Hardy considered himself primarily a poet. But he delayed writing poetry until his novels, which were a huge success, had brought him financial stability. This poem is one of the few that Hardy wrote that has elements of humour. But the ending has the grimness of most of his poetry.
The characters in this poem are a pedlar and his wife who walk along the streets hawking brushes, baskets, cradles and chairs. The master and his horse mirror each other in their swaying, waddling walk. Both seem half asleep. The pedlar’s wife is hardly more energetic. They don’t make things happen. So they don’t sell anything either.
beginning of the poem brings a smile on the face of the reader. The pedlar, his lazy horse and his wife are all shuffling along the streets, calling out their wares in a sing song voice. Everywhere we see the keen observation of Hardy, the novelist. The diction is prosaic as suits the subject. Unlike his other poems, there is no remorse or guilt here. But at the end of the poem, there is a tinge of sorrow. The pedlar, his wife and the wagon which the old horse is pulling is filled with wares but their lack-lustre approach ensures that nothing is sold.
With his novelist’s keen eye, Hardy describes the pedlar and his horse. The wagon is filled with humdrum things like brushes, baskets, cradles and chairs. It is raining and the procession consists of the pedlar, his wife and the horse pulling the wagon behind it. They move slowly, slower than a funeral procession. In keeping with that, the man calls out his wares in a sing-song voice that resembles a dirge. All the while he swings a brush in the style of a major domo. Right behind him ambles his horse that is ‘whiteybrown’ in colour. The horse walks with a studied indifference keeping pace with his master, stopping when the master does. The horse has scarcely enough strength to keep the wagon straight so it moves in a wiggly line.
The pedlar’s wife keeps the pavement and she carries a brush as if it were a baby. Occasionally she lends her voice to augment the pedlar’s cry but her heart is not in it; she seems preoccupied. Soon her apron gets soaks in the rain and clings to her. Thus they move along with their merchandise but no one bys anything from them.
There is humour in the poem but there is also a vein of despondence running through it. The pedlar and his wife are not energetic and failure is staring at them. The old horse has caught their mood and plods along. The group is not going anywhere.