Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Analysis of "The Oxen" by Thomas Hardy

Original poem reprinted online here: "The Oxen" by Thomas Hardy
More information about the Poet:  Thomas Hardy



When I was in grad school, my professor analyzed this poem.  I don't have anything contrary to what he saw, so this is the iteration of what Samuel Maio said about this poem.  The poem is written in quatrains with an alternating abab rhyme scheme.  Why? There's a separation or there will be a separation.

But the first stanza hints at this separation:

     Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
     "Now they are all on their knees,"
     An elder said as we sat in a flock
     By the embers hearthside ease.

Here's the setting -- Christmas eves and an "elder" in which the speaker seems to listen to tells the story of how "they" are all on their knees.  Who are they?

     We pictured the meek mild creatures where
     They dwelt in their strawy pen,
     Nor did it occur to one of us there
     To doubt they were kneeling then.

The picturesque scene of the "meek mild creatures" kneeling is what "we" envision.  Note that since this is a highly christian allusive poem the usage of "meek" and "mild" could also be a reference to the speaker's innocent self. There was no doubt until the twist.

     So fair a fancy few would weave
     In these years!  Yet, I feel,
     If someone said on Christmas Eve,
     "Come; see the oxen kneel"

The exclamation with the first two lines is buffered with the alliteration of "f' and the indirectness of the tale as "fancy" and "weave."  What I mean is that for an exclamation, the speaker doesn't exclaim anything.  Indeed what was said by the elder seems farcical, but that "yet" changes the tone back to the "meek" as though to want to disagree.

     "In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
     Our childhood used to know,"
     I should go with him in the gloom,
     Hoping it might be so.

And yes, the speaker second guesses wanting to believe which is a synecdoche of a bigger faith.  But the big question is who is this "someone" that is asking?  What makes this poem have even more impact is that the speaker is looking for is not internal.  Rather external: proof that the meek will kneel in reverence, proof that someone will get the speaker up and check, and proof that hope is still within him.

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