The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The title of “In the Thirtieth Year” is clearly significant. It points to the time and moment of choice when the speaker elects to take his “heart to be his wife.” It also indicates that the normal search for someone to give his heart to has been ended. It is a choice, instead, of solitariness and self-sufficiency. The reason this choice comes at the “thirtieth year” is not explained, but it suggests a deliberate choice after earlier failures in love, failures to find someone to whom his heart may be given.

The speaker of the poem is not the poet, J. V. Cunningham. He is an ironic speaker who seems not only to explain but also to justify his choice of separateness. Cunningham is usually a straightforward poet who despises the fashionable use of irony. Here, however, he uses a mask to represent a way of thinking and living that is quite different from his own. He is satirizing the type of man who would make such a choice to protect himself from the pain and risk of human relationships.

Only eight lines long, “In the Thirtieth Year” is a very precise poem. It begins by describing an unusual wedding of the speaker to his heart; this substitute for a “wife” is announced as a reasonable and viable option. Yet a person who keeps his “heart” to himself, who actually weds it, is an egoist who feeds upon himself rather than risk the effort involved in developing a relationship with another person.

The second couplet...

(The entire section is 485 words.)