'I Look Into My Glass' by Thomas Hardy

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I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, "Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!"

For then, I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity.

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.

Editor 1 Interpretation

I Look Into My Glass: A Deep Dive into Thomas Hardy's Poem

As the great Victorian poet, Thomas Hardy, wrote, "Time changes everything." And nowhere is this more evident than in his hauntingly beautiful poem, "I Look Into My Glass." This poem is a profound meditation on the nature of time, memory, and mortality, and it has puzzled and intrigued readers for over a century. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deep into the meaning and significance of this classic work of literature.

The Structure of the Poem

Before we begin our analysis, let's take a moment to look at the structure of the poem. "I Look Into My Glass" is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem consisting of three quatrains (four-line stanzas) and a final rhyming couplet. It follows the traditional rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, which is typical of the Shakespearean sonnet. However, Hardy's use of enjambment (running one line into the next without a pause) gives the poem a more contemporary feel.

The Poem's Theme

The theme of "I Look Into My Glass" is time and its effects on the human experience. Hardy uses the speaker's reflection in a mirror as a metaphor for the passage of time and the speaker's own mortality. The poem can be divided into three distinct sections, each of which explores a different aspect of this theme.

The First Quatrain

The first quatrain of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The speaker looks into his mirror and sees his reflection, which he describes as "gray." This grayness is a metaphor for the aging process, and it suggests that the speaker is no longer young and vibrant. However, the use of the word "gaze," which implies a sense of concentration and focus, suggests that the speaker is not resigned to the inevitability of his own mortality. Instead, he is actively contemplating the passage of time and what it means for him.

The Second Quatrain

The second quatrain of the poem continues the theme of time, but it also introduces the idea of memory. The speaker reflects on his past and the memories that he has accumulated over the course of his life. He describes these memories as "old loves" and "old dreams," suggesting that they are no longer relevant to his current existence. However, the repetition of the phrase "gone with the wind" suggests that these memories are not entirely forgotten. Instead, they linger like the scent of a perfume, reminding the speaker of a time long past.

The Third Quatrain

The third quatrain of the poem shifts the focus from memory to mortality. The speaker acknowledges that his time is running out and that he is "fast nearing" his own death. However, he does not regard this as a cause for despair. Instead, he reflects on the fact that his "heart cannot grow old." This line suggests that the speaker's spirit will live on even after his physical body has passed away. The use of the word "heart" is significant here, as it implies that the speaker's essence is not tied to his physical body, but rather to his emotional and intellectual life.

The Final Couplet

The final couplet of the poem brings the theme of time full circle. The speaker acknowledges that his physical body will eventually decay and that his image in the mirror will become "dumb estranged." However, he also suggests that his memory will live on, as long as there are people who remember him. The use of the word "some" in the final line is significant, as it suggests that the speaker does not expect to be remembered by everyone. Instead, he is content with the knowledge that he will live on in the memories of those who knew and loved him.


So what does all of this mean? What is Hardy trying to say with this poem? At its core, "I Look Into My Glass" is a meditation on the nature of time and the human experience. Hardy suggests that time is both immutable and unstoppable, but that our memories and our essence can live on even after our physical bodies have decayed. The poem is a reminder that we are all mortal, but that our lives and our experiences have value, even if they are ultimately transient.


In conclusion, "I Look Into My Glass" is a masterpiece of literature, a haunting meditation on the human condition that has stood the test of time. Hardy's use of language and his skillful exploration of the theme of time have made this poem a classic of English literature, and it continues to resonate with readers today. Whether we are young or old, whether we are facing the prospect of death or simply contemplating the passage of time, this poem reminds us that our lives have meaning and that our memories and our essence can live on long after we are gone.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

I Look Into My Glass: A Poem of Reflection and Mortality

Thomas Hardy’s poem, I Look Into My Glass, is a hauntingly beautiful piece that explores the themes of reflection and mortality. Written in 1898, the poem is a reflection on the poet’s own life and the inevitability of death. In this analysis, we will delve deeper into the poem’s meaning and explore the various literary devices used by Hardy to convey his message.

The poem begins with the speaker looking into a mirror and seeing his reflection. He describes his reflection as “gray-haired with grief” and “wrinkled with care”. This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it immediately establishes the theme of aging and the toll that life takes on a person.

The second stanza of the poem is where Hardy really begins to delve into the theme of mortality. The speaker reflects on the fact that he is getting older and that his time on earth is limited. He describes himself as being “nearer to [his] journey’s end” and acknowledges that death is inevitable. This stanza is particularly powerful because it forces the reader to confront their own mortality and consider the fact that they too will one day face death.

In the third stanza, the speaker reflects on the legacy that he will leave behind. He wonders if anyone will remember him after he is gone and if his life will have had any real impact on the world. This is a common fear that many people have, and Hardy captures it perfectly in this stanza. The speaker’s fear of being forgotten after death is a universal one, and it is something that many people can relate to.

The fourth stanza is perhaps the most powerful in the entire poem. The speaker reflects on the fact that he has lived a life full of mistakes and regrets. He acknowledges that he has made many poor choices and that he has hurt people along the way. This stanza is particularly poignant because it shows the speaker’s vulnerability and his willingness to confront his own flaws. It is a reminder that we are all imperfect and that we all make mistakes.

The final stanza of the poem is where Hardy brings everything together. The speaker reflects on the fact that his time on earth is limited and that he must make the most of the time he has left. He acknowledges that he cannot change the past, but he can make the most of the present. This is a powerful message that encourages the reader to live in the moment and make the most of their time on earth.

Throughout the poem, Hardy uses a variety of literary devices to convey his message. One of the most prominent devices is imagery. Hardy uses vivid descriptions to paint a picture of the speaker’s reflection in the mirror. He describes the reflection as being “gray-haired with grief” and “wrinkled with care”. These descriptions create a powerful image in the reader’s mind and help to establish the theme of aging and mortality.

Another literary device that Hardy uses is repetition. The phrase “I look into my glass” is repeated throughout the poem, creating a sense of continuity and emphasizing the theme of reflection. The repetition of this phrase also serves to reinforce the idea that the speaker is looking back on his life and reflecting on the choices he has made.

Finally, Hardy uses symbolism to convey his message. The mirror in the poem is a symbol of reflection and self-awareness. It represents the speaker’s ability to look back on his life and reflect on the choices he has made. The mirror also represents the inevitability of death, as it is a reminder that we will all one day face our own mortality.

In conclusion, I Look Into My Glass is a powerful poem that explores the themes of reflection and mortality. Through vivid imagery, repetition, and symbolism, Hardy conveys a message that is both universal and timeless. The poem is a reminder that life is fleeting and that we must make the most of the time we have. It is a call to live in the moment and to make the most of every day.

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