Thomas Hardy’s poem “Plena Timoris” (that is, “Full of Fear”) opens by describing two lovers looking over a wall that in turn overlooks a canal as the moon moves above them toward the south. They are enjoying each other’s company and seem perfectly happy:
Her ear-rings twinkled; her teeth, too, shone
As, his arm around her, they laughed and leant. (4-5)
Just at this moment, however, two men approach and announce that a woman’s body seems to be floating in the water below. They slide down the embankment and retrieve the corpse of a woman who seems to have drowned herself because the man whom she loved, and who used to meet her at the canal, has grown tired of her and abandoned her.
As the original couple walk away from the scene, the woman begins to worry that she, too, may one day be abandoned by the man with whom she has been spending so much time:
Dim dreads of the future grew slowly to seize her,
And her arm dropt from his as they wandered away. (19-20)
The themes of this poem, which are typical of much of Hardy’s writing, include the following:
- Very little in life can be depended upon.
- The future is unpredictable.
- One shouldn’t expect life to be too happy.
- Even apparent happiness often ends in disappointment.
- There may be no higher truths to offer consolations for worldly disappointments. For instance, the woman who kills herself might never have done so if she had been a devoted and happy Christian, but Hardy’s poems typically express little faith in faith or deal to any great degree with the faithful.
- Even love may not be reliable.
- Fear and dread and anxiety are common human emotions.