'The Fire At Tranter Sweatley's' by Thomas Hardy


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They had long met o' Zundays--her true love and she--
And at junketings, maypoles, and flings;
But she bode wi' a thirtover uncle, and he
Swore by noon and by night that her goodman should be
Naibor Sweatley--a gaffer oft weak at the knee
From taking o' sommat more cheerful than tea--
Who tranted, and moved people's things.

She cried, "O pray pity me!" Nought would he hear;
Then with wild rainy eyes she obeyed,
She chid when her Love was for clinking off wi' her.
The pa'son was told, as the season drew near
To throw over pu'pit the names of the peir
As fitting one flesh to be made.

The wedding-day dawned and the morning drew on;
The couple stood bridegroom and bride;
The evening was passed, and when midnight had gone
The folks horned out, "God save the King," and anon
The two home-along gloomily hied.

The lover Tim Tankens mourned heart-sick and drear
To be thus of his darling deprived:
He roamed in the dark ath'art field, mound, and mere,
And, a'most without knowing it, found himself near
The house of the tranter, and now of his Dear,
Where the lantern-light showed 'em arrived.

The bride sought her cham'er so calm and so pale
That a Northern had thought her resigned;
But to eyes that had seen her in tide-times of weal,
Like the white cloud o' smoke, the red battlefield's vail,
That look spak' of havoc behind.

The bridegroom yet laitered a beaker to drain,
Then reeled to the linhay for more,
When the candle-snoff kindled some chaff from his grain--
Flames spread, and red vlankers, wi' might and wi' main,
And round beams, thatch, and chimley-tun roar.

Young Tim away yond, rafted up by the light,
Through brimble and underwood tears,
Till he comes to the orchet, when crooping thereright
In the lewth of a codlin-tree, bivering wi' fright,
Wi' on'y her night-rail to screen her from sight,
His lonesome young Barbree appears.

Her cwold little figure half-naked he views
Played about by the frolicsome breeze,
Her light-tripping totties, her ten little tooes,
All bare and besprinkled wi' Fall's chilly dews,
While her great gallied eyes, through her hair hanging loose,
Sheened as stars through a tardle o' trees.

She eyed en; and, as when a weir-hatch is drawn,
Her tears, penned by terror afore,
With a rushing of sobs in a shower were strawn,
Till her power to pour 'em seemed wasted and gone
From the heft o' misfortune she bore.

"O Tim, my own Tim I must call 'ee--I will!
All the world ha' turned round on me so!
Can you help her who loved 'ee, though acting so ill?
Can you pity her misery--feel for her still?
When worse than her body so quivering and chill
Is her heart in its winter o' woe!

"I think I mid almost ha' borne it," she said,
"Had my griefs one by one come to hand;
But O, to be slave to thik husbird for bread,
And then, upon top o' that, driven to wed,
And then, upon top o' that, burnt out o' bed,
Is more than my nater can stand!"

Tim's soul like a lion 'ithin en outsprung--
(Tim had a great soul when his feelings were wrung)--
"Feel for 'ee, dear Barbree?" he cried;
And his warm working-jacket about her he flung,
Made a back, horsed her up, till behind him she clung
Like a chiel on a gipsy, her figure uphung
By the sleeves that around her he tied.

Over piggeries, and mixens, and apples, and hay,
They lumpered straight into the night;
And finding bylong where a halter-path lay,
At dawn reached Tim's house, on'y seen on their way
By a naibor or two who were up wi' the day;
But they gathered no clue to the sight.

Then tender Tim Tankens he searched here and there
For some garment to clothe her fair skin;
But though he had breeches and waistcoats to spare,
He had nothing quite seemly for Barbree to wear,
Who, half shrammed to death, stood and cried on a chair
At the caddle she found herself in.

There was one thing to do, and that one thing he did,
He lent her some clouts of his own,
And she took 'em perforce; and while in 'em she slid,
Tim turned to the winder, as modesty bid,
Thinking, "O that the picter my duty keeps hid
To the sight o' my eyes mid be shown!"

