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The insignificance of human life compared to the passage of time and continuation of the life cycle are explored in both Thomas Hardy’s “Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave” and John Keats “When I Have Fears”. Hardy uses the relationships between a dead woman and her family, friends and pet to show this insignificance, while Keats uses the grandiosity of nature.
Although the poems use different rhyming techniques, similarities are found in their structures. Hardy writes in a style of his own creation but uses four of the six verses to highlight different examples of the woman’s relationships with those left behind. The fifth is used as a building up of hope, and the final verse is used to show both the narrator and the reader how soon what we consider important and meaningful in life, can be diminished or forgotten in the lives and daily routines of those left behind. Keats, meanwhile, uses a standard sonnet form, using his three quatrains to each give a different example of what the man hopes to accomplish in life. The final rhyming couplet shows his acceptance of his life as small and insignificant as compared to the largeness of nature and the world as a whole;
“-then in the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.”
These poems are written from different viewpoints; Hardy writes as a woman already in her grave, and Keats as a man still alive. Yet both narrators come to the conclusion that what we consider to be of great importance in our lives, is often of little to no importance after we die. Time will pass, and life will go on just as will without us. However, both of the narrators figure this fact out in very different ways. The man in Keats’ poem, while alive, has given time to stop and consider how his concerns are proved trivial, and therefore prevent his worrying. Assumeably this will help him to enjoy his life, and to be grateful for whatever time he is left with. The woman in Hardy’s poem, however, is still preoccupied with her life, even after she is dead and buried in her grave. It takes the “daily trot” of her dog to make her realize how little she truly has affected the lives of those around her.
The insignificance of the woman in Hardy’s poem is shown in four separate examples. The first examines the relationship with her husband. Instead of going to her grave site with flowers and sadness, he has just wed another, richer woman. While she lies in her grave, and still thinks of her husband as her “loved one”, he is getting on with his life and giving the love that he once had for her to another woman. Her children are also trying to move on, realizing that no flowers or care for her grave will ever bring her back to life, and therefore believing that there is no use dwelling on what was. Even the one who was her enemy in life no longer hates her, believing that to hate her is a waste of effort. Finally, the woman’s pet dog, the “one true heart”, who probably stuck by her loyally in life, and loved her above any other, has forgotten all about her, only remembering her and her grave as he accidentally starts to dig a hole in her grave site to bury a bone to eat on a daily walk.
Meanwhile, the man in Keats’ poem realizes his insignificance in a far gentler, and easier way. When he starts to worry about dying before he has written down everything his mind is full of, or about whether or not he’s going to see the woman he loves again, he takes himself to “the shore of the wide world”, and shows himself how trivial such concerns are. He realizes that when he is gone, the world will keep turning, life will continue to go on, and it’s a rather humbling experience for him.
The two characters come to the realization of there insignificance through completely different ways. The woman in Hardy’s poem, seemed to be rather vain and probably considered her life to be unfulfilled. Unfortunately she was forced to realize the truth through the fore-mentioned events. On the other hand, the man in the Keats’ poem is in awe of nature and the world around him. He is happy that he found love, and is able to come to terms with the fact that life will go on without him.
Because of the sad and unfortunate themes to both poems, I really didn’t enjoy either of them all that much, but if I were to consider one to be my favourite over the other, it would have to be John Keats’ “When I Have Fears”. I found that the structure (the fact that it was written in the sonnet style), and the rhyming pattern, made it a smoother and easier read. I found Thomas Hardy’s “Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave?” to be somewhat monotonous. I had a problem with keeping my attention during the poem and felt he could have got his point across in a much shorter or maybe less repetitive way.
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