'The Contretemps' by Thomas Hardy

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A forward rush by the lamp in the gloom,
And we clasped, and almost kissed;
But she was not the woman whom
I had promised to meet in the thawing brume
On that harbour-bridge; nor was I he of her tryst.So loosening from me swift she said:
"O why, why feign to be
The one I had meant - to whom I have sped
To fly with, being so sorrily wed,"
'Twas thus and thus that she upbraided me.My assignation had struck upon
Some others' like it, I found.
And her lover rose on the night anon;
And then her husband entered on
The lamplit, snowflaked, sloppiness around."Take her and welcome, man!" he cried:
"I wash my hands of her.
I'll find me twice as good a bride!"
- All this to me, whom he had eyed,
Plainly, as his wife's planned deliverer.And next the lover: "Little I knew,
Madam, you had a third!
Kissing here in my very view!"
- Husband and lover then withdrew.
I let them; and I told them not they erred.Why not? Well, there faced she and I -
Two strangers who'd kissed, or near,
Chancewise. To see stand weeping by
A woman once embraced, will try
The tension of a man the most austere.So it began; and I was young,
She pretty, by the lamp,
As flakes came waltzing down among
The waves of her clinging hair, that hung
Heavily on her temples, dark and damp.And there alone still stood we two;
She once cast off for me,
Or so it seemed: while night ondrew,
Forcing a parley what should do
We twain hearts caught in one catastrophe.In stranded souls a common strait
Wakes latencies unknown,
Whose impulse may precipitate
A life-long leap. The hour was late,
And there was the Jersey boat with its funnel agroan."Is wary walking worth much pother?"
It grunted, as still it stayed.
"One pairing is as good as another
Where is all venture! Take each other,
And scrap the oaths that you have aforetime made."- Of the four involved there walks but one
On earth at this late day.
And what of the chapter so begun?
In that odd complex what was done?
Well; happiness comes in full to none:
Let peace lie on lulled lips: I will not say.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Contretemps: A Masterpiece of Thomas Hardy

Have you ever read a poem that leaves you with a feeling of unease? That makes you question the morality of the characters involved? A poem that can be both beautiful and disturbing at the same time? Thomas Hardy's "The Contretemps" is one such poem. Published in his collection Moments of Vision in 1917, "The Contretemps" is a masterpiece of narrative poetry that delves into the complexities of love, betrayal, and regret.


The poem is narrated by an omniscient speaker who tells the story of a young woman named Edith who lives in a small village in rural England. Edith is engaged to be married to a young man named Albert. However, she is also in love with another man, a wealthy and sophisticated gentleman named Lord Leighton.

One day, Lord Leighton invites Edith to take a walk with him in the woods. As they walk, they come across a clearing where they see a group of gypsies playing music. Lord Leighton asks Edith to dance with him, and she agrees. They dance together, lost in the music, until Albert appears on the scene. Seeing Edith dancing with another man, he is filled with rage and jealousy. A fight ensues, and Lord Leighton is killed.

The poem ends with Edith's regret and sorrow over what has happened. She is left to mourn the loss of both the men she loved and to live with the knowledge that her actions have caused such tragedy.


At its core, "The Contretemps" is a poem about the consequences of actions. It explores the idea that every decision we make has ripple effects that can impact not only ourselves but also those around us. Edith's decision to pursue a relationship with Lord Leighton, despite being engaged to Albert, sets in motion a chain of events that results in Lord Leighton's death.

The poem also touches on the themes of love and betrayal. Edith is torn between her love for Albert and her desire for Lord Leighton. Her decision to betray Albert ultimately leads to his violent outburst and Lord Leighton's death. This underscores the idea that love can be a powerful force, but it can also lead to destructive consequences.

Another theme that is explored in the poem is the idea of social class. Lord Leighton is portrayed as a wealthy and sophisticated gentleman, while Albert is a simple farmer. Edith's attraction to Lord Leighton highlights the class differences that existed in Victorian society and the allure of the upper class to those in the lower classes.

