Journeying in Hardy’s “At Castle Boterel”

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After Emma’s death Hardy embarked on a journey to some of their old haunts in Cornwall to rediscover their old love. Considering in detail one poem, discuss ways in which Hardy uses the symbol of journeying in his poetry.”At Castle Boterel”, one of the greatest of Hardy’s Poems of 1912-13, is an intensely personal poem, yet expresses universal truths on the subjects of loss, reclamation and time. An example of Hardy at his most emotionally evocative and philosophically profound, it chronicles his spiritual, intellectual and emotional journey following the death of his wife.

The background to the composition of “At Castle Boterel” is that of a physical journey itself – Hardy’s pilgrimage to Cornwall. In the poem this journey is juxtaposed with a past journey, separated by time but not space, taken in a parallel March many years before. The comparative weather conditions belie Hardy’s nostalgia for the past: the bleakness of the present “drizzle” and “fading byway” draws a sharp contrast with the “dry March weather” of the former journey. The use of the vivid present in “We climb the road” emphasises the clarity of the memory, blurring, as in many of the Poems of 1912-13, the boundaries between past and present, memory and reality.Hardy’s pilgrimage was not just a literal journey, for it was a quest to overcome the boundaries of Time and death through his poetry, an endeavour to reclaim Emma and their lost love. This desire to revive the dead can be seen most clearly in “The Haunter”, where Hardy animates Emma by adopting her voice in an effort to convince himself of her faithful presence: “If he but sigh since my loss befell him/ Straight to his side I go.

” It is notable that none of the Poems of 1912-13 allude to a heaven, and therefore Hardy’s notion of immortality could be considered an irreligious one, achieved through human art and memory, not a religious afterlife.These humanist values may lead the more optimistic reader to interpret “At Castle Boterel” as an expression of faith in humanity and the significance of love, for “was there ever/ A time of such quality?” Hardy seems to indicate that love – that “Something that life will not be balked of” – is everlasting “till hope is dead,/ And feeling fled.” For while Nature may, “in Earth’s long order”, be eternal and indifferent, human consciousness is of the utmost value, leaving a mark – however imperceptible – on the landscape: “But what they record in colour and cast/ Is – that we two passed.”By thus immortalising Emma through poetry, she becomes a paradox in that she is both more and less than herself – augmented to a universal symbol of lost time and love, yet rendered less individual through this very idealisation. Hardy’s ambivalence regarding the simultaneously personal yet universal nature of his “time of such quality” with Emma is expressed in the fourth stanza: “To one mind never,/ Though it has been climbed, foot-swift,/ foot-sore,/ By thousands more.”The journey of Hardy’s relationship with Emma is mirrrored by the phonetic effects of the second stanza: the rhythmic levity of “girlish form benighted” and “We had just alighted” soon gives way to the heavy alliteration of “When he sighed and slowed”, literally slowing the line as the once “sturdy pony” of their relationship surrenders to fatigue.

Similarly, the twin iambs of “foot-swift/ foot-sore”, emphasised by unusual spacing and onomatopeia, succintly convey the fleeting exhiliration of first love, soon subsiding to jaded weariness.The language of the poem shifts subtly as the journey begins to take on a more profound meaning, creating a lexical journey within the poem itself. While reminiscing about his literal journey with Emma many years before, Hardy makes use of Romantic, archaic and somehwat ceremonial words such as “benighted”, “bedrenches” and “waggonette”, indicating his nostalgia for that lost time, and the intensely personal nature of his pilgrimage. However as Hardy begins to muse upon the nature of Time itself, this grander theme is accompanied by philosophical language, using more abstract phrases such as “Time’s unflinching rigour” and “mindless rote”.

Hardy rages against the insuperable adversaries of Time and Nature, the great eternal obstacles to his journey. Just as in “Rain on a Grave”, Nature is described as holding humankind in “ruthless disdain,” here the “Primaeval rocks” dispassionately watch the procession of humanity. “First and last”, they are both ancient and everlasting, unmoved by the insignificance of the “transitory” journey of human life.The cruel indifference of Time and Nature is further symbolised in Castle Boterel. Once a majestic monument to human endeavour and achievement, little remains but some barely discernible ruins. Worn away by Time and Nature, the castle represents the fading of human history from both memory and the landscape as enduring Nature reigns everlasting.

