'The Two Men' by Thomas Hardy

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THERE were two youths of equal age,
Wit, station, strength, and parentage;
They studied at the self-same schools,
And shaped their thoughts by common rules.

One pondered on the life of man,
His hopes, his endings, and began
To rate the Market's sordid war
As something scarce worth living for.

"I'll brace to higher aims," said he,
"I'll further Truth and Purity;
Thereby to mend and mortal lot
And sweeten sorrow. Thrive I not,

"Winning their hearts, my kind will give
Enough that I may lowly live,
And house my Love in some dim dell,
For pleasing them and theirs so well."

Idly attired, with features wan,
In secret swift he labored on;
Such press of power had brought much gold
Applied to things of meaner mould.

Sometimes he wished his aims had been
To gather gains like other men;
Then thanked his God he'd traced his track
Too far for wish to drag him back.

He lookèd from his loft one day
To where his slighted garden lay;
Nettles and hemlock hid each lawn,
And every flower was starved and gone.

He fainted in his heart, whereon
He rose, and sought his plighted one,
Resolved to loose her bond withal,
Lest she should perish in his fall.

He met her with a careless air,
As though he'd ceased to find her fair,
And said: "True love is dust to me;
I cannot kiss: I tire of thee!"

(That she might scorn him was he fain,
To put her sooner out of pain;
For incensed love breathes quick and dies,
When famished love a-lingering lies.)

Once done, his soul was so betossed,
It found no more the force it lost:
Hope was his only drink and food,
And hope extinct, decay ensued.

And, living long so closely penned,
He had not kept a single friend;
He dwindled thin as phantoms be,
And drooped to death in poverty....

Meantime his schoolmate had gone out
To join the fortune-finding rout;
He liked the winnings of the mart,
But wearied of the working part.

He turned to seek a privy lair,
Neglecting note of garb and hair,
And day by day reclined and thought
How he might live by doing nought.

"I plan a valued scheme," he said
To some. "But lend me of your bread,
And when the vast result looms nigh,
In profit you shall stand as I."

Yet they took counsel to restrain
Their kindness till they saw the gain;
And, since his substance now had run,
He rose to do what might be done.

He went unto his Love by night,
And said: "My Love, I faint in fight:
Deserving as thou dost a crown,
My cares shall never drag thee down."

(He had descried a maid whose line
Would hand her on much corn and wine,
And held her far in worth above
One who could only pray and love.)

But this Fair read him; whence he failed
To do the deed so blithely hailed;
He saw his projects wholly marred,
And gloom and want oppressed him hard;

Till, living to so mean an end,
Whereby he'd lost his every friend,
He perished in a pauper sty,
His mate the dying pauper nigh.

And moralists, reflecting, said,
As "dust to dust" in burial read
Was echoed from each coffin-lid,
"These men were like in all they did."

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Two Men by Thomas Hardy: A Tale of Love, Loss and Regret

Thomas Hardy is known for his tender and melancholic poetry that delves deep into the human experience. One such poem that stands out is "The Two Men." Written in 1917, the poem is a poignant exploration of a love triangle and the regret that comes with missed opportunities.


The poem opens with a description of a landscape that is "lonely, far and wide." The speaker then introduces two men who are walking towards each other on this desolate path. As they approach, the speaker describes their physical appearance and hints at their emotional state. The first man is described as "gray," which suggests he is older and perhaps wiser. The second man is described as "young," which implies he is inexperienced and naive.

As the two men meet, the older man begins to reminisce about a woman they both loved. He describes her as "fair and fond," and reveals that she was once his lover. The younger man is surprised by this revelation and asks the older man why they are not still together. The older man replies with a sense of regret, explaining that he was too afraid to commit to her and that he let her go. He then warns the younger man not to make the same mistake he did, urging him to seize the opportunity to be with the woman he loves.


One of the major themes of the poem is regret. The older man is filled with remorse for not being brave enough to commit to the woman he loved. He realizes too late that he has lost her forever and that he cannot go back and change the past. This sense of regret is further emphasized by the desolate landscape in which the poem is set. The vast emptiness of the land reflects the emptiness of the older man's life without his beloved.

Another theme that runs throughout the poem is the transience of life. The poem suggests that life is fleeting and that opportunities must be seized when they present themselves. The older man realizes too late that he has let his opportunity for happiness slip away, and he wants to prevent the younger man from making the same mistake. The poem thus becomes a cautionary tale about the importance of seizing the moment.


