'The To-Be-Forgotten' by Thomas Hardy

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Poems of the Past and the Present1901I
I heard a small sad sound,
And stood awhile among the tombs around:
"Wherefore, old friends," said I, "are you distrest,
Now, screened from life's unrest?"II
--"O not at being here;
But that our future second death is near;
When, with the living, memory of us numbs,
And blank oblivion comes!III
"These, our sped ancestry,
Lie here embraced by deeper death than we;
Nor shape nor thought of theirs can you descry
With keenest backward eye.IV
"They count as quite forgot;
They are as men who have existed not;
Theirs is a loss past loss of fitful breath;
It is the second death.V
"We here, as yet, each day
Are blest with dear recall; as yet, can say
We hold in some soul loved continuance
Of shape and voice and glance.VI
"But what has been will be --
First memory, then oblivion's swallowing sea;
Like men foregone, shall we merge into those
Whose story no one knows.VII
"For which of us could hope
To show in life that world-awakening scope
Granted the few whose memory none lets die,
But all men magnify?VIII
"We were but Fortune's sport;
Things true, things lovely, things of good report
We neither shunned nor sought ... We see our bourne,
And seeing it we mourn."

Editor 1 Interpretation

The To-Be-Forgotten by Thomas Hardy: A Tale of Love, Loss and Transience

Thomas Hardy's poem The To-Be-Forgotten is a poignant reflection on the ephemeral nature of love and the inevitability of mortality. Through his evocative use of language, imagery and form, Hardy weaves a powerful narrative that explores the complex emotions of a lover who is grappling with the realization that their cherished memories will eventually fade into oblivion. In this essay, I will undertake a close reading of the poem, analyzing its themes, style, and structure, to reveal the deeper layers of meaning that lie beneath its surface.


At its core, The To-Be-Forgotten is a meditation on the transience of human existence and the fleeting nature of love. The speaker, who is presumably the poet himself, reflects upon a relationship that has now come to an end, and laments the inevitable fate that awaits all romantic attachments. The title itself is a powerful metaphor for the oblivion that awaits us all, as we are gradually erased from the memories of those we leave behind. The poem is imbued with a sense of melancholy and regret, as the speaker mourns not only the loss of his lover, but also the knowledge that their time together was always destined to be brief.

Another key theme that runs throughout the poem is the idea of impermanence. Hardy employs vivid imagery to convey the idea that everything in life is in a state of constant flux, and that the only constant is change. Nature is a recurring motif in the poem, and Hardy uses its cycles of growth and decay to draw parallels with the cycles of life and death. The image of the "leaf that falls and is forgotten" is a powerful reminder that all things must eventually come to an end, and that even the most beautiful and vibrant things in life are destined to wither and fade away.


Hardy's poetic style is characterized by its simplicity and directness. He uses plain, unadorned language to convey complex emotions, and his verse is marked by a natural rhythm and cadence that mirrors the ebb and flow of human speech. The poem is composed of four stanzas, each consisting of six lines, with a regular ABABCC rhyme scheme. This regularity of form gives the poem a sense of structure and order, which stands in stark contrast to the sense of chaos and uncertainty that permeates its content.

One of the most striking features of Hardy's style is his use of vivid visual imagery to evoke powerful emotions. The opening lines of the poem, in which the speaker describes the "long, long while" that has passed since his lover left, are a prime example of this. The image of the "sunlit uplands" that have now become "misty flats" is a powerful metaphor for the way in which our memories can be distorted and obscured by the passage of time. Similarly, the image of the "leaf that falls and is forgotten" is a haunting reminder of the inevitability of our own mortality.


At its heart, The To-Be-Forgotten is a deeply personal and introspective poem, in which the speaker grapples with the complex emotions that arise from the loss of a loved one. However, it is also a poem that resonates on a universal level, speaking to the fundamental human experiences of love, loss, and mortality. The title itself is a powerful metaphor for the fleeting nature of human existence, and the poem as a whole serves as a reminder that all things must pass, and that our memories will eventually be lost to the sands of time.

