'The Dance At The Phoenix' by Thomas Hardy

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TO Jenny came a gentle youth
From inland leazes lone;
His love was fresh as apple-blooth
By Parrett, Yeo, or Tone.
And duly he entreated her
To be his tender minister,
And call him aye her own.

Fair Jenny's life had hardly been
A life of modesty;
At Casterbridge experience keen
Of many loves had she
From scarcely sixteen years above:
Among them sundry troopers of
The King's-Own Cavalry.

But each with charger, sword, and gun,
Had bluffed the Biscay wave;
And Jenny prized her gentle one
For all the love he gave.
She vowed to be, if they were wed,
His honest wife in heart and head
From bride-ale hour to grave.

Wedded they were. Her husband's trust
In Jenny knew no bound,
And Jenny kept her pure and just,
Till even malice found
No sin or sign of ill to be
In one who walked so decently
The duteous helpmate's round.

Two sons were born, and bloomed to men,
And roamed, and were as not:
Alone was Jenny left again
As ere her mind had sought
A solace in domestic joys,
And ere the vanished pair of boys
Were sent to sun her cot.

She numbered near on sixty years,
And passed as elderly,
When, in the street, with flush of fears,
On day discovered she,
From shine of swords and thump of drum,
Her early loves from war had come,
The King's Own Cavalry.

She turned aside, and bowed her head
Anigh Saint Peter's door;
"Alas for chastened thoughts!" she said;
"I'm faded now, and hoar,
And yet those notes--they thrill me through,
And those gay forms move me anew
As in the years of yore!"...

--'Twas Christmas, and the Phoenix Inn
Was lit with tapers tall,
For thirty of the trooper men
Had vowed to give a ball
As "Theirs" had done (fame handed down)
When lying in the self-same town
Ere Buonaparté's fall.

That night the throbbing "Soldier's Joy,"
The measured tread and sway
Of "Fancy-Lad" and "Maiden Coy,"
Reached Jenny as she lay
Beside her spouse; till springtide blood
Seemed scouring through her like a flood
That whisked the years away.

She rose, and rayed, and decked her head
To hide her ringlets thin;
Upon her cap two bows of red
She fixed with hasty pin;
Unheard descending to the street,
She trod the flags with tune-led feet,
And stood before the Inn.

Save for the dancers', not a sound
Disturbed the icy air;
No watchman on his midnight round
Or traveller was there;
But over All-Saints', high and bright,
Pulsed to the music Sirius white,
The Wain by Bullstake Square.

She knocked, but found her further stride
Checked by a sergeant tall:
"Gay Granny, whence come you?" he cried;
"This is a private ball."
--"No one has more right here than me!
Ere you were born, man," answered she,
"I knew the regiment all!"

"Take not the lady's visit ill!"
Upspoke the steward free;
"We lack sufficient partners still,
So, prithee let her be!"
They seized and whirled her 'mid the maze,
And Jenny felt as in the days
Of her immodesty.

Hour chased each hour, and night advanced;
She sped as shod with wings;
Each time and every time she danced--
Reels, jigs, poussettes, and flings:
They cheered her as she soared and swooped
(She'd learnt ere art in dancing drooped
From hops to slothful swings).

The favorite Quick-step "Speed the Plough"--
(Cross hands, cast off, and wheel)--
"The Triumph," "Sylph," "The Row-dow dow,"
Famed "Major Malley's Reel,"
"The Duke of York's," "The Fairy Dance,"
"The Bridge of Lodi" (brought from France),
She beat out, toe and heel.

The "Fall of Paris" clanged its close,
And Peter's chime told four,
When Jenny, bosom-beating, rose
To seek her silent door.
They tiptoed in escorting her,
Lest stroke of heel or chink of spur
Should break her goodman's snore.

The fire that late had burnt fell slack
When lone at last stood she;
Her nine-and-fifty years came back;
She sank upon her knee
Beside the durn, and like a dart
A something arrowed through her heart
In shoots of agony.

