First Essay: Poetry

First Essay: Poetry

By Evan Papamichael

In this essay a comparison of two poems is proposed; this is, John Milton’s “Methought I saw My Late Espouséd Saint”, and Thomas Hardy’s “The Voice”.  They are similar in that they both deal with the vision of their dead wives as a ghost; in addition, they differ in that Milton has a dream or a vision whereas Hardy hears a voice.  Furthermore, there is a contrast in each poet’s theme.  Milton’s sonnet is characteristic of intimate devotion and lovingness toward his wife, viewed by the blind poet; while, the theme in Hardy’s poem is that of a couple who experienced difficulties and insecurity of thought; for instance, this is reflected in the mourning of the survivor after the death of his wife.  There was a difference in the impact of death on the two widowers; that is Milton felt grief but it was addressed to the reader; meanwhile, in Hardy’s poem, the significance of his grief is that it is directed towards his former wife.  The essay will be centred around three major areas of consideration; for instance, imagery, mood, and finally rhythm.

In terms of imagery, it is worthwhile to consider Milton’s poem. From the commencement, there is the sighting of a phantom – the initial word “Methought” suggests this.  A realisation of Milton’s loss of his spouse is stressed by the outburst ...“But O”… “Her face was vail’d”…, since he never had had sight of her.  Also, this points out the frustration of the greatest form which is associated with such dreams.[1]

Milton incorporates religious beliefs with ancient mythological ideas in his sonnet, which are formulated as similes.  Firstly, …“Like Alcestis”…“as whom washt from”…“child – bed taint” … such yet… “in Heaven”… is a reference to ancient times when Admetus’s wife was saved by a Herculean power.  Secondly, from a Jewish perspective, Milton refers to the …“ritual [of] Purification in the old law”… [which]… “was thought sufficient to save childbearing women from death”… Thirdly, from a Christian viewpoint the …“trust” … in Christ is stated as one who saves all humanity from death[2].  From the above references we find that Milton provides an intimate message to his wife.

Conversely, sound and emotion are richly expressed throughout Hardy’s poem to form imagery, and the personal grief is remembered.  This is evoked by  ...“Woman much missed” ... and … “the woman calling” …  In the second stanza we read … “Can it be you that I Hear?  Let me view you then” …; the rhyming of “view” and the initial “you” emphasises Hardy’s insecurity about the genuineness of the ghost’s voice.[3]

The mood in Hardy’s poem is structured ...“in antinomial terms: present is set against past, life against death, hope against despair”...[4]  Hardy is denying the prerogative which all Christians have; for instance, that through moral law salvation is freely bestowed by grace.

On the other hand, Milton expresses the link between heaven and living Christians, even to “blind men”; that is by signifying that through faith there are no obstacles to heaven.  Yet the mood in Milton’s sonnet takes on the image of a dream.  The poet’s thinking has the strength to knock down all restraints to togetherness...“death no longer separates man and wife, blind men may see angels, and matter and spirit may embrace”...[5]

In terms of rhythm, a mention needs to be made about the change in meter of both poems.  It appears that “mood” and meter alter in Hardy’s poem.  The most important point about it, is the way the stanza structure alters at the conclusion ...“as the poem shifts from memory and imagination to present reality; here the meter becomes in a sense metaphorical, changing as the mood of the poem changes”...[6]

Similarly it is meter and the senses which vary in Milton’s sonnet.  This is found in the structure of mood and meter.  Daiches states:

...the emotion moves steadily along the movement of the lines and for the most part Milton is content to let pauses demanded by the sense and those demanded by the meter coincide – through the emphatic run-over in lines 11-12 “in her person shin’d/  So clear” is a striking exception.[7]

Therefore it is evident that both Milton’s sonnet and Hardy’s poem are not entirely different.

While trying to be objective, one cannot help but to consider Milton’s poem to be more comprehensive; for example, it incorporates religious beliefs and blindness which together overcome grief.  On the other side of the token, Hardy merely wrote the poem as a consequence of his wife’s death; consequently, he provided a secular viewpoint for his reader about the topic, unlike Milton.


1.   Brooks, Jean, R. Thomas Hardy:  The Poetic Structure, New York, Cornell University Press, 1971.

2.   Daiches, David. Milton, New York, W.W. Norton and Company, 1957.

3.   Hynes, Samuel.  The Pattern of Hardy's Poetry, Raliegh, The University of North Carolina Press, 1966.

4.   Nardo, Anna K. Milton's Sonnets and the Ideal Community, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1979.


 [1] David Daiches, Milton, New York, W.W. Norton and Company, 1957, pp.142-143.

[2] Anna, K. Nardo, Milton’s Sonnets And the Ideal Community, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1979, p.38.

[3] Jean R., Brooks, Thomas Hardy: The Poetic Structure, New York, Cornell University Press, 1971, p.83

[4] Samuel Hynes, The Pattern of Hardy’s Poetry, Raliegh, The University of North Carolina Press, 1966, p.78.

[5] Nardo, op cit, p.37.

[6] Hynes, op cit, p.138.

[7] Daiches, op cit, p.143.