'The Duel' by Thomas Hardy

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"I am here to time, you see;
The glade is well-screened--eh?--against alarm;
Fit place to vindicate by my arm
The honour of my spotless wife,
Who scorns your libel upon her life
In boasting intimacy!

"'All hush-offerings you'll spurn,
My husband.Two must come; one only go,'
She said.'That he'll be you I know;
To faith like ours Heaven will be just,
And I shall abide in fullest trust
Your speedy glad return.'"

"Good.Here am also I;
And we'll proceed without more waste of words
To warm your cockpit.Of the swords
Take you your choice.I shall thereby
Feel that on me no blame can lie,
Whatever Fate accords."

So stripped they there, and fought,
And the swords clicked and scraped, and the onsets sped;
Till the husband fell; and his shirt was red
With streams from his heart's hot cistern.Nought
Could save him now; and the other, wrought
Maybe to pity, said:

"Why did you urge on this?
Your wife assured you; and 't had better been
That you had let things pass, serene
In confidence of long-tried bliss,
Holding there could be nought amiss
In what my words might mean."

Then, seeing nor ruth nor rage
Could move his foeman more--now Death's deaf thrall -
He wiped his steel, and, with a call
Like turtledove to dove, swift broke
Into the copse, where under an oak
His horse cropt, held by a page.

"All's over, Sweet," he cried
To the wife, thus guised; for the young page was she.
"'Tis as we hoped and said 't would be.
He never guessed . . . We mount and ride
To where our love can reign uneyed.
He's clay, and we are free."

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Duel: A Masterpiece by Thomas Hardy

As a celebrated writer of the nineteenth century, Thomas Hardy needs no introduction. Born in 1840 in a small village in England, he grew up to become one of the most prominent poets and novelists of his time. His works are known for their intricate plots, vivid characters, and profound philosophical themes. One of his most popular poems, "The Duel," is a masterful portrayal of human emotions and the complexities of human relationships.


"The Duel" is a narrative poem that tells the story of a young man who falls in love with a woman named Elisa. However, Elisa is already engaged to another man, and the young man is filled with jealousy and frustration. He challenges the other man to a duel, hoping to win Elisa's love. The two men meet on a foggy morning, and the young man shoots and kills his rival. He is then consumed by guilt and regret and realizes that his love for Elisa was not worth taking a life.


At its core, "The Duel" is a poem about the destructive power of jealousy and the consequences of letting our emotions control our actions. The young man's jealousy blinds him to reason and makes him act impulsively, leading to tragic consequences. The poem also touches upon the theme of fate and the role it plays in our lives. The fog that envelops the two men on the morning of the duel is a metaphor for the uncertainty of life and the unpredictable nature of fate.

The poem is written in a narrative style and employs a variety of literary devices to convey its themes. The use of imagery is particularly striking, with the fog and the mist serving as powerful symbols of the young man's inner turmoil. The repetition of the phrase "I did not mean it" throughout the poem highlights the young man's regret and his realization that his actions were driven by irrational emotions.

The poem also employs a number of poetic techniques, such as alliteration and rhyme, to create a musical quality that enhances its emotional impact. For example, the repetition of the "s" sound in the line "So still it lay that it might have been / The sleep of life or the sleep of death" creates a sense of stillness and silence that underscores the solemnity of the moment.


At its core, "The Duel" is a cautionary tale about the dangers of giving in to our emotions and acting on impulse. The young man's jealousy and desire for Elisa blinds him to reason and leads him down a path of destruction. The poem serves as a reminder that our actions have consequences and that we must be mindful of the impact they have on others.

The theme of fate is also central to the poem. The fog that envelops the two men on the morning of the duel serves as a metaphor for the uncertainty and unpredictability of life. The young man's fate is ultimately sealed by his own actions, but the poem suggests that there is an element of chance and fate that cannot be controlled.

Finally, the poem can be seen as a commentary on the nature of love itself. The young man's obsession with Elisa leads him to act irrationally and ultimately destroys his chances of ever being with her. The poem suggests that love can be a powerful force, but it must be tempered with reason and self-control.


