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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The three poems of “In Tenebris” combine a number of the poetic techniques that distinguish the large and diverse body of poetry written throughout Hardy’s life. His adaptions of traditional meters can be seen in the contrast between the short lines of poem I, with its heavy use of spondees and trochees in the first and last lines accenting the funereal theme, and the much longer lines of poems II and III that imitate heroic and alliterative verse as the speaker mocks society and questions fate. The poem’s diction, in addition to blending colloquial, formal, and archaic words, includes original coinages such as “unhope” and “upstanders.” The biblical quotations and the images from the events and landscape of Hardy’s childhood show the influences of his past in relation to the modern social and philosophical themes of the poem.

The structure of each poem of “In Tenebris” is regular and repetitive, reflecting, perhaps, the speaker’s entrapment in his own vision of despair and alienation, but also his persistent assertion of that vision in defiance of all opposing forces. The common patterns of language and imagery that unite the three poems follow the movement of the speaker’s thoughts as he views himself in the context of nature, society, and the universal laws of time and fate.

Every stanza of poem I begins with an image from nature showing the harm done to flowers, birds, and leaves by the cold and tempests of winter, except that the last stanza uses the black of night to introduce...

(The entire section is 627 words.)