Their footsteps died as she leant there,
Lit by the morning star
Hanging above the moorland, where
The aged elm-rows are;
And, as o'ernight, from Pummery Ridge
To Maembury Ring and Standfast Bridge
No life stirred, near or far.

Though inner mischief worked amain,
She reached her husband's side;
Where, toil-weary, as he had lain
Beneath the patchwork pied
When yestereve she'd forthward crept,
And as unwitting, still he slept
Who did in her confide.

A tear sprang as she turned and viewed
His features free from guile;
She kissed him long, as when, just wooed.
She chose his domicile.
Death menaced now; yet less for life
She wished than that she were the wife
That she had been erstwhile.

Time wore to six. Her husband rose
And struck the steel and stone;
He glanced at Jenny, whose repose
Seemed deeper than his own.
With dumb dismay, on closer sight,
He gathered sense that in the night,
Or morn, her soul had flown.

When told that some too mighty strain
For one so many-yeared
Had burst her bosom's master-vein,
His doubts remained unstirred.
His Jenny had not left his side
Betwixt the eve and morning-tide:
--The King's said not a word.

Well! times are not as times were then,
Nor fair ones half so free;
And truly they were martial men,
The King's-Own Cavalry.
And when they went from Casterbridge
And vanished over Mellstock Ridge,
'Twas saddest morn to see.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Dance At The Phoenix: A Masterpiece of Thomas Hardy's Poetry

When it comes to Thomas Hardy's poetry, one can hardly ignore the beauty and depth of "The Dance At The Phoenix." This classic piece of literature has been appreciated by generations of readers, who have been mesmerized by the vivid imagery and the emotional intensity of the poem. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the different aspects of this masterpiece and try to unravel its hidden meanings.

The Setting and the Characters

The poem is set in a pub called "The Phoenix," which is located in the heart of a bustling town. The pub is filled with people from all walks of life, who have come to enjoy the music and the dance. The protagonist of the poem is a young woman who is watching the scene from a distance. She is described as being "alone and apart," and her presence adds a sense of mystery and intrigue to the poem.

The other characters in the poem are the dancers, the musicians, and the people who are watching the dance. The dancers are described as being "lithe and young," and their movements are compared to the "swaying of trees." The musicians are playing a lively tune, and their music is responsible for creating the festive atmosphere in the pub. The people who are watching the dance are described as being "rapt" and "enchanted," and their reactions add to the overall mood of the poem.

The Themes

At its core, "The Dance At The Phoenix" is a poem about the human experience. It explores the themes of love, longing, and loss, and it does so in a way that is both poignant and universal. One of the key themes of the poem is the idea of transience. The dance is a moment of joy and celebration, but it is also fleeting. The dancers will eventually grow old, the musicians will stop playing, and the people who are watching will go home. The poem reminds us that life is short, and that we should cherish the moments of happiness that come our way.

Another theme of the poem is the idea of isolation. The protagonist is described as being "alone and apart," and her presence adds a sense of melancholy to the poem. The dancers, musicians, and people who are watching the dance are all connected by the joy that they are experiencing, but the protagonist is detached from this sense of community. This theme is a reminder that even in moments of celebration, there are those who feel left out.

The Imagery

One of the things that make "The Dance At The Phoenix" such a powerful poem is its vivid imagery. The poem is filled with metaphors and similes that bring the scene to life. For example, the dancers are compared to the "swaying of trees," while the musicians are compared to "the hum of bees." These comparisons create a sense of movement and energy that is essential to the poem.

The poem also makes use of a variety of sensory details. The music is described as being "flung to the roof," while the people are described as being "swallowed up in the sound." These details help to create a sense of immersion, and they allow the reader to imagine themselves in the pub, watching the dance.

The Language

The language of "The Dance At The Phoenix" is both simple and profound. The poem is written in a straightforward style, with short sentences that are easy to understand. However, the simplicity of the language belies the complexity of the emotions that the poem explores.

One of the most striking things about the language of the poem is the use of repetition. The phrase "the dance at the Phoenix" is repeated several times throughout the poem, creating a sense of rhythm and continuity. This repetition also serves to emphasize the transience of the dance, and the fleeting nature of the joy that it brings.

