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.

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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 ...

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

An excellent essay, which demonstrates understanding of how poetic technique and subject matter are intricately linked and used to craft and create meaning. The writer understands and can explain the effects of a range of poetic devices - not only metaphor, but also enjambment, masculine and feminine rhyme, and to some extent rhythmic effects, though these could be explored in more detail. There is also a real sense in this essay that the writer has something to say and has responded personally and thoughtfully to the poem. An excellent vocabulary helps to give the essay fluency of expression. *****