One way to interpret the poem is as a meditation on the nature of memory and its role in shaping our identities. The speaker's lament that his memories of his lover will eventually fade away can be seen as a reflection on the impermanence of our sense of self. Just as our memories can be eroded by time, so too can the things that we hold most dear become lost to us. The poem can thus be read as a warning against placing too much emphasis on external factors, such as romantic relationships, in defining our sense of self. Instead, it urges us to look within ourselves and find meaning in the things that are truly timeless and enduring.

Another way to read the poem is as a commentary on the human condition more broadly. The image of the "sunlit uplands" that have now become "misty flats" is a powerful reminder that our perceptions of the world are always shifting and changing, and that nothing in life is ever truly static. Similarly, the image of the "leaf that falls and is forgotten" can be read as a metaphor for the way in which our lives are ultimately inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. The poem thus speaks to a sense of existential angst that is common to all human beings, and which arises from our awareness of our own mortality.


In conclusion, The To-Be-Forgotten is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores some of the most fundamental questions of human existence. Through its evocative imagery and simple yet profound language, Hardy invites us to reflect on the fleeting nature of love, the inevitability of mortality, and the impermanence of all things in life. The poem is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to capture the essence of the human experience, and to offer us solace and understanding in the face of life's most profound mysteries.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The To-Be-Forgotten: A Masterpiece of Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, the renowned English novelist and poet, is known for his melancholic and pessimistic view of life. His works often reflect the harsh realities of society and the inevitability of death. One of his most famous poems, The To-Be-Forgotten, is a perfect example of his style and themes.

The To-Be-Forgotten is a short poem consisting of four stanzas, each with four lines. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, which gives it a rhythmic and musical quality. The poem's title itself is intriguing and thought-provoking, as it raises questions about the nature of memory and the fleeting nature of life.

The first stanza of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the poem. It begins with the line, "I," which immediately establishes a personal and intimate connection between the speaker and the reader. The speaker then goes on to describe a scene of natural beauty, with "the dewy morning grass" and "the swallows' wings." The use of vivid imagery creates a sense of nostalgia and longing, as if the speaker is reminiscing about a past experience.

The second stanza introduces the theme of mortality, as the speaker reflects on the transience of life. The line, "And these I see, these sparkling eyes," suggests that the speaker is looking at someone or something that is alive and vibrant. However, the next line, "But not, I greatly fear, to see," implies that this person or thing will not last forever. The use of the word "greatly" emphasizes the speaker's sense of loss and sadness.

The third stanza is perhaps the most poignant and powerful of the poem. The speaker imagines a future where they will be forgotten, where their memory will fade away like "the songs of yesterday." The use of the word "forgotten" is significant, as it suggests that the speaker's existence will be erased from history. The line, "And all sweet sights and sounds will be," reinforces this idea of complete erasure. The use of alliteration in this line also adds to the musical quality of the poem.

The final stanza of the poem brings the themes of memory and mortality together. The speaker acknowledges that they too will eventually be forgotten, just like those who came before them. The line, "And they will forget me," is a stark reminder of the inevitability of death and the fleeting nature of life. However, the final line of the poem, "But not for what I have seen and heard," suggests that the speaker's experiences and memories will live on, even if they themselves are forgotten.

Overall, The To-Be-Forgotten is a powerful and poignant poem that explores themes of memory, mortality, and the fleeting nature of life. Hardy's use of vivid imagery and musical language creates a sense of nostalgia and longing, while his pessimistic view of life adds a sense of melancholy and sadness. The poem's title itself is thought-provoking, as it raises questions about the nature of memory and the legacy we leave behind. Despite its somber tone, The To-Be-Forgotten is a masterpiece of English poetry and a testament to Hardy's skill as a writer.

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