The Interpretation

So, what does "The Dance At The Phoenix" mean? At its core, the poem is a meditation on the human experience. It reminds us that life is short, and that we should cherish the moments of happiness that come our way. It also reminds us that even in moments of celebration, there are those who feel left out.

The protagonist of the poem represents those who are isolated and alone. She is watching the dance from a distance, unable to fully participate in the joy that is unfolding before her. This theme of isolation is a reminder that we should strive to connect with others, and to build communities where everyone feels valued and included.

At the same time, the poem is also a celebration of life. The dance is a moment of pure joy, and the musicians and dancers are living in the moment, fully immersed in the experience. This theme of joy is a reminder that even in the midst of hardship and struggle, there are moments of beauty and happiness that can sustain us.


In conclusion, "The Dance At The Phoenix" is a masterpiece of Thomas Hardy's poetry. It explores the themes of love, longing, and loss, in a way that is both poignant and universal. Its vivid imagery and simple language create a powerful emotional impact, and its message is as relevant today as it was when it was first written. This poem is a testament to the enduring power of art, and a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is beauty and meaning to be found.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Dance At The Phoenix: A Masterpiece of Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, the renowned English novelist and poet, is known for his exceptional ability to capture the essence of human emotions and experiences in his works. One of his most celebrated poems, The Dance At The Phoenix, is a perfect example of his mastery in the art of poetry. The poem, published in 1899, is a poignant portrayal of the human condition, exploring themes of love, loss, and the fleeting nature of life.

The Dance At The Phoenix is a narrative poem that tells the story of a group of people who gather at the Phoenix Inn for a dance. The poem begins with a description of the scene, with the narrator painting a vivid picture of the bustling inn, the music, and the dancers. The poem is written in the third person, and the narrator takes on an omniscient perspective, providing insight into the thoughts and feelings of the characters.

The poem's central character is a young woman named Nell, who is described as being "fair and sweet." Nell is the object of affection for a young man named Jock, who is described as being "tall and strong." Jock is deeply in love with Nell, and the two share a tender moment on the dance floor. However, their happiness is short-lived, as Nell suddenly collapses and dies in Jock's arms.

The suddenness of Nell's death is a stark reminder of the fleeting nature of life. The poem explores the theme of mortality, with the characters reflecting on the brevity of life and the inevitability of death. The narrator describes the scene after Nell's death, with the dancers continuing to dance, oblivious to the tragedy that has just occurred. The poem's final lines are particularly poignant, with the narrator reflecting on the transience of life:

"And the dancers go on, with their hearts full of mirth, Till the dawn of the day that shall see them in earth."

The Dance At The Phoenix is a beautifully crafted poem, with Hardy's use of language and imagery creating a vivid and evocative picture of the scene. The poem's structure is also noteworthy, with the use of rhyme and meter adding to the poem's musicality and rhythm. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, with a rhyme scheme of ABAB.

Hardy's use of symbolism is also notable in The Dance At The Phoenix. The Phoenix Inn, where the dance takes place, is a symbol of rebirth and renewal. The phoenix is a mythical bird that is said to rise from the ashes of its own death, symbolizing the cyclical nature of life. The use of the phoenix as a symbol in the poem is particularly poignant, given the theme of mortality that runs throughout the poem.

The poem's characters are also richly drawn, with Hardy providing insight into their thoughts and feelings. Nell is a particularly sympathetic character, with her sudden death serving as a reminder of the fragility of life. Jock's grief is also palpable, with his love for Nell shining through in his actions and words.

In conclusion, The Dance At The Phoenix is a masterpiece of poetry, showcasing Hardy's exceptional talent as a writer. The poem's exploration of themes of love, loss, and mortality is both poignant and thought-provoking, with Hardy's use of language and imagery creating a vivid and evocative picture of the scene. The poem is a testament to the enduring power of poetry, and a reminder of the beauty and complexity of the human experience.

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