Background

Like most of Hardy’s poems, this one is melancholy in tone. It portrays a love that has ended or is soon to end. Hardy was never completely successful in love, and this coupled with his inherent pessimistic attitude, colored much of his poetry. The last stanza is enigmatic in tone. The question seems to imply that if the poet really does love the woman, why should he leave her because he is sure to fall in love again and repeat the experience of loving and losing.

Metaphorical inference

The poet parts from the woman he loves with a perfunctory kiss. He then watches her walk away through the crowds that are sometimes jostling and sometimes quiet. As she pulled away from him, she would disappear altogether only to reappear, now just a spot of white. Nowhere in the poem is there any warm sentiment expressed to indicate that he would miss or pine for her when she is gone. They have made some plans, and in all likelihood she will be back but the relationship cannot be the same as before. The conversation in the last stanza poses this question: why does the poet have to leave the woman he loves since he is very likely to fall in love again with another? The answer to that query is: nothing happens twice in identical way though the poet is not sure why this is so.

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Summary

This poem is about a changing relationship. The poet and the woman kiss at the departure barrier and he watches her walk away till she grows smaller and smaller. At no point in the poem does the poet speak of the lady with warmth or even emotion. Rather he watches her progress through the pushing crowd until she vanishes from sight. That the relationship has changed is clear from the line:

And she who was more than my life to me
Had vanished quite.

They have planned to meet again sometime but the poet admits that things will not be the same as before. The short conversation in the last stanza raises this query: when the poet loves this woman, why does he leave her since he is likely to fall in love again soon? For this the poet’s answer is: though he cannot say why, nothing happens in identical fashion twice.

Analysis

Stanza 1

The opening is sudden, but there is no passion in the kiss, it is perfunctory. The couple part at the barrier, the woman moves away, and the poet watches her receding from sight until she is just a moving spot.

Stanza 2

The lady who is clad in muslin now is so far that she is like a spot of “muslin fluff”, insubstantial and insignificant. She walks down the platform, moving through jostling crowds that are sometimes polite but often rough too.

Stanza 3

Through pools of darkness she moves and then she suddenly appears illuminated by the insubstantial glow of the lights. She weaves through crowds of people who pursue unknown concerns far removed from that the poet and his lady.

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Stanza 4

Soon even that spot of muslin fluff completely disappears from sight. The poet had at one time loved her more than his life but he now he cannot see her. It is symbolic of the state of their relationship.

Stanza 5

Since the departure of the lady on that pleasant day, the couple have communicated by letter and made plans and the lady is expected to return to him in time but something would have changed by then and equations between them would have changed forever.

Stanza 6

This last stanza is in the form of a conversation between the poet and a listener. To the question why should the poet flee from the joy of being with a woman he loves since she is sure to fall in love again, the poet replies that there is no surety that things will happen in the same away again.

Overall impression

There is lack of genuine emotion in the poem. Instead, there is weariness and the distinct feeling of the best being over in the relationship. Only the dregs of feeling are left. The woman the poet loves is expected to come back but this is said with not much anticipation.