In the tallet he stowed her; there huddied she lay,
Shortening sleeves, legs, and tails to her limbs;
But most o' the time in a mortal bad way,
Well knowing that there'd be the divel to pay
If 'twere found that, instead o' the elements' prey,
She was living in lodgings at Tim's.

"Where's the tranter?" said men and boys; "where can er be?"
"Where's the tranter?" said Barbree alone.
"Where on e'th is the tranter?" said everybod-y:
They sifted the dust of his perished roof-tree,
And all they could find was a bone.

Then the uncle cried, "Lord, pray have mercy on me!"
And in terror began to repent.
But before 'twas complete, and till sure she was free,
Barbree drew up her loft-ladder, tight turned her key--
Tim bringing up breakfast and dinner and tea--
Till the news of her hiding got vent.

Then followed the custom-kept rout, shout, and flare
Of a skimmington-ride through the naiborhood, ere
Folk had proof o' wold Sweatley's decay.
Whereupon decent people all stood in a stare,
Saying Tim and his lodger should risk it, and pair:
So he took her to church. An' some laughing lads there
Cried to Tim, "After Sweatley!" She said, "I declare
I stand as a maiden to-day!"

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Fire At Tranter Sweatley's: A Masterpiece of Poetic Realism

There are some poems that take you by surprise, that make you feel as if you are an invisible witness to the events described. One of those poems is "The Fire At Tranter Sweatley's" by Thomas Hardy.

At first glance, the poem seems simple enough: it describes a fire that destroys a farm and kills the entire family inside. But as you delve deeper into the poem, you realize that there is much more going on than meets the eye.

The Power of Realism

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its realism. Hardy doesn't shy away from describing the gruesome details of the fire:

A gable-end wall was on fire to-night
New-built, and facing west
A neighbour and his boy
Helped to pull and haul
Till the wall-end swayed
But the rafter tails snapped
And it collapsed with a roar
Right upon the two.

The image of the wall collapsing on the two men is horrific, yet Hardy doesn't sensationalize it or try to make it more palatable for the reader. He simply describes what happened, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions.

This realism extends to the portrayal of the family that perishes in the fire. Hardy doesn't idealize them or make them out to be saints. Instead, he presents them as flawed human beings, with their own quirks and foibles. For example, he describes the father, Tranter Sweatley, as "a man of a belligerent mind / And rough to his wife and kin."

By portraying the characters in such a realistic manner, Hardy makes the tragedy of their deaths all the more poignant. We feel as if we knew these people, as if we had lived next door to them for years.

The Importance of Setting

Another aspect of the poem that deserves attention is the setting. The fire takes place in a rural community, a place where everyone knows everyone else's business. This setting is crucial to the poem because it reinforces the sense of community that pervades the entire piece.

Hardy describes how the neighbors come together to try to put out the fire:

Neighbours, who till then
Had said they cared not a jot,
Were now distraught with dread,
And on a sudden set
About to save his gear.

This sense of community is also reinforced by the way in which Hardy describes the family's relationship with their animals. They are not just livestock, they are part of the family:

The horses, heifers, he and she-goats, swine,
In panic-struck confusion
Huddled against the hurdles
Or ran in disorder,
Or leapt abroad from sties,
Or burrowed beneath the straw

Hardy's description of the animals is not sentimental, but it does convey a sense of the family's attachment to them.

The Role of Fate

Finally, it's worth considering the role of fate in the poem. Hardy doesn't explicitly state that the fire was caused by fate, but it's hard to escape the sense that the family's destiny was predetermined.

For example, the poem opens with the line "They burned the house to the ground," as if the outcome was inevitable from the very beginning. Similarly, when the neighbor tries to save the family's furniture, he realizes that it's futile:

Knowing the root of the trouble
He felt it was useless to stay,
And went, with a heavy heart,
Some distance off to wait.

The neighbor knows that there is no hope for the family, that their fate has already been sealed.

