Fate and Chance in The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy's disillusionment over religion was a major theme in both his novels and his poetry. In his mind there was a conflict over whether fate or chance ruled us. He explores this dilemma in the poems "I Look Into My Glass" and "Going and Staying." Each poem takes a different stance on the matter. It is up to the novel The Mayor of Casterbridge to illuminate which position he ultimately adopts.
The poem "I Look Into My Glass" is similar to "Going and Staying" in many ways. Both poems deal with the effects of time. "I Look Into My Glass" is narrated by a person (I picture a man, although it could really be either) who is very old and looking at his wasted frame in a mirror. The narrator is grieving, not because he is old, but because his heart is still strong and full of feelings. He wishes that his heart had withered like his skin so that he wouln't have to feel the loss of all his loved ones, the "hearts grown cold to me" he mentions in the poem (ILIMG, line 6). The narrator blames a personification of time for this, saying "Time, to make me grieve,/Part steals, part lets abide" (ILIMG, lines 9, 10). Strength and vitality have been stolen from him while his heart has remained youthful. Emphasis in this poem is on the emotional rather than on the physical because the narrator values his emotions over his physical state. This does not mean that the narrator is indifferent to his condition. Just as much as he wishes his heart could be as frail as his frame, so does he also wish that his frame were a match for his heart. When he says time "shakes this fragile frame at eve/ With the throbbings of noontide" he means that his heart is still throbbing with the desires of youth or "noontide" while he unfortunately is in the eve of his life (ILIMG, lines 11, 12).
In "Going and Staying" the narrator speaks for more than one person by using "we." This narrator is looking at the way the beautiful things in the world, such as "moving sunshapes on the spray" are fleeting, while dreary and ugly things seem to last forever (GAS, line 1). Time