Study Guide

The Ruined Maid Man and the Natural World

By Thomas Hardy

Man and the Natural World

Even though "The Ruined Maid" is a poem about two women who bump into each other in town, there are plenty of little references to the country. We've got a farm, potatoes, dirt, and references to rural labor—check, check, check, and check. Even though this isn't a nature poem, it's definitely a poem about humanity's relationship to the natural world. 'Melia used to work the land, our speaker still does, and if we learn one thing in this poem it's that nature can be a tough taskmaster. There doesn't seem to be anything glorious about farming.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. What is the effect of all the dialect words in this poem? Does it make the natural seem strange, weird, foreign? Why or why not?
  2. What does this poem have to say about farming? Does life in the country seem nice, relaxing, and harmonious? What parts of the poem give you your idea?
  3. How would you describe 'Melia's relationship to the natural world? How would you describe the speaker's relationship?
  4. How might the poem's formal elements (dialogue structure, rhyme, meter) connect to the theme of man and the natural world?

Chew on This

Let's face it, gang: man's relationship to nature is always tough. If this poem is any indication, working the land is backbreaking work—so backbreaking that it destroys one's clothes ("tatters"), skin, even happiness.

Different classes have a different relationship to the natural world. Rural laborers actually resemble nature (what with all that dirt and grime on their bodies), while people like 'Melia merely wear pieces of it (i.e., jewels or feathers) for decoration.

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