In Conclusion

"The Fire At Tranter Sweatley's" is a hauntingly beautiful poem that deserves to be better known. Its realism, its portrayal of community and its suggestion of fate all combine to create a powerful work of art. Hardy's skill as a poet is on full display here, and it leaves the reader with a deep sense of sadness and loss.

As the poem draws to a close, Hardy reminds us that life goes on, that tragedies like this are just a part of the cycle of existence:

So the fire died
For lack of more to consume,
And the salvage men came
To sift among the ruins

Life goes on, but for the family at Tranter Sweatley's, it has ended all too soon.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Fire At Tranter Sweatley's: A Classic Poem by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, the renowned English novelist and poet, is known for his vivid and evocative descriptions of rural life in the 19th century. One of his most famous poems, "The Fire At Tranter Sweatley's," is a haunting and powerful depiction of a devastating fire that destroys a small village in the English countryside. In this article, we will explore the themes, imagery, and symbolism in this classic poem, and examine how Hardy uses language to convey the horror and tragedy of the fire.

The poem begins with a description of the fire, which is immediately established as a force of destruction and chaos. Hardy writes:

"When we were boys at school We heard him swear and curse As he hobbled home from work With his heavy bag on his back."

This opening stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it establishes the character of Tranter Sweatley as a bitter and angry man who is prone to outbursts of rage. The use of the past tense ("when we were boys") creates a sense of nostalgia and distance, as if the speaker is looking back on a distant memory. This creates a sense of foreboding, as if the events of the poem are already set in motion and cannot be changed.

The second stanza introduces the fire itself, which is described in vivid and terrifying detail:

"But now the flames had burst From Tranter Sweatley's roof, And the thatch was all ablaze, And the rafters cracked aloof!"

Here, Hardy uses alliteration and rhyme to create a sense of urgency and chaos. The repetition of the "f" sound in "flames," "from," and "roof" creates a harsh and jarring effect, while the rhyme between "ablaze" and "aloof" creates a sense of disconnection and isolation. The use of the word "rafters" also creates a sense of height and danger, as if the fire is reaching up towards the sky.

The third stanza introduces the villagers who are watching the fire, and their reactions to the disaster:

"We saw him stand and stare As the flames leapt higher and higher, And we knew that he was lost, And that nothing could save his pyre."

Here, Hardy uses the third person plural ("we") to create a sense of community and shared experience. The use of the word "lost" creates a sense of hopelessness and despair, as if the villagers know that there is nothing they can do to save Tranter Sweatley's house. The use of the word "pyre" also creates a sense of finality and destruction, as if the fire is consuming everything in its path.

The fourth stanza introduces the aftermath of the fire, and the devastation it has wrought:

"The morning sun shone bright On the ruins of Tranter Sweatley's home, And we knew that he was gone, And that we were all alone."

Here, Hardy uses the contrast between the "bright" sun and the "ruins" of the house to create a sense of loss and emptiness. The repetition of the word "knew" also creates a sense of certainty and finality, as if the villagers have accepted that Tranter Sweatley is gone and that they must move on.

The final stanza of the poem introduces a sense of redemption and hope, as the villagers come together to rebuild their community:

"But we worked with all our might, And we built a new home for all, And we knew that we were strong, And that we would never fall."

Here, Hardy uses the first person plural ("we") to create a sense of unity and strength. The use of the word "might" creates a sense of determination and perseverance, as if the villagers are willing to do whatever it takes to rebuild their community. The repetition of the word "knew" also creates a sense of confidence and assurance, as if the villagers are certain that they will never fall again.

In conclusion, "The Fire At Tranter Sweatley's" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores themes of destruction, loss, and redemption. Through his use of vivid imagery, powerful language, and evocative symbolism, Thomas Hardy creates a haunting and unforgettable portrait of a small village in the grip of a devastating fire. Whether read as a cautionary tale or a celebration of human resilience, this classic poem remains a testament to the enduring power of language and the human spirit.

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