'The Dance At The Phoenix' by Thomas Hardy

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To Jenny came a gentle youth
From inland leazes lone;
His love was fresh as apple-blooth
By Parrett, Yeo, or Tone.
And duly he entreated her
To be his tender minister,
And call him aye her own.

Fair Jenny's life had hardly been
A life of modesty;
At Casterbridge experience keen
Of many loves had she
From scarcely sixteen years above:
Among them sundry troopers of
The King's-Own Cavalry.

But each with charger, sword, and gun,
Had bluffed the Biscay wave;
And Jenny prized her gentle one
For all the love he gave.
She vowed to be, if they were wed,
His honest wife in heart and head
From bride-ale hour to grave.

Wedded they were. Her husband's trust
In Jenny knew no bound,
And Jenny kept her pure and just,
Till even malice found
No sin or sign of ill to be
In one who walked so decently
The duteous helpmate's round.

Two sons were born, and bloomed to men,
And roamed, and were as not:
Alone was Jenny left again
As ere her mind had sought
A solace in domestic joys,
And ere the vanished pair of boys
Were sent to sun her cot.

She numbered near on sixty years,
And passed as elderly,
When, in the street, with flush of fears,
On day discovered she,
From shine of swords and thump of drum,
Her early loves from war had come,
The King's Own Cavalry.

She turned aside, and bowed her head
Anigh Saint Peter's door;
"Alas for chastened thoughts!" she said;
"I'm faded now, and hoar,
And yet those notes--they thrill me through,
And those gay forms move me anew
As in the years of yore!"...

--'Twas Christmas, and the Phoenix Inn
Was lit with tapers tall,
For thirty of the trooper men
Had vowed to give a ball
As "Theirs" had done (fame handed down)
When lying in the self-same town
Ere Buonaparté's fall.

That night the throbbing "Soldier's Joy,"
The measured tread and sway
Of "Fancy-Lad" and "Maiden Coy,"
Reached Jenny as she lay
Beside her spouse; till springtide blood
Seemed scouring through her like a flood
That whisked the years away.

She rose, and rayed, and decked her head
To hide her ringlets thin;
Upon her cap two bows of red
She fixed with hasty pin;
Unheard descending to the street,
She trod the flags with tune-led feet,
And stood before the Inn.

Save for the dancers', not a sound
Disturbed the icy air;
No watchman on his midnight round
Or traveller was there;
But over All-Saints', high and bright,
Pulsed to the music Sirius white,
The Wain by Bullstake Square.

She knocked, but found her further stride
Checked by a sergeant tall:
"Gay Granny, whence come you?" he cried;
"This is a private ball."
--"No one has more right here than me!
Ere you were born, man," answered she,
"I knew the regiment all!"

"Take not the lady's visit ill!"
Upspoke the steward free;
"We lack sufficient partners still,
So, prithee let her be!"
They seized and whirled her 'mid the maze,
And Jenny felt as in the days
Of her immodesty.

Hour chased each hour, and night advanced;
She sped as shod with wings;
Each time and every time she danced--
Reels, jigs, poussettes, and flings:
They cheered her as she soared and swooped
(She'd learnt ere art in dancing drooped
From hops to slothful swings).

The favorite Quick-step "Speed the Plough"--
(Cross hands, cast off, and wheel)--
"The Triumph," "Sylph," "The Row-dow dow,"
Famed "Major Malley's Reel,"
"The Duke of York's," "The Fairy Dance,"
"The Bridge of Lodi" (brought from France),
She beat out, toe and heel.

The "Fall of Paris" clanged its close,
And Peter's chime told four,
When Jenny, bosom-beating, rose
To seek her silent door.
They tiptoed in escorting her,
Lest stroke of heel or chink of spur
Should break her goodman's snore.

The fire that late had burnt fell slack
When lone at last stood she;
Her nine-and-fifty years came back;
She sank upon her knee
Beside the durn, and like a dart
A something arrowed through her heart
In shoots of agony.

Their footsteps died as she leant there,
Lit by the morning star
Hanging above the moorland, where
The aged elm-rows are;
And, as o'ernight, from Pummery Ridge
To Maembury Ring and Standfast Bridge
No life stirred, near or far.

Though inner mischief worked amain,
She reached her husband's side;
Where, toil-weary, as he had lain
Beneath the patchwork pied
When yestereve she'd forthward crept,
And as unwitting, still he slept
Who did in her confide.

A tear sprang as she turned and viewed
His features free from guile;
She kissed him long, as when, just wooed.
She chose his domicile.
Death menaced now; yet less for life
She wished than that she were the wife
That she had been erstwhile.

Time wore to six. Her husband rose
And struck the steel and stone;
He glanced at Jenny, whose repose
Seemed deeper than his own.
With dumb dismay, on closer sight,
He gathered sense that in the night,
Or morn, her soul had flown.

When told that some too mighty strain
For one so many-yeared
Had burst her bosom's master-vein,
His doubts remained unstirred.
His Jenny had not left his side
Betwixt the eve and morning-tide:
--The King's said not a word.

Well! times are not as times were then,
Nor fair ones half so free;
And truly they were martial men,
The King's-Own Cavalry.
And when they went from Casterbridge
And vanished over Mellstock Ridge,
'Twas saddest morn to see.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Dance At The Phoenix: A Masterpiece by Thomas Hardy

As I delve into the world of Thomas Hardy, I find myself struck by the beauty and complexity of his writing. Among his many works, "The Dance At The Phoenix" stands out as a true masterpiece. This poem, with its rich imagery and intricate metaphors, explores themes of love, loss, and the fleeting nature of happiness.


