by Thomas Hardy
Analysis: Sound Check
Try reading the poem out loud. It's just a series of five questions, so how hard can it be? The answer: pretty hard. The lines are so long that it's easy to lose track of where you are, and each stanza is its own sentence, so the whacky sentence structure isn't much of a help, either. But don't worry – part of the fun of this poem is getting lost in the evocative images of each stanza. It's so easy to get caught up in the imagery that the move from the poetic descriptions of nature in the first three lines of each stanza to the quotation of what the neighbors will say can feel almost jarring. Compare the sound of "He was a man who used to notice such things" (4) to:
[…] like an eyelid's soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn […] (5-7)
It's almost as though you check out of the poetry-world for the last line of each stanza; the neighbors don't seem to live in the same plane as the speaker. But if you're not all that comfortable with reading the poem out loud, the breaks in the meter and poetic language that come with the neighbors' dialogue can feel like a welcome break.
The poem is full of alliteration and assonance (the repetition of vowel sounds) that make you slow down as you read it out loud. Some of the lines are a real mouthful – look at line 2, especially: "And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings." It's like a tongue-twister. But the final line of each stanza, when the speaker imagines what the neighbors will say, is much more like prose. The parts in quotation marks don't sound like poetry at all! These more conversational lines come almost as a relief after the tongue-twisting lines that trip you up and slow you down earlier in each stanza.