'Heredity' by Thomas Hardy

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I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
Over oblivion.

The years-heired feature that can
In curve and voice and eye
Despise the human span
Of durance -- that is I;
The eternal thing in man,
That heeds no call to die

Editor 1 Interpretation

Heredity by Thomas Hardy: A Deep Dive into the Complexities of Identity

Do we inherit not only our physical traits, but also our personality and character from our ancestors? Can we break free from the chains of our genetic makeup or are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes and suffer the same fate as those who came before us? These are the questions that Thomas Hardy raises in his haunting poem "Heredity".

Context and Analysis

Hardy wrote and published "Heredity" in 1901, a time when the study of genetics was still in its infancy and the concept of nature versus nurture was starting to gain traction among intellectuals and scientists. The poem is written in the form of a dramatic monologue, where the speaker reflects on his life and his family history, and wonders if his own troubled existence is predetermined by his lineage.

The speaker of the poem is a man who describes himself as "born in the purple" - a royal expression that suggests he comes from a privileged and respected background. However, he quickly reveals that his family tree is tainted with dark secrets and scandals, including adultery, murder, and suicide. He acknowledges the irony of being the "heir to woes, not lands", as he inherited not only his ancestors' titles and estates, but also their sins and sorrows.

The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of heredity. In the first stanza, the speaker wonders if he is doomed to follow the same path as his forebears, and if his own vices and weaknesses are the result of his genetic inheritance. He mentions his father's alcoholism, his mother's nervous breakdown, and his grandfather's infidelity, all of which seem to have left a mark on his own psyche. He describes himself as a "soul sick at the strain of inherited guilt", suggesting that he feels burdened by his family's legacy and unable to escape its influence.

In the second stanza, the speaker turns his attention to the physical resemblances between himself and his ancestors. He notes that he shares his father's "ruddy hue" and his grandfather's "restless eye", and that his son will likely inherit his own "shattered frame" and "bitter tongue". He questions whether these similarities are a mere coincidence or a sign of a deeper connection between generations. He muses that "the blood that formed them long ago / Is battling in his own to flow", implying that there is a constant struggle between his inherited traits and his own will.

In the third and final stanza, the speaker reflects on the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death. He notes that his ancestors are all gone, leaving behind only their portraits on the walls and their memories in his mind. He wonders if he will suffer the same fate, and if his own legacy will be just as fleeting. He concludes that "the past is evermore the same / And epochs are as one in aim", suggesting that despite the progress of time and the changing of generations, the fundamental truths of human existence remain constant.


At its core, "Heredity" is a meditation on the complexities of identity and the role that genetics plays in shaping who we are. The speaker is torn between his desire to break free from his ancestral curse and his fear that he is destined to repeat their mistakes. He is haunted by the idea that he is not truly in control of his own life, but rather a puppet of his genetic makeup.

The poem raises questions about the nature of free will and the extent to which we can overcome our inherited traits. Is it possible to overcome a family history of addiction, mental illness, or violence, or are we doomed to follow in our ancestors' footsteps? Hardy seems to suggest that while we may inherit certain physical and psychological traits from our forebears, we still have the power to shape our own destiny. The speaker's sense of fatalism is not entirely justified, as he is able to reflect on his own situation and question the assumptions that have been handed down to him.

Furthermore, the poem highlights the importance of context and perspective when it comes to understanding identity. The speaker's status as a member of the aristocracy gives him a certain level of privilege and power, but it also comes with a heavy burden of expectation and obligation. His struggles with his family history may seem trivial to someone from a different background, but for him they are all-consuming. The poem reminds us that identity is not just a matter of genetics, but also of social and cultural factors that shape our perceptions of ourselves and others.

Finally, "Heredity" is a testament to Hardy's skill as a poet and his ability to convey complex emotions with precision and subtlety. The poem is rich with vivid imagery and metaphors that capture the speaker's sense of despair and resignation. The use of the dramatic monologue form allows us to enter into the speaker's mind and experience his thoughts and feelings firsthand. Hardy's language is both lyrical and direct, conveying the depth of the speaker's emotions without ever becoming convoluted or obscure.


In conclusion, "Heredity" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the complexities of identity and the legacy of the past. By examining the intersection of genetics, culture, and free will, Hardy raises questions that are still relevant today. The poem reminds us that while we may be shaped by our ancestors, we are not defined by them, and that we have the power to create our own future. Ultimately, "Heredity" is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to capture the human experience and to engage with the timeless questions of existence.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Heredity: A Classic Poem by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, the renowned English novelist and poet, is known for his deep and insightful works that explore the complexities of human nature and the human condition. One of his most famous poems, Heredity, is a powerful reflection on the impact of our ancestors on our lives and the inevitability of our own mortality. In this article, we will delve into the meaning and significance of this classic poem.

The poem begins with the speaker contemplating the inevitability of death, and how it is an inescapable fate that we all must face. He then reflects on the idea that our ancestors, who have long since passed away, continue to live on in us through our physical and mental traits. This idea of heredity, or the passing down of traits from one generation to the next, is a central theme of the poem.

The speaker then goes on to describe how our ancestors, despite being long gone, still have a profound impact on our lives. He uses vivid imagery to describe how their blood still flows through our veins, and how their memories and experiences are imprinted on our minds. He also notes how our physical appearance and mannerisms are often inherited from our ancestors, further emphasizing the idea of heredity.

However, the poem takes a darker turn as the speaker reflects on the negative traits that can also be passed down through generations. He notes how some people are born with a predisposition towards certain vices, such as alcoholism or violence, due to their genetic makeup. This idea of being trapped by our own genetics is a sobering thought, and one that is explored in depth throughout the poem.

Despite the bleakness of this idea, the poem ultimately ends on a note of acceptance and resignation. The speaker acknowledges that we are all products of our ancestors, and that our lives are shaped by the forces of heredity and fate. He notes that even though we may try to resist these forces, we are ultimately powerless to change our own destiny.

One of the most striking aspects of Heredity is the way in which Hardy uses language to convey his ideas. The poem is written in a simple, straightforward style, with short, declarative sentences that emphasize the inevitability of our fate. The use of vivid imagery, such as the idea of our ancestors' blood flowing through our veins, adds a sense of immediacy and urgency to the poem.

Another notable aspect of the poem is the way in which it explores the idea of determinism. The speaker notes that our lives are shaped by forces beyond our control, such as our genetic makeup and the actions of our ancestors. This idea of being trapped by our own biology and history is a powerful one, and one that has been explored by many philosophers and writers throughout history.

Overall, Heredity is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the complex interplay between our biology, our history, and our destiny. Through its use of vivid imagery and simple language, it conveys a sense of inevitability and resignation that is both haunting and beautiful. As we reflect on our own lives and the lives of our ancestors, we are reminded of the profound impact that our past has on our present, and the inevitability of our own mortality.

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