How does Thomas Hardy make “I Look into my Glass”  a memorable poem?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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There are two types of strategies Thomas Hardy uses to make his unsettling poem, “I Look into my Glass”, striking and memorable. The first element that makes it memorable is literary form, and the second is contents.

Verse form itself tends to be more memorable than prose. In this poem, Hardy gives the sense of his distinctive or unusual viewpoint by playing with readers' metrical expectations. Although the poem follows the typical rhyme scheme of common meter, with "open quatrains" rhymed abab, the rhythmical pattern, rather than alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, displays a slight variant on the pattern, with the following rhythmical scheme (rhymes noted in square brackets):

  1. iambic trimeter [a]
  2. iambic trimeter  [b]
  3. iambic tetrameter [a]
  4. iambic trimeter  [b]

In content, the poem also plays with generic expectation. From the opening line, the reader is led to expect something along the lines of Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 ("That time of year thou mayst in me behold ...") or other poems which address love continuing into old age or perhaps mourning for missed opportunities. Instead, Hardy, rather than wishing to recover his lost youth and rather then celebrating his continued emotional capacity, and hoping to "rage against the dying of the light", wishes that his emotional powers declined in concert with his physical ones, so that he could fade calmly towards his ultimate demise rather than being wracked by strong emotions. 

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