The brutal rhythmic effect of the iambic tetrameter in the line “In mindless rote, has ruled from sight” expresses the ruthlessness of Time’s “unflinching rigour”. The effect is continued in “Remains on the slope, as when that night”, which echoes the marching rhythm through the masculine rhymes of “rote” and “slope”, as well as “sight” and “night”.The personal language of the earlier stanzas returns in the last, as Hardy looks back “amid the rain” at the “phantom figure” of his lost love. This desolate image lacks the defiance and rage of the previous stanza as Hardy, defeated, comes to the realisation that he is at the mercy of Time, that inescapable journey of all mortal men.

This is touchingly expressed by the hopeless lament “for my sand is sinking,” the hourglass serving as a poignant metaphor for Hardy’s impending death. The statement is made all the more wretched by the knowledge that without the power of human consciousness invested in Hardy’s living memory, Emma will no longer be immortal when he is dead.The intangible quality of the past and the inevitable fading of memory is symbolised by the “phantom figure” which disappears “amid the rain” – Nature’s barrier to the past. During the course of the poem itself, the image is rendered less substantial through poetic technique.

Initially Hardy summons the memory with the confident masculine rhyme of “Distinctly yet”, the enjambement effortlessly leading into the second stanza (the memory itself), conveying the ease of recall. However in the last stanza the faltering, diminishing rhythm of the feminine rhyme “shrinking, shrinking” reflects his desperation as he strives to see her through the “drizzle” of Time that has now intensified to rain. This transition from certainty to uncertainty, distinct to ethereal, mirrors Hardy’s profound loss, both physical and mental.While Hardy may gain momentary victory in the comfort of his memory, his efforts are ultimately futile for, like the elusive Castle Boterel, Emma is but a “phantom figure” – lost forever. Like Orpheus, Hardy’s journey to the underworld to recover his Eurydice culminates in his looking back “for the very last time” as the ghostly apparition of his true love fades. Thus it is with a weary tone of defeat that Hardy admits that he “shall traverse old love’s domain/ Never again”, the word order giving dramatic emphasis to the final weighty dimeter.

However, while “At Castle Boterel” may conclude with the bleak poignancy of loss, it has less by way of anguish than its predecessors in the sequence. While “The Going” employs an imploring tone of desperation rife with exclamations of grief, and “The Voice” reveals the tumultuous thoughts of the tormented poet’s mind, “At Castle Boterel” is an example of the emotive power of understatement. Although it may be a little glib to ascribe each poem a label, the emotions and attitudes displayed by Hardy throughout the sequence bear some resemblance to the five stages of grief (as defined by K�bler-Ross). While the poems mentioned above exhibit the early “anger” and shock of bereavement, “denial” is revealed in “Without Ceremony”, where Hardy absurdly tries to assert that Emma’s departure was, as before, a deliberate lack of manners: “Your meaning seems to me/ Just as it used to be:/ ‘Good-bye is not worth while!'” “The Haunter” too exposes delusion in Hardy’s attempt to reassure himself that Emma is still by his side: “Hover and hover a few feet from him/ Just as I used to do”.

By contrast, the altogether calmer tone of “At Castle Boterel”, (the penultimate poem in the sequence) is more indicative of “acceptance” – the final stage, which allows the griever to move on.For as Hardy nears the end of his journey through grief, life and Time, he approaches a “junction of lane and highway” – a crossroads suggestive of a transition, and an allusion to the divide between town and country that so preoccupied him. A man of many conflicts and paradoxes, Hardy was indeed a “time-torn man”, caught in the rift between Romanticism and Modernism; two movements of two centuries. “At Castle Boterel” is itself an elegiac journey from grief to acceptance, and, as Hardy prepares to move on to the next phase of life, a farewell not just to Emma, but to Romanticism itself.

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