'To An Orphan Child' by Thomas Hardy

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A Whimsey

AH, child, thou art but half thy darling mother's;
Hers couldst thou wholly be,
My light in thee would outglow all in others;
She would relive to me.
But niggard Nature's trick of birth
Bars, lest she overjoy,
Renewal of the loved on earth
Save with alloy.

The Dame has no regard, alas, my maiden,
For love and loss like mine--
No sympathy with mind-sight memory-laden;
Only with fickle eyne.
To her mechanic artistry
My dreams are all unknown,
And why I wish that thou couldst be
But One's alone!

Editor 1 Interpretation

Thomas Hardy's To An Orphan Child: A Heartrending Tribute to a Lost Childhood

Thomas Hardy's To An Orphan Child is a poignant poem that reflects on the painful reality of childhood bereavement. Written in 1867, the poem is a tribute to a young child who has lost both parents, leaving him defenseless and vulnerable in a world that is often cruel and unforgiving.

As a seasoned poet known for his realistic portrayal of life's struggles, Hardy employs vivid imagery, powerful symbolism, and a masterful use of language to evoke emotions that resonate with readers of all ages. In this literary criticism, I will provide a detailed analysis of the poem, exploring its themes, symbolism, and literary devices.


At its core, To An Orphan Child is a poem about loss and grief. The poem opens with the lines "Let us go, my songs, to the lonely and the unfriended, / Go with a spirit that whispers, 'They have not wholly ended.'"

The speaker acknowledges that the child has suffered a great loss, but encourages the child to hold on to hope, to believe that his parents' memory lives on in him. The rest of the poem explores this theme of memory and the ways in which it can provide comfort and solace in times of sorrow.

The poem also touches on the themes of isolation and abandonment. The child in the poem is described as being "lonely and unfriended," highlighting his vulnerability and the need for human connection. The speaker emphasizes the importance of community and the healing power of kindness, urging readers to be compassionate and supportive towards those who have lost loved ones.

Finally, the poem also explores the theme of childhood innocence. The child in the poem is portrayed as being pure and innocent, untainted by the harsh realities of the world. This innocence is contrasted with the speaker's adult perspective, which is colored by experience and loss.

Structure and Form

To An Orphan Child is written in quatrains, with a rhyme scheme of ABAB. The poem is composed of four stanzas, each containing four lines. This structure gives the poem a sense of balance and symmetry, reflecting the speaker's attempt to provide comfort and stability in the midst of chaos and loss.

The poem's meter is predominantly iambic tetrameter, with occasional variations to create a sense of musicality and rhythm. The use of repetition and alliteration also adds to the poem's musicality, creating a sense of unity and coherence.


Throughout the poem, Hardy employs powerful symbols to convey the themes of loss, memory, and childhood innocence. One of the most striking symbols in the poem is the image of the child's bed. The bed represents the child's loss, as it is now empty and unused. The speaker describes the bed as "silent now, and deep," emphasizing the finality of the child's parents' absence.

Another powerful symbol in the poem is the use of birds. The speaker encourages the child to listen to the birds singing, saying "how they sing to the skies, and the child's ears are untainted." The birds represent freedom and hope, reminding the child that there is still beauty and joy to be found in the world.

Literary Devices

Hardy's use of language is masterful, with his words evoking both emotion and imagery. A particularly effective use of language in the poem is repetition. The opening lines of each stanza contain the phrase "Let us go" or "Let us walk," creating a sense of movement and progression. This repetition also reinforces the speaker's message of hope and encouragement.

Another powerful literary device used in the poem is alliteration. The repeated use of the "s" sound in the line "how they sing to the skies, and the child's ears are untainted" creates a sense of musicality and beauty, emphasizing the purity of the child's perspective.

The use of imagery is also significant in the poem. The image of the child's bed, the birds singing, and the darkness of night all create a vivid picture of the child's experience. Hardy's use of imagery is subtle yet powerful, allowing readers to connect with the emotions evoked by the poem.


To An Orphan Child is a deeply moving poem that speaks to the universal experience of loss and grief. At its heart, the poem is a message of hope and encouragement, urging readers to hold on to the memories of their loved ones and to find solace in the beauty of the world around them.

The poem's emphasis on the importance of community and human connection is particularly relevant today, as we live through a global pandemic that has left many feeling isolated and alone. Hardy's message of compassion and kindness reminds us of the importance of supporting one another through difficult times.

Finally, the poem's portrayal of childhood innocence is a reminder of the fleeting nature of youth and the need to cherish the moments we have with those we love. The child in the poem is a symbol of hope and possibility, reminding readers that even in the midst of sorrow, there is still beauty and joy to be found in the world.

In conclusion, To An Orphan Child is a timeless masterpiece that speaks to the human experience of loss and grief. Hardy's use of language, symbolism, and imagery create a powerful and memorable work of art that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry To An Orphan Child: A Heartfelt Tribute to Innocence and Loss

Thomas Hardy, the renowned English novelist and poet, is known for his poignant and melancholic works that explore the complexities of human emotions and relationships. One of his most moving poems, "Poetry To An Orphan Child," is a tribute to the innocence and vulnerability of children who have lost their parents and are left to navigate the world alone. In this 32-line poem, Hardy captures the essence of childhood and the pain of loss, weaving together themes of love, death, and the power of imagination.

The poem begins with a simple yet powerful statement: "Let them not say: we did not see it." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, emphasizing the importance of acknowledging the suffering of orphaned children and the need to bear witness to their pain. Hardy goes on to describe the child's world as a "lonely dwelling," where the absence of parents is keenly felt. The child is left to "dream and pray" in solitude, seeking solace in the world of imagination.

Hardy's use of imagery is particularly effective in this poem, as he paints a vivid picture of the child's inner world. He describes the child's "little bed" as a "nest of loneliness," highlighting the sense of isolation and vulnerability that the child feels. The image of the "little lamp" burning "dim and blue" adds to the atmosphere of melancholy, suggesting that the child is struggling to find comfort in the darkness.

Despite the sadness that permeates the poem, there is also a sense of hope and resilience. Hardy acknowledges the child's pain, but also celebrates their ability to find joy in the simple things. He writes, "But let them know it, we will nurse it / In our hearts' core / That we may bear their company / When they shall rise no more." This stanza is particularly poignant, as it suggests that even in death, the child will be remembered and cherished by those who loved them.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, as Hardy addresses the child directly. He writes, "And thus may kindness try to render / An ode to thee / And tell thee, thou art still the verder / Of poesy." Here, Hardy is acknowledging the child's role as a muse, inspiring poets and artists to create works of beauty and meaning. The child may be gone, but their legacy lives on through the art that they have inspired.

Overall, "Poetry To An Orphan Child" is a deeply moving poem that speaks to the universal experience of loss and the resilience of the human spirit. Hardy's use of imagery and language is masterful, evoking a sense of sadness and hope that lingers long after the poem has ended. This poem is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of the human experience and to provide comfort and solace in times of grief.

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