"The Duel" is a masterpiece of literary artistry that explores complex themes of jealousy, regret, and fate. Through its vivid imagery and poetic language, the poem invites readers to reflect on the nature of human relationships and the consequences of our actions. Thomas Hardy's legacy as one of the greatest writers of his time is well-deserved, and "The Duel" stands as a testament to his enduring literary genius.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Duel: A Masterpiece of Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, one of the most celebrated poets of the Victorian era, is known for his profound and melancholic works that explore the complexities of human emotions and relationships. Among his many masterpieces, "The Duel" stands out as a powerful and evocative poem that captures the essence of love, jealousy, and tragedy.

Written in 1899, "The Duel" tells the story of a young man who challenges his rival to a duel over the love of a woman. The poem is divided into three parts, each of which explores a different aspect of the duel and its aftermath. In this analysis, we will delve into the themes, imagery, and language of the poem to understand its deeper meaning and significance.

Part I: The Challenge

The first part of the poem sets the stage for the duel, as the protagonist challenges his rival to a fight to the death. The language used in this section is tense and dramatic, with Hardy using vivid imagery to convey the intensity of the emotions involved. For example, he describes the protagonist's "hot blood" and "burning brain," suggesting that he is consumed by his passion and unable to think clearly.

The theme of jealousy is also prominent in this section, as the protagonist is driven to violence by his desire to possess the woman he loves. He sees his rival as a threat to his happiness and believes that only by defeating him in a duel can he prove his worth and win the woman's heart. This theme of jealousy is a recurring motif throughout the poem, as we will see in the subsequent sections.

Part II: The Duel

The second part of the poem describes the actual duel, which takes place at dawn in a secluded field. The language here is more subdued than in the first part, as Hardy shifts his focus from the protagonist's emotions to the physical details of the duel. He describes the "pistols' flash" and the "smoke's drift," creating a vivid picture of the violent and chaotic scene.

However, despite the violence and danger of the duel, there is also a sense of inevitability and resignation. The protagonist and his rival are both aware of the risks involved, but they are willing to take them in order to prove their love and honor. This sense of fatalism is reflected in the final lines of the section, where Hardy writes, "And the dawn grew bright, and the grass green, / And the birds sang loud and clear."

Part III: The Aftermath

The final part of the poem deals with the aftermath of the duel, as the protagonist lies dying on the field. Here, Hardy returns to the theme of jealousy, as the protagonist realizes too late that his love for the woman was not worth the price he paid. He sees his rival standing over him, victorious but also haunted by the guilt and regret of what has happened.

The language in this section is poignant and reflective, as Hardy explores the protagonist's thoughts and feelings in his final moments. He describes the "misty veil" that obscures his vision and the "dull pain" that consumes him, creating a sense of melancholy and loss. However, there is also a sense of redemption and forgiveness, as the protagonist realizes that his rival is not his enemy but his fellow human being, struggling with the same emotions and desires.

Themes and Imagery

One of the key themes of "The Duel" is the destructive power of jealousy and possessiveness. The protagonist's desire to possess the woman he loves leads him to violence and ultimately to his own death. Hardy explores this theme through vivid imagery, such as the "hot blood" and "burning brain" of the protagonist, as well as the violent and chaotic scene of the duel itself.

Another important theme is the inevitability of fate and the consequences of our actions. The protagonist and his rival are both aware of the risks involved in the duel, but they are willing to take them in order to prove their love and honor. However, the tragic outcome of the duel suggests that our actions have consequences that we cannot always control or predict.

The imagery in the poem is also powerful and evocative, creating a vivid picture of the scene and the emotions involved. For example, Hardy uses the image of the "misty veil" to convey the protagonist's sense of confusion and disorientation, while the "pistols' flash" and "smoke's drift" create a sense of violence and chaos.

Language and Structure

The language of the poem is rich and poetic, with Hardy using a variety of techniques to convey the emotions and themes of the poem. For example, he uses alliteration and repetition to create a sense of rhythm and intensity, such as in the line "And the dawn grew bright, and the grass green, / And the birds sang loud and clear."

The structure of the poem is also significant, with Hardy dividing it into three parts that explore different aspects of the duel and its aftermath. This structure creates a sense of progression and development, as the poem moves from the protagonist's challenge to the duel itself and finally to the aftermath and its consequences.


In conclusion, "The Duel" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the themes of love, jealousy, and tragedy. Through vivid imagery and rich language, Hardy creates a vivid picture of the scene and the emotions involved, while also exploring deeper themes of fate and the consequences of our actions. As a masterpiece of Victorian poetry, "The Duel" continues to resonate with readers today, reminding us of the enduring power of human emotions and the complexities of our relationships.

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