At Castle Boterel by Thomas Hardy Essay Example
At Castle Boterel by Thomas Hardy Essay Example

At Castle Boterel by Thomas Hardy Essay Example

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  • Pages: 6 (1505 words)
  • Published: May 26, 2018
  • Type: Book Review
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At Castle Boterel by Thomas Hardy The poem was written in March 1913 when Hardy visited Cornwall after the death of his wife Emma Lavinia Gifford. The fictional name of the poem came from Boscastle, a mile from where Emma lived when she first met Hardy. It recalls a small incident during a journey he had together with Emma on a road near Boscastle forty years earlier. The fact that the poem is set in Cornwall means that it immediately stands out from the bulk of Hardy’s work which was set in the medieval Anglo-Saxon county of Wessex.

This is an unusual breaking of the geographical ‘unity’ of his novels , placing the novel outside of this imaginative world he describes as ‘partly real, partly dream country’ and into one based on his reality. However, Hardy still changes the na


me in the title to disguise the location and protect the secrecy and purity of this moment with Emma. Even by creating a name that is very similar to the original, Hardy, unlike writers such as Dickens or Emily Bronte, is breaking with the wider theme in his literature that location is superfluous to the life given to it by his poetry and prose .

For other Victorian writers, setting was integral and a sense of location essential, obvious examples being ‘the Yorkshire moors’ with Emily Bronte or the ‘work house’ with Charles Dickens. For Hardy these associations are not necessary, in his story Enter a Dragoon the narrator describes a cottage as it is about to be pulled down. Emotive description of the ‘ancient and bleached green that could be rubbed off with a finger’ and th

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‘small, long features brass knocker covered with verdigris in its crevices’ renders location superfluous to description.

While in Castle Boterel it is unusually significant in both name and location because of the powerful and emotive nature that this event has on Hardy. Hardy uses a range of language, metaphors and images to stress the ‘quality’ of this moment in time as more important to this place than all the ‘thousands’ who have crossed the hill ‘in Earth’s long order’. The third stanza suggests the idea that this ‘something’, save death of hope and feeling, will stand the test of time in the face of death’s ‘unflinching rigour’.

In The Mayor of Casterbridge, he evokes the ideas of digging in the Wessex soil and finding no end of ‘tumuli, Roman rings, medieval ruins’. Similarly in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Tess waits on the sacrificial stone ‘older than centuries’. Against these, the grandest of human enterprise may seem trivial . In Castle Boterel, Hardy’s ‘one mind’ uses language to show the reader that this incident is more significant than all those before and after.

The fourth stanza ends with Hardy talking about the ‘thousands more’ who will walk there but his belief in the significance of their act is revealed in the last line of the fifth stanza as he abruptly halts the metre with a hyphen and ends the stanza with the succinct and powerful ‘that we two passed’. This final line flies in the face of images of ‘primeval rocks’, and ‘earths long order’. His ‘one mind’ is stating in the poem that their passing is ‘first and last’ and the ‘quality’ of this event reduces all other

incidents to insignificance and all transitory actions to nothing.

Hardy juxtaposes the idea that the mind as a keeper and the preserver of memory with that of time as a force of destruction and its inescapable quality. He uses language to personify time and turn it into an inescapable entity with ‘unflinching rigour’, ‘mindless note’ and something that ‘ruled from sight’. These words turn time into a harsh and mechanical creature that has no cares or mercies for the memories of two lovers.

This mechanical and brutally regimented idea is also reiterated through the highly regular rhyming scheme throughout the poem as well as a similarly ‘unflinching’ metre. This brings about a conflicting idea of Hardy’s ‘one mind’ as sole bearer of these memories pitted against this ‘unflinching’ juggernaut. Only he holds this memory of the ‘one phantom figure’ on the path and with his death this memory will be lost to time. This is furthered by the classically powerful metaphor of ‘sand sinking’ as though Hardy’s hour glass is emptying and he is at the mercy of time.

His powerlessness in his inability to prevent the ‘phantom figure’ from disappearing is further emphasised by the repetition of ‘shrinking’. Using assonance and repetition Hardy creates a powerful image of her ghost slowly fading with him as his own time runs out. Hardy often uses Anglo-Saxon speech to generate a more succinct expression in his literature and poetry, a quality attributed to his admiration of the work of William Barnes . Barnes signalled a shift from the post-romantic poet, elements of which Hardy adopts in Castle Boterel.

Hardy himself would not have described himself as a ‘dialect poet’, preferring to

use a word that was ancient and legitimate when there was no equivalent in modern English which suggested itself as ‘the most natural, nearest and often only expression of a thought’. In this poem there are several examples of this that not only add to the poetic quality of the poem but also to the deeper meanings. Words like ‘bedrenches’ and ‘benighted’ both give the poem a ruthless precision that adds to the personified image of time. Even the harsh syllables of both words connote a sense of a crushing inevitable end.

Other forms seem to be used for similar effect; the use of the un- prefix in ‘unflinching’ give the word a blunt, bleak and uncompromising quality   that is embodied by Hardy’s portrayal of time. Compound epithets and circumlocution in the use of ‘foot-swift, foot-sore’ add a feeling of the endless motions of time and the constant and relentless progression of time itself. Assonance and alliteration are used at the end of Stanzas two when he writes, ‘sighed and slowed’ and at the end of Stanza three as he mentions ‘feeling fled.   Such literary techniques serve not only to enhance the image of the tired pony but also increase the poignancy of the third stanza’s final meaning of the eternity of hope in human feeling and that its death will only occur when humans no longer exist. Hardy’s use of a combination of succinct and powerful rhyme in the poem mixed with an unusual and unpredictable use of punctuation throws up a number of conflicting ideas about what he was trying to convey to the reader in the Poem.

Throughout the poem the rhyme

is clear and holds a regular ABABB structure as well as an unflinching number of syllables that mirrors every stanza to one another. As mentioned previously this serves to reinforce the idea of time as a continuous and unending entity that will continue long after the end of the poem. Even though the poem ends with the statement of finality in ‘never again,’ it still fits in perfectly with the scheme and metre and seems to serve more to the idea of time looking past Hardy’s death and into the distant future.

This is subverted by the use of punctuation throughout the poem that continuously disrupts and breaks down the heavy rhyme. Commas, full stops, hyphens, semi colons and a question mark punctuate the piece throughout and disrupt its flow. This can be seen as Hardy disrupting time in time’s world by bringing back a memory that is forty years old and defying the ‘unflinching rigour’ with his ‘one mind’. Conversely, this defiance feels only temporary in the face of the unflinching and unnerving brutality of time’s rhyme and metre.

The interruption of the metre parallels the way the poem shifts throughout from past to present to future and back; the March ‘drizzle’ turns to ‘dry March’ as Hardy fluidly moves between present and past memory trying to chip away at time and save her ghost from ‘shrinking’ away into nothingness. Each full stop acts desperately trying to preserve her memory but seemingly unable to halt time’s rhyme. The idea that Hardy is trying to show us that his fight against time is meaningless   through his style of rhyme, metre, language, image, metaphor, and punctuation has

one flaw.

Hardy has beaten time through his creation of the poem itself. The great irony of the poem is that through all his poetic gesturing towards the futility of fighting against his personified monster of time, he still cheats it. From the moment it was published, his memory and the memory of Emma were turned into stone. Like Hardy, she has permeated time and transcends the boundaries that Hardy instils throughout his poem. Now it is not only Hardy who remembers Emma on the hill but they will be remembered together on the hill as long as his literature remains in circulation by scholars, devotees and readers of this poem.

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