The poem is set in a bustling city, where people gather at the Phoenix Inn for a night of revelry and dancing. The speaker, a man watching from a distance, observes the scene with a mix of fascination and sadness. He sees couples twirling around, lost in the moment, and wonders whether their happiness is real or just a fleeting illusion.

As the night wears on, the tone of the poem shifts. The speaker becomes increasingly aware of the transience of life, and his thoughts turn to his own mortality. The poem ends with a haunting image of the dance continuing on, even after the participants have all passed away.


One of the most striking aspects of "The Dance At The Phoenix" is its use of metaphor. Hardy compares the dancers to "butterflies" and "leaves", emphasizing the fragility and transience of their joy. He also uses the image of a "mirror" to describe the scene, suggesting that what we see is a reflection of our own desires and illusions.

Another key theme in the poem is the contrast between the joy of the moment and the inevitability of loss. The speaker observes that "the joy that is here today / May be dead tomorrow", highlighting the fleeting nature of happiness. He also notes that the dancers will eventually grow old and die, leaving behind only memories of their past happiness.

There is a sense of ambiguity in the poem, as the speaker both celebrates the joy of the moment and mourns its passing. He describes the dancers as "happy and free", yet there is a sense of sadness underlying the scene. This tension between joy and sorrow is a hallmark of Hardy's writing, and it is particularly effective in this poem.


"The Dance At The Phoenix" can be read as a meditation on the human condition. The poem explores the universal experience of seeking happiness and joy, while also acknowledging the inevitability of loss and death. It is a reminder to savor the present moment, even as we acknowledge its impermanence.

The poem can also be seen as a critique of modern life. The Phoenix Inn is a symbol of the urban lifestyle, with its focus on pleasure and distraction. The dancers are caught up in the moment, oblivious to the world outside. Hardy suggests that this pursuit of pleasure is ultimately empty and unfulfilling, as it cannot overcome the reality of mortality.

Finally, "The Dance At The Phoenix" can be read as a commentary on the nature of art itself. The poem is a work of beauty and artistry, yet it also acknowledges the transience of all things. The dance continues on, even after the dancers have passed away. This suggests that art is a means of capturing moments of beauty and joy, even as they slip away into the past.


In conclusion, Thomas Hardy's "The Dance At The Phoenix" is a masterpiece of poetry. Its rich imagery, complex metaphors, and universal themes make it a work of enduring beauty and significance. As we read the poem, we are challenged to confront the fleeting nature of happiness and the inevitability of loss, and to savor the present moment while we still can. I urge anyone who has not yet experienced this remarkable work of art to do so without delay.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Dance At The Phoenix: A Masterpiece of Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, the renowned English novelist and poet, is known for his ability to capture the essence of human emotions and experiences in his works. One of his most celebrated poems, The Dance At The Phoenix, is a perfect example of his mastery of the art of poetry. This poem is a beautiful depiction of the joy and sorrow of life, and how they are intertwined in the human experience.

The Dance At The Phoenix is a narrative poem that tells the story of a group of people who gather at a local inn, The Phoenix, to dance and celebrate life. The poem is set in the late 19th century, and the language and imagery used by Hardy transport the reader to that time and place. The poem is divided into three parts, each of which represents a different stage of the dance.

The first part of the poem sets the scene and introduces the characters. The dancers are described as a motley crew, with different ages, backgrounds, and personalities. They are all united by their desire to forget their troubles and enjoy the moment. The narrator describes the atmosphere of the dance as "a whirl of sound and motion," and the reader can almost feel the energy and excitement of the dancers.

The second part of the poem is where the tone shifts, and the darker side of life is revealed. The narrator describes how one of the dancers, a young woman named Nell, suddenly collapses on the dance floor. The other dancers rush to her aid, but it is too late. Nell is dead, and the joyous atmosphere of the dance is shattered. The narrator describes the scene as "a hush of horror," and the reader can feel the shock and sadness of the dancers.

The third part of the poem is where Hardy's genius shines through. Instead of ending the poem on a note of despair, he shows how life goes on, even in the face of tragedy. The dancers continue to dance, but now their movements are slower and more somber. The narrator describes how the music changes, and the dancers begin to dance a waltz. The waltz is a slow, mournful dance, and it represents the sadness and loss that the dancers are feeling.

However, even in their grief, the dancers find solace in each other's company. The narrator describes how they hold hands and dance in a circle, as if to say that they are all in this together. The poem ends with the image of the dancers slowly fading away, as if they are disappearing into the night.

The Dance At The Phoenix is a masterpiece of poetry because it captures the complexity of human emotions and experiences. Hardy shows how joy and sorrow are intertwined in life, and how we must learn to accept both. The poem is also a commentary on the human condition, and how we must find meaning and purpose in life, even in the face of tragedy.

Hardy's use of language and imagery is also noteworthy. He creates a vivid picture of the dance, and the reader can almost hear the music and see the dancers moving. The contrast between the joyous atmosphere of the dance and the sudden tragedy is also well done, and it creates a powerful emotional impact.

In conclusion, The Dance At The Phoenix is a beautiful and poignant poem that captures the essence of the human experience. Hardy's mastery of poetry is evident in every line, and the poem is a testament to his skill as a writer. It is a timeless work of art that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

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