turn cold
This sea son as of old
MeterThis season as of old
For him with none.
MeterFor him with none.

Tempests may scath;
MeterTempests may scath;
But love can not make smart
MeterBut love can not make smart
Again this year his heart
MeterAgain this year his heart
Who no heart hath.
MeterWho no heart hath.

Black is night’s cope;
MeterBlack is night’s cope;
But death will not a ppal
MeterBut death will not appal
One who, past doubt ings all,
MeterOne who, past doubtings all,
Waits in un hope.
MeterWaits in unhope.

Note on line 24: Nobody knows for sure how to scan “unhope,” a word Hardy scavenged out of 15th-century books for 20th-century service in his exuberant palette of glooms. Our rule about rhyme means the second syllable takes stress, and the word works out here as a simple iamb. But since the whole point of the word, nay the poem, is to cancel “hope,” there’s reason to stress the “un-” even harder and mutter the “-hope” as grudgingly as possible. Call it a front-loaded spondee.

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