Study Guide

The Ruined Maid Stanza 1

By Thomas Hardy

Stanza 1

Lines-1-2

"O 'Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?

  • The poem opens with somebody addressing a woman named "'Melia," and it appears these two have just bumped into each other.
  • They have bumped into each other in town (our so our speaker says), and something about 'Melia (probably short for Amelia) surprises her. (We're just assuming that the speaker is a she at this point.)
  • This is why she says "this does everything crown." Normally, we would say "this crowns everything." This is poetry, though, and word order is, well, flexible.
  • Anyway, you may or may not have met this idiomatic phrase before, but let's break it down.
  • A crown goes on the top of somebody's head. It's a symbol of power, authority, royalty—that sort of stuff.
  • If you think about it, when somebody becomes a king or queen, they have a coronation ceremony, and somebody puts a crown on their head. It's a ceremony that lets everybody know, once and for all, that so and so is the monarch. 
  • So, taking all this together, if you were to say, "this does everything crown," it would be like saying "well this just beats (or tops) everything."
  • That's neat, but what is "everything," and what is "this"?
  • We don't know yet, but we're guessing that we will learn soon enough…
  • Let's keep going then, shall we?

Lines 3-4

And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?"-
"O didn't you know I'd been ruined?" said she.

  • The speaker continues to address 'Melia. She asks her where ("whence") she got such "fair garments" from and how she has arrived at a state of "such prosperi-ty."
  • If this poem were written now, we might say "whoa, where did you get that Chanel purse and those Seven jeans?". 
  • Clearly, Melia has moved up in the world. The speaker notices the various little changes.
  • "Prosperi-ty" is just "prosperity," but it is spelled this way to give our speaker a different kind of voice.
  • If you say the word out loud like that (say "prosperi-" and then say "teee"), it almost sounds like you're pronouncing the word for the first time, or that you're unsure how to pronounce it.
  • This makes the first speaker sound like a less educated person, somebody who isn't from the "Town" (a place of culture, education, and the modern), but is perhaps from a rural area.
  • After the first speaker shows us her unique pronunciation of "prosperi-ty," we finally get to hear from 'Melia.
  • 'Melia basically says to her friend, "Oh didn't you hear that I'd been ruined?"
  • Ruined how? Is her face scarred as a the result of some mysterious illness, like the character from Game of Thrones?
  • Or is there a more metaphorical meaning to "ruined"? 
  • The correct answer is…
  • Metaphorical. In the Victorian period, to be a "ruined woman" was much worse than having a scarred face. 
  • It meant that a woman had had sex before marriage, had lost her virginity before tying the knot.
  • Yeah—it definitely wasn't a good thing. These women were not, well, very respectable in those days. Sometimes, the Victorians referred to them as "fallen women." 
  • Nowadays, we might say something to the effect of "she's damaged goods." 
  • Anyway, we don't know for sure if 'Melia has had sex before marriage, or if she's somebody's mistress, or if she's a prostitute, but it's really, really strongly implied.
  • She's moved from the country to the town, she's got some new clothes, and she flat out says she's a ruined woman.
  • Hardy was notorious for talking about really risqué subjects like this, and definitely wasn't afraid to do things like show his audience a "ruined woman" who really has no problem being ruined. 
  • (If you don't believe us, check out this article.) 
  • At any rate, before we move forward, we need to take note of a few things.
  • First, note that 'Melia says she's been ruined. This use of the passive voice suggests that 'Melia isn't really responsible for the whole business.
  • She has been ruined… by somebody.
  • Who is that somebody? And is this really true, or is she trying to lay blame elsewhere when in reality it is her fault? We'll have to read on to find out. 
  • Before we do, though: two other things to note are the rhyme and meter.
  • The rhyme follows a simple AABB scheme. This means that lines 1-2 share an end rhyme, as do lines 3-4. Two lines in a row that rhyme are called couplets, so we essentially have two couplets in this stanza
  • The meter of this poem is a little more complicated.
  • At heart, it is… wait for it… anapestic trimeter. Got that? If not, head on over to "Form and Meter" for all the deets.

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