"The Two Men" can be interpreted in several ways. On one level, the poem can be seen as a commentary on the societal expectations placed on men. The older man's reluctance to commit to the woman he loved may have been due to the pressure he felt to conform to traditional gender roles. In this interpretation, the poem is a critique of how societal norms can prevent people from pursuing their own happiness.

On another level, the poem can be seen as a meditation on the nature of love. The older man's love for the woman he lost is portrayed as pure and transcendent. The poem suggests that love is something that can be experienced across time and space, and that it can bring meaning to life even after it has passed.

Finally, the poem can be seen as a reflection on the human condition. The landscape in which the poem is set is vast and empty, and the two men are alone in this desolate world. This suggests that the human experience is ultimately one of loneliness and isolation. However, the poem also suggests that there is hope in the form of love and connection.

Literary Techniques

"The Two Men" is written in iambic pentameter, which creates a sense of rhythm and structure to the poem. This formal structure contrasts with the desolate landscape and the emotional turmoil of the characters, which creates a tension in the poem.

The poem also employs several literary devices, such as metaphor and personification. For example, the landscape is described as "lonely, far and wide," which personifies the land and creates a sense of isolation. The use of metaphor in the description of the woman as "fair and fond" creates a sense of nostalgia and longing.


"The Two Men" is a beautifully crafted poem that explores the themes of regret, transience and love. The poem is a poignant reminder of the importance of seizing opportunities when they present themselves and not letting fear or societal expectations prevent us from pursuing happiness. Hardy's use of iambic pentameter and literary devices creates a sense of structure and tension that adds depth to the poem. Overall, "The Two Men" is a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Two Men: A Masterpiece by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, the renowned English novelist and poet, is known for his exceptional literary works that explore the complexities of human relationships and emotions. One of his most celebrated poems, "The Two Men," is a masterpiece that delves into the themes of love, loss, and regret. In this article, we will analyze and explain this classic poem in detail, exploring its various nuances and interpretations.

The poem begins with a vivid description of a landscape, where two men are walking side by side. The first man is described as "young and ruddy," while the second man is "old and grey." The contrast between the two men is striking, and it sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The young man is full of life and vigor, while the old man is weary and tired. The landscape around them is also described in detail, with the "heathery slope" and the "misty plain" creating a sense of melancholy and nostalgia.

As the two men walk, they engage in a conversation that reveals their contrasting perspectives on life. The young man is optimistic and hopeful, while the old man is cynical and resigned. The young man talks about his dreams and aspirations, while the old man talks about his regrets and missed opportunities. The conversation between the two men is a reflection of the different stages of life, and the poem explores the themes of youth and age, hope and despair, and the inevitability of change.

The poem is structured in four stanzas, each with four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, and the meter is iambic tetrameter. The use of rhyme and meter creates a musical quality to the poem, and the repetition of certain words and phrases adds to its lyrical quality. For example, the phrase "misty plain" is repeated twice in the poem, creating a sense of continuity and unity.

The first stanza sets the scene and introduces the two men. The second stanza focuses on the conversation between the two men, with the young man expressing his hopes and dreams, and the old man expressing his regrets. The third stanza explores the contrast between the two men, with the young man representing youth and vitality, and the old man representing age and weariness. The final stanza brings the poem to a close, with the two men parting ways and the young man continuing on his journey.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of imagery. Hardy uses vivid and evocative language to create a sense of place and atmosphere. For example, the phrase "heathery slope" conjures up an image of a rugged and wild landscape, while the phrase "misty plain" creates a sense of mystery and ambiguity. The use of imagery adds depth and richness to the poem, and it helps to create a sense of mood and tone.

Another notable feature of the poem is its exploration of the human condition. The conversation between the two men is a reflection of the different stages of life, and it highlights the universal themes of hope, regret, and acceptance. The young man represents the optimism and energy of youth, while the old man represents the wisdom and experience of age. The poem suggests that both perspectives are valuable, and that each stage of life has its own unique challenges and opportunities.

The poem also explores the theme of change and transformation. The landscape around the two men is described as "changing," with the mist and the heather creating a sense of impermanence and flux. The conversation between the two men also suggests that change is inevitable, and that we must learn to adapt and accept the changes that come our way. The poem suggests that life is a journey, and that we must embrace the challenges and opportunities that come our way.

In conclusion, "The Two Men" is a masterpiece of English poetry that explores the themes of love, loss, and regret. The poem is a reflection of the different stages of life, and it highlights the universal themes of hope, despair, and acceptance. The use of imagery, rhyme, and meter creates a musical quality to the poem, and the repetition of certain words and phrases adds to its lyrical quality. The poem is a testament to Hardy's skill as a poet, and it remains a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today.

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