When we as strangers sought their catering care, veiled smiles bespoke their thought of what we were…THOMAS HARDY
Hey there A Level aficionados, we’ve been expecting you. This time, we’re lifting the lid on one of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex poems, offering At an Inn analysis for AQA A Level poetry students. We’ll be covering:
- At an Inn context
- About the author
- At an Inn form
- At an Inn structure
- At an Inn rhythm
- At an Inn analysis
- At an Inn analysis: quick summary
Ready for some At an Inn analysis? Let’s go…
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During the estranged years of his marriage to Emma Gifford, where Hardy began seeing other women, he struck a friendship with an army officer’s wife called Florence Henniker. Despite his initial intentions appearing to have been of a romantic nature, their relationship remained platonic, with any romantic ideas declined by Florence.
At an Inn written in 1893, and believed to be about Florence, takes place early on in their friendship not long after they had met. The pair stop at an inn to dine together, but the staff mistake them for lovers and quickly warm to them because “love quicks the world”. Despite the disappointment of the staff, and Hardy, they cannot seal their love and desire with a kiss in public even if they did love each other.
In the final stanza of the poem, Hardy reflects on the paradox of the relationship where, despite not being together, the couple do love each other, yet people observing them would not know. Hardy seems to be reflecting on how the initial romantic and sexual attachment of two lovers in a relationship is apparent to observers, yet lovers who have been together for many years have lost the desire and glow.
In the final lines of the same stanza, Hardy is calling on his lover to rekindle feelings from that day and to recreate them once more before death parts them. At the time of the poem, they are in fact physically parted as they are not together. There are many factors keeping them apart, including the fact that he is a married man!
He ends the poem pleading with higher powers to be able to return to the inn where they would have been able to be together and love each other as they do now.
About the Author
Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, to his parents Thomas and Jemima Hardy. His father was a stonemason and builder, whilst it is believed that he got his love of literature from his mother. After leaving school at the age of 16, Hardy started an apprenticeship with a local architect whilst conducting self-study of poetry and writing.
Whilst working in Cornwall in 1870, he met his wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford. Emma was the niece of an archdeacon, and whilst their love story started romantically she believed that she was his social superior and grew to feel that she had married beneath herself. She eventually became a recluse whilst Hardy began seeing other women, including Florence Dugdale whom he married after Emma’s death in 1912. It is claimed that after Emma’s death, Hardy became a truly great poet with many of his works showing him coming to terms with the loss of his wife, their early love, and the guilt he faced afterwards.
Hardy had left his architectural career behind in 1872 to pursue his literary career with his novels being well received by his audiences. However, Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895) lead to fierce debate and strong criticism with their controversial topics. Hardy was so affected by this that he never returned to novel writing again.
In 1928, Hardy passed away and his ashes were deposited in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. His heart, removed before cremation, was interred in the graveyard with his family and Emma. After Florence’s death in 1937, her ashes were buried in the same place.
At an Inn Form
The poem comprises five octets (eight lines per stanza). The rigidity of this form serves as a reminder of the rigidity of their relationship because of social boundaries. Societal expectations in the Victorian Era meant it was heavily frowned upon for an unmarried couple to be seen dining together in this way, or even for a married person to be dining with another married individual of the opposite sex. Although the assumption of the staff at the inn was that they were a couple in love, at least for his companion the desire to uphold her morals and adhere to the societal expectations were still there as the reason she did not reciprocate his desires.
At an Inn Structure
The speaker’s rising hope and disappointment is reflected throughout the structure of the poem. In the first two stanzas, enjambment is used in the opening lines to reflect how the speaker cannot control his desires and need for romantic fulfilment from his companion. The setting of the inn, how they are catered to, and the assumption that they are a couple makes him feel free to attempt to fulfil those desires.
As the poem develops, the use of caesura becomes more marked as a reminder of the firm boundaries in their companionship. The caesura also emphasises the speaker’s disappointment that his feelings are not reciprocated and his later regret at not being able to take the opportunity whilst they were together. The rising hope and disappointment of the speaker is also evident in the alternating line length throughout the poem.
At an Inn Rhythm
The ABABCDCD rhyme scheme of the poem emphasises the rigid boundaries of the relationship of the speaker and his companion. It could also be considered to highlight the speaker’s desire for reciprocation. Additionally, the half-rhyme used throughout the poem highlights the unfulfillment of both the speaker’s romantic desires and the expectations of the staff at the inn.
At an Inn Analysis
Personification is used in the opening stanza of the poem to express that the speaker is suppressing his desire for romantic fulfilment caused by the social and gender ideologies of companions of the opposite sex. Love is also personified within the poem to suggest that it can hold such a power over a person that it has the potential to control them and push them to despair: an indication of his own despair and being romantically rejected perhaps.
The opening lines of the poem use alliteration to suggest that the speaker and his companion feel comfortable at the inn where no one knows them and it is assumed that they are a couple in love. They are treated well by the staff who are warmed by their supposed romance and they are free to spend the time together without breaking any societal expectations in the eyes of the staff. The speaker almost becomes fixated on the idea that, to the outside world, they appear like they are in a relationship, he is hoping for something more and is ‘resigned’ to the same idea as the staff that they could be in love.
Astrological and Biblical allusions within the second stanza suggest that the speaker believes that they are perhaps destined for each other if astrological or supernatural forces are pushing them together. This then leads him to question the intentions of the higher powers in bringing them together whilst highlighting the misunderstanding of their relationship from both the speaker and the staff.
With the assumption that the companion in the poem is Hardy’s married acquaintance Florence Henniker, we know that the relationship remained platonic with anything more declined by Florence herself. The theme of expectation versus reality, coupled with disappointment is prevalent throughout the poem. The expectations of the speaker coupled with the expectations of the staff at the inn may have filled the speaker with hope, but the coldness between the companions when they are alone, and the kiss that was never sealed is a harsh reminder of the reality that must be faced about their relationship.
Social boundaries are regularly referred to within the poem emphasising that the speaker feels that it is initially societal expectations that keep them apart, before his realisation and regret at the end of the poem that now they are kept apart geographically. It is his one last wish that they can be together again where they are able to express their love to each other.
At an Inn Analysis: Quick Summary
- The poem comprises five octets (eight lines per stanza)
- This rigidity of this form serves as a reminder of the rigidity of the relationship in the poem because of social boundaries
- The ABABCDCD rhyme scheme of the poem emphasises the rigid boundaries of the relationship of the speaker and his companion
- The speaker’s rising hope and disappointment is reflected throughout the structure of the poem
- In the first two stanzas, enjambment is used in the opening lines to reflect how the speaker cannot control his desires and need for romantic fulfilment from his companion
- The opening lines of the poem use alliteration to suggest that the speaker and his companion feel comfortable at the inn where no one knows them and it is assumed that they are a couple in love
At an Inn Revision from Beyond: Advanced
If you’re after a hand with more A Level poetry, click below!
O severing sea and land, O laws of men, ere death, once let us stand as we stood then!THOMAS HARDY
Well, we had fun. We hope our At an Inn analysis helps when the time comes for revision.
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