For Better for Verse: An interactive learning tool that can help you understand what makes metered poetry in English tick.

Link to U.Va. English Department

I Look Into My Glass(1898)

Thomas Hardy

I look into my glass,
MeterI look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
MeterAnd view my wasting skin,
And say, “Would God it came to pass
MeterAnd say, “Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!”
MeterMy heart had shrunk as thin!”

For then, I, undistrest
MeterFor then, I, undistrest

Note on line 5: You might want to stress “I” here, set off as it is by a pair of commas. But by this point the first-person pronoun isn’t news: it’s occurred three times already in stanza one. Besides, stress thrown on “I” would detract from the stress of sense that belongs to the syllables on either side of it. “Then” emphasizes the desirability of that anesthetic state for which the poem professes to yearn; and more subtly “un-” does something of the same kind, highlighting the distress the speaker is all too palpably undergoing. And finally the regularity of a straight iambic scansion of this line mimics the condition of “equanimity” that is imagined (and likewise rhythmically performed) at the end of this stanza.

By hearts grown cold to me,
MeterBy hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
MeterCould lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity.
MeterWith equanimity.

But Time to make me grieve,
MeterBut Time to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
MeterPart steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
MeterAnd shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.
MeterWith throbbings of noontide.

Note on line 12: Scansion as EKG monitor? When a good poet writes about the pounding heart, expect to hear and feel it in the verse. The perfectly regular iambics of line 11 are there to set up the syncopated, skipped beat with which the poem thuds home. If it weren’t our rule that rhyme syllables take stress, we’d probably scan the last foot a trochee. Don’t let the spondee keep you from feeling how the last syllable flags, in comparison to the brightness of “noon” just before it. Hardy thus registers both the strength of still-young feeling and its dangerous incongruity with the “fragile frame” of a man growing old.



  Click the above link to hear the poem read by Stephen Cushman.
Show Stress    Foot division    Caesura    Syncopation