One of the things that make "The Contretemps" so powerful is the way in which Hardy tells the story. The poem is written in a narrative style, which allows the reader to become fully immersed in the story. The use of vivid, sensory language brings the scene to life, making it feel as though the reader is watching the events unfold before their eyes.

Additionally, Hardy's use of symbolism adds depth and complexity to the poem. The gypsies playing music in the clearing can be seen as a symbol of freedom and spontaneity, contrasting with the rigid societal norms that Edith is expected to conform to. The dance between Edith and Lord Leighton can be seen as a symbol of their illicit relationship, while the violence that ensues can be seen as a symbol of the destructive nature of love.


In conclusion, "The Contretemps" is a masterful work of narrative poetry that delves into the complexities of love, betrayal, and regret. Through the story of Edith, Hardy explores the consequences of actions and the destructive nature of love. The poem is a powerful commentary on the societal norms of Victorian England and the allure of the upper classes to those in the lower classes. Hardy's use of vivid language and symbolism brings the story to life, making it feel as though the reader is a part of the scene. "The Contretemps" is a true masterpiece of poetry and a testament to Hardy's skill as a writer.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Contretemps by Thomas Hardy is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a poem that speaks to the human experience, and it is a poem that is still relevant today. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of The Contretemps.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a scene of a man and a woman who are having an argument. The man is angry and the woman is upset. The speaker describes the scene in vivid detail, using language that is both poetic and realistic. We can feel the tension in the air, and we can sense the emotions of the two people involved.

The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem. It is a scene of conflict, and it is a scene that is familiar to many of us. We have all been in situations where we have argued with someone we care about. The poem captures the complexity of these situations, and it does so in a way that is both beautiful and haunting.

The second stanza shifts the focus to the speaker. The speaker is watching the scene unfold, and he is reflecting on his own life. He thinks about the mistakes he has made, and he wonders if he will ever be able to make things right. This stanza is a powerful reminder that we are all flawed, and that we all have regrets.

The third stanza returns to the scene of the argument. The man and the woman are still arguing, but now the speaker is able to see things from a different perspective. He realizes that the man is not entirely to blame, and that the woman is not entirely innocent. This stanza is a reminder that there are always two sides to every story, and that it is important to try to see things from multiple perspectives.

The fourth stanza is perhaps the most powerful of the poem. The speaker reflects on the fact that life is short, and that we should not waste our time on petty arguments. He urges the man and the woman to make peace, and he reminds them that they are both human beings who are capable of love and forgiveness. This stanza is a call to action, and it is a reminder that we should always strive to be better people.

The fifth and final stanza brings the poem to a close. The man and the woman have made peace, and the speaker is left to reflect on the scene. He realizes that life is full of contretemps, or disagreements, but that these disagreements can be resolved if we are willing to listen to each other and to see things from multiple perspectives. This stanza is a hopeful one, and it is a reminder that there is always a way forward, even in the midst of conflict.

The structure of the poem is simple but effective. It is a five-stanza poem, with each stanza consisting of four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, which gives the poem a sense of order and symmetry. The simplicity of the structure allows the language of the poem to shine, and it allows the themes of the poem to be explored in a clear and concise way.

The language of the poem is both poetic and realistic. Hardy uses vivid imagery to describe the scene of the argument, and he uses simple language to convey the message of the poem. The language is accessible to all readers, and it is a reminder that poetry does not have to be complicated to be effective.

In conclusion, The Contretemps by Thomas Hardy is a classic poem that speaks to the human experience. It is a poem that explores the themes of conflict, regret, forgiveness, and hope. The structure of the poem is simple but effective, and the language is both poetic and realistic. The poem is a reminder that life is full of contretemps, but that there is always a way forward if we are willing to listen to each other and to see things from multiple perspectives. It is a poem that is still relevant today, and it is a poem that will continue to be relevant for generations to come.

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