Thomas Hardy, a major Victorian novelist, began a second career as a poet in 1895. The poem "At Castle Boterell" was written in 1913 after the death of his wife Emma. Though the couple were estranged, Hardy was traumatized by her death; so he returns to Cornwall, the place of their courtship
The poem is comprised of seven stanzas with five lines per stanza. Following a cinquain pattern, the rhyme scheme is ABABB with four lines and a stressed line at the end of each stanza. The first stanza should be read:
As I drive to the junction of lane and highway,
And the drizzles bedrenches the wagonnette,
I look behind at the fading byway,
And see on its slope now glistening wet,
Thus, the meaning of the poem finds more clarity.
The narrator reflects on a place where he once spent time with someone he loved. What they said or did was not important, rather it was the quality of those moments that they spent together that was memorable. To the poet's mind, the couple's walk up the hillside has never been replicated. At the moment of his departure, he looks back at the place. He envisions the shadowy figure of his love retreating into his memory.
Hardy's attempt to reclaim the past and defeat time is powerful. His movement through the scene enables the reader to follow the romantic yet sad journey of a man who longs for a time in his youth with the girl that he loved and lost.
The movement of the poem follows the blueprint of the poet's life: hesitant, at first; gaining confidence as he courts his young love; but faltering as the ravages of time set in.
... for my sand is sinking,
And I shall traverse old love's domain
Hardy's reflections bridge not only the journey of life but the stages of grief for the loss of someone significant to him.
One of the standards for good poetry is truth. Does the poem resonate with honesty? Yes, through the mood, word choice, and conclusion--the emotions and insights into the heart of the narrator ring true.