What are the major themes in the poem "The Harbour Bridge"?

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Thomas Hardy's poem "The Harbour Bridge" takes the death of a relationship as its theme. The first quarter of the poem describes the bridge itself, but Hardy's words hint at the ominous outcome of the relationship between the sailor and his wife. Twice in the first eight lines of the poem, Hardy tells his audience that the sun is setting, foreshadowing the end of the relationship. The bridge itself is "dark" and Hardy notes the bridge's "skeleton." Strands of rope are also described as "black as char" (i.e., black as charcoal). All of this darkness leads the audience not to expect that things will turn out well in this poem.

In lines 9 and 12, we find references to "shade" and "black-paper", which again hint at the death of the relationship that we will hear about in the last 16 lines of the poem. At last, in line 19, we meet the sailor and his wife. We note that they "are keeping apart" (line 20), an indicator that they are not in love. In lines 23-34, the wife invites her husband to come back home and reminds him of the comfortable life he has there.

At lines 25-28, the sailor-husband answers that he cannot come home. He has found another woman, whom he cannot leave. He tells his wife that she "should have talked like that in former days" (27).

The poem ends with the husband and wife going their separate ways and any further traces of daylight fading into a darkness illuminated by street lamps and the stars "that care not for men's wives" (31).

Wow! This is one of the saddest poems I think I have ever encountered. Hardy's first wife died in 1912 and he remarried two years later. "The Harbour Bridge" was part of a collection published in 1925. Perhaps Hardy's own experience with two wives informed this poem to some extent.


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