Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 413

In “Hay Fever” Hope addresses an issue that has challenged almost all poets of stature: As people age, they wonder when they will die and whether they have had sufficient satisfaction in life to “go gentle into that good night,” as Dylan Thomas phrased it. Hope’s conclusion is that, though he has “made hay” (or sown his wild oats) in his day, has good and bad memories, successes and failures to acknowledge, life has been good to him and he can leave this world in a state of satisfaction—or even reverie—as he recounts the good times and perhaps forgets the bad.

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This summation and evaluation would not have been possible without the recollection of his adolescent participation in haying on his father’s farm, which proved to be an induction into the adult world, an initiation that brought him face to face with the similarity between his cutting down everything in his path, whether good or bad, decorative or essential, and death. All are taken, regardless of merit, it seems, and there is no reprieve or deferment when Time “takes a pace forward, swings from the hips” (almost as if in obedience to an instructor).

Because Hope spent his adult life as a teacher and then a professor of English, he was adept at explication and the use of analogy; “Hay Fever” invites his readers to see the analogy that he offers and then offer their own explications, though his concluding three lines are clearly intended to direct them to certain conclusions.

The poem’s title, which might well mislead potential readers into believing that the common allergy is the subject of the poem, comports with Hope’s practice of being ambiguous at times. Haying can cause discomfort in people who suffer from allergies, causing tears and sweat, but for him haying caused sweat and tears from physical exhaustion. Moreover, the remembrance of those days—and the contemplation of death—may produce some tears of regret and the sweat that comes from apprehension. “How long can I hold out yet?” he asks, and the answer is implicit: until Time, with his scythe or harvester, comes along. “Hay Fever,” like the other poems in A Late Picking (the title refers to the final harvest of grapes for wine, which are somewhat riper and sweeter than the main vintage) is fuller-bodied, sweeter, and more satisfying than many of Hope’s earlier poems, and it appeals to the connoisseur rather than the beginner.

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