The garden seat of the poem's title can be seen as a metaphor for life, with all its many changes and its inherent fragility. The seat has been there in the garden for a long time and, in the course of its existence, has changed color from blue to green....
The garden seat of the poem's title can be seen as a metaphor for life, with all its many changes and its inherent fragility. The seat has been there in the garden for a long time and, in the course of its existence, has changed color from blue to green. Its legs, which were once so firm, now sink into the grass, making it all the more fragile. So fragile, in fact, that it will soon "break down unaware." Such is life. It often ends when we least expect it.
At the end of each stanza, Hardy uses a refrain, a repeated phrase. So, in the first stanza, for instance, we have,
Soon it will break down unaware,
Soon it will break down unaware.
Refrains are common in ballads, and "The Garden Seat" closely follows the traditional balladic form. Ballads are folk songs, often used to convey some kind of ancient wisdom from one generation to the next. Unlettered country folk were often unable to say important things about life, the universe, and everything through essays or learned treatises, so they did it instead through ballads.
The inclusion of supernatural elements in the poem—the ghosts "light as upper air" who come to sit on the garden seat at night—also pays tribute to the balladic tradition, in which ghost stories were quite common.
In Hardy's poem, the ghosts are long since dead, but they have returned to the garden seat, the symbol of the life they once lived while they were upon this earth. Being a finite physical object, the seat will eventually break down, but the ghosts will not. We see here a victory of the spiritual over the material, leaving us with a sense that the spirit is more real, more enduring than the world of physical objects.