'Architectural Masks' by Thomas Hardy

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Poems of the Past and the Present1901IThere is a house with ivied walls,And mullioned windows worn and old,And the long dwellers in those hallsHave souls that know but sordid calls,And dote on gold.IIIn a blazing brick and plated showNot far away a 'villa' gleams,And here a family few may know,With book and pencil, viol and bow,Lead inner lives of dreams.IIIThe philosophic passers say,'See that old mansion mossed and fair,Poetic souls therein are they:And O that gaudy box! Away,You vulgar people there.'

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Beauty and Mystery of Thomas Hardy's "Architectural Masks"

Ah, Thomas Hardy! What a master he was in weaving stories and evoking emotions through his poetry. And "Architectural Masks" is no exception.

At first glance, the poem seems to be about the beauty and grandeur of old buildings, and how they seem to have a life of their own. But as we delve deeper, we see that Hardy is also exploring themes of mortality, memory, and the passing of time.

Let's take a closer look at the poem and unpack its layers of meaning.

The Beauty of Old Buildings

Hardy starts the poem by describing the "carven faces" that adorn old buildings. These faces, or "architectural masks," are more than just decorative elements. They are symbols of the artistry and craftsmanship that went into creating these structures.

The language that Hardy uses to describe these masks is rich and evocative. He speaks of "wonder-waking shapes," "grotesque and grim," and "stony gazes." In doing so, he brings these masks to life, imbuing them with a sense of mystery and power.

As we read on, we see that Hardy is not just admiring the beauty of these structures. He is also using them as a metaphor for the human experience.

Mortality and Memory

In the second stanza, Hardy speaks of how these old buildings outlast their creators:

Their builders they were long ago, Dead and forgotten, - names obscure, And those quaint masks they made to show For evermore, - what did they secure?

Here, Hardy is reminding us that even the greatest achievements of human beings are temporary. The architects and craftsmen who created these buildings are long gone, their names forgotten. The masks they made, however, continue to endure.

This is a powerful reminder of our own mortality. No matter how great our accomplishments, we will all eventually pass away and be forgotten. But like the masks on the buildings, the things we create can live on as a testament to our existence.

Hardy also touches on the idea of memory. The masks on the buildings serve as a reminder of the people who created them, even if their names are lost to history. In the same way, the things we create can serve as a way of preserving our memory long after we are gone.

The Passing of Time

As the poem continues, Hardy explores the theme of time and how it changes everything:

Time with his lichened roll of years Hath decked them with a softened grace That blurs the chisel's lines, and smears The lettered legends round the place.

Here, Hardy is describing how the passage of time has softened the edges of these buildings, blurring the lines of the masks and erasing the inscriptions. But this is not a negative thing. Instead, Hardy sees it as a sign of the beauty that can emerge from decay.

As he says later in the poem:

Decay's effacing fingers trace Art's bold memorials, effigies, And leave but barren walls to grace The scaffoldings of centuries.

Hardy is reminding us that even as things decay and crumble, they can still be beautiful. The starkness of the "barren walls" that remain after the masks have faded can be just as striking as the original work of art.


In "Architectural Masks," Thomas Hardy explores themes of mortality, memory, and the passing of time through the lens of old buildings and their masks. His language is rich and evocative, bringing the masks to life and imbuing them with a sense of mystery and power.

But beyond the beauty of the masks, Hardy is reminding us of the impermanence of all things. No matter how great our achievements, they will eventually fade away. But like the masks on the buildings, the things we create can live on as a testament to our existence.

This is a powerful reminder of the fragility of life and the importance of cherishing the time we have. And it is a testament to the enduring power of art to inspire and evoke emotion, even in the face of decay and death.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Architectural Masks: A Masterpiece by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, the renowned English novelist and poet, is known for his unique style of writing that reflects his deep understanding of human emotions and the complexities of life. One of his most celebrated works is the collection of poems titled "Poetry Architectural Masks," which is a masterpiece in its own right. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of this collection and explore the themes and motifs that make it a timeless classic.

The collection "Poetry Architectural Masks" comprises of 12 poems, each of which is a reflection of Hardy's deep understanding of the human psyche. The poems are written in a variety of forms, including sonnets, ballads, and free verse, and each one is a unique exploration of the human experience. The collection is a testament to Hardy's mastery of the art of poetry, and it showcases his ability to capture the essence of life in a few lines.

One of the most striking features of "Poetry Architectural Masks" is the way in which Hardy uses architecture as a metaphor for the human experience. In many of the poems, he describes buildings and structures as if they were living beings, with their own personalities and emotions. For example, in the poem "The Ruined Maid," Hardy describes a dilapidated building that has been abandoned and left to decay. He writes, "The roof-tree's falling, the walls are thin, / The wind blows through it, the rain comes in." This description creates a vivid image of a building that is no longer able to protect itself from the elements, and it serves as a metaphor for the way in which people can become vulnerable and exposed when they are abandoned or neglected.

Another recurring theme in "Poetry Architectural Masks" is the idea of loss and nostalgia. Many of the poems are written from the perspective of someone who is looking back on a past experience or relationship with a sense of longing and regret. In the poem "The Voice," for example, Hardy writes about a person who hears the voice of a loved one who has passed away. He writes, "Saying that now you are not as you were / But as at first, when our day was fair." This sense of loss and nostalgia is a common theme throughout the collection, and it adds a layer of emotional depth to the poems.

One of the most powerful poems in "Poetry Architectural Masks" is "The Convergence of the Twain," which is a meditation on the sinking of the Titanic. In this poem, Hardy describes the collision of the ship with an iceberg as a kind of cosmic event, in which the forces of nature and fate conspire to bring about a tragic end. He writes, "And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she." This line captures the sense of hubris and tragedy that surrounded the sinking of the Titanic, and it serves as a reminder of the fragility of human life.

Throughout "Poetry Architectural Masks," Hardy uses language in a way that is both precise and evocative. He has a gift for creating images that are both vivid and haunting, and his use of metaphor and symbolism is masterful. For example, in the poem "The Darkling Thrush," Hardy describes a bird singing in the midst of a bleak winter landscape. He writes, "An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small, / In blast-beruffled plume." This description creates a vivid image of a bird that is struggling to survive in a harsh environment, and it serves as a metaphor for the resilience of the human spirit.

In conclusion, "Poetry Architectural Masks" is a masterpiece of English literature that showcases Thomas Hardy's mastery of the art of poetry. Through his use of metaphor, symbolism, and language, Hardy creates a collection of poems that are both beautiful and haunting. The themes of loss, nostalgia, and the fragility of human life are woven throughout the collection, and they serve as a reminder of the complexities of the human experience. If you have not yet had the pleasure of reading "Poetry Architectural Masks," I highly recommend that you do so. It is a timeless classic that will stay with you long after you have finished reading it.

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