Thomas Hardy

I Look Into My Glass

Here's a neat little poem by Thomas Hardy, both a major novelist (Jude the Obscure, Tess of the D'Urbervilles,   etc.) and a major poet. It's known by its first line.
I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, "Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!"

For then I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity.

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.

Let me formulate a few questions for you to answer:

  1. What is his "glass"? What sort of glass can you look into and view your skin?
  2. What kind of thing to say is "Would God it came to pass [that] my heart had ..."? (Compare a phrase like "Would that the morn were come" or "Would that it were true!" etc. This kind of verb is called a subjunctive.)
  3. What is the speaker wishing had happened? Can you believe him?
  4. What would it allow him to do if his wish had been true, according to stanza 2? As we picture or imagine this condition he wishes for, can we admire it? Would we -- would even he -- *really* want it, do you think? If not, what sense does it make to say he wants it?
  5. Stanza 3 tells us why his wish hasn't come about. Again, logically it should be a complaint -- but is it? Return to index of poems