An Analysis of the Poem 'The Rambler', by Thomas Hardy
I do not see the hills around,
Nor mark the tints the copses wear;
I do not note the grassy ground
And constellated daisies there.
I hear not the contralto note
Of cuckoos hid on either hand,
The whirr that shakes the nighthawk's throat
When eve's brown awning hoods the land.
Some say each songster, tree, and mead -
All eloquent of love divine -
Receives their constant careful heed:
Such keen appraisement is not mine.
The tones around me that I hear,
The aspects, meanings, shapes I see,
Are those far back ones missed when near,
And now perceived too late by me!
The poem feels like a simple narrative, at first glance. We have a character, in the form of 'the rambler' (perhaps to be taken as representing Thomas Hardy, himself) - a central figure on a journey. Yet, strangely, it is not a journey that the rambler seems to take any joy in.
Why is it that the rambler is not paying any attention to his surroundings, though? Why does he not "see the surrounding hills", or hear "[t]he whirr that shakes the nighthawk's throat"? It is quite possible, perhaps even likely, that many readers will assume that Hardy is building toward a caution against being so focused on the destination that the journey is not appreciated, here. For the entirety of its first three stanzas, that certainly seems to be where the poem is headed - with the implication clearly being that the reason to be revealed will be the rambler's focus on some still distant goal.
But, of course, the poem's final stanza reveals that its true purpose is actually the opposite. The poem's ultimate message for the reader is a simple, though important, one. It is, ultimately, revealed that it is not the future that concerns the rambler, but the past. He does not observe the details of his current surroundings due to the simple fact that he is much more concerned with "those far back ones missed when near".
This revelation adds a clear element of metaphor to the poem's first three stanzas. It is, as the reader may have already suspected, not a literal journey that the rambler has embarked on in this poem - but, a metaphorical one. It does, after all, seem unlikely that we are to assume that the rambler is not observing his current surroundings due to being more concerned with the hills and the flowers that he neglected to observe when he first set out. These details "now perceived too late by me" are not memories of hills, flowers, and the sound of birds, at all - but, rather, memories of the rambler's early life.
The poem is, therefore, ultimately a caution against being so caught up with memories of the past, either regrets or, even, moments of past happiness, that you pay too little attention to your current circumstances - and, that you do not take the time to enjoy what life has to offer, now. The implication is fairly evident, after all, that the situation the rambler currently finds himself in will inevitably prove to be something of a vicious cycle. The rambler's regrets about the past weigh on him, so much so that he ignores his current circumstances - but, when he is further along on his metaphorical 'journey', he may also find that his feelings about this moment are much the same.
The collected poems of Thomas Hardy, available from Amazon
© 2015 Dallas Matier
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