The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“In Tenebris” is a sequence of three meditative poems, divided into six quatrains in poem I, four in poem II, and five in poem III. Each poem is headed by a Latin epigraph or motto from the Psalms that expresses alienation and despair. The title is Latin for “in the darkness,” anticipating the light and dark imagery in all three poems. The original title in Poems of the Past and the Present, “De Profundis,” or “Out of the Depths,” also reflects the speaker’s gloomy vision and his preoccupation with physical and spiritual death.

“In Tenebris” is an intensely personal expression of grief and isolation written in the first person. It was written in 1895-1896, when Thomas Hardy was despondent about the decline of love in his marriage and the public’s rejection of Jude the Obscure (1895), his last novel before he gave up fiction and devoted himself to poetry. Biographers and critics disagree about the extent to which this poem expresses Hardy’s bitterness about his own experience and conveys an attitude of unrelieved pessimism, “pessimistic” being a label Hardy himself rejected. Although the speaker claims to be emotionally dead in poem I, the energy with which he mocks the optimistic majority in poem II and questions his own fate in poem III suggests that he is exploring alternative responses to the harsh realities of life that he faces unflinchingly.

The motto of the first poem, which translates as...

(The entire section is 591 words.)