Hardy’s “Moments of Vision”

I’ve been wanting to return to the poetry of Thomas Hardy where my original love of poetry began, but haven’t been quite willing to take down the Complete Poems and begin reading from the beginning. So, I was pleased when wood s lot provided a link to Hardy’s MOMENTS OF VISION AND MISCELLANEOUS VERSES at Gutenberg.

I was originally attracted to this volume by the title poem, one I still find it powerful after several readings.


That mirror
Which makes of men a transparency,
Who holds that mirror
And bids us such a breast-bare spectacle see
Of you and me?

That mirror
Whose magic penetrates like a dart,
Who lifts that mirror
And throws our mind back on us, and our heart,
Until we start?

That mirror
Works well in these night hours of ache;
Why in that mirror
Are tincts we never see ourselves once take
When the world is awake?

That mirror
Can test each mortal when unaware;
Yea, that strange mirror
May catch his last thoughts, whole life foul or fair,
Glassing it–where?

On one level, the poem seems to suggest that there is an external force (may one dare to suggest, God?) who forces us to look at our true selves, a mirror that forces us to see our “whole life foul or fair? and “glassing it? on Judgment Day.

On another level, though, it seems to be the individual himself, or, perhaps, more precisely, his conscience that re-examines his life and ultimately judges the way he has lived.

Perhaps this poem rings true because after a certain age one is apt to look back on one’s life and make judgments about how that life has been lived. It’s hard not to have a few regrets, and it is perhaps easier to become sentimental about those regrets than to see them in the framework of later events. Actions we wish we hadn’t taken may in the long run actually teach us truths that profoundly affect the rest of our lives.

That is not to say that “in these night hours of ache? that we won’t despair over decisions we’ve made and events that have shaped our lives. One would probably be less than human not to rightfully have some regrets over a lifetime of actions, and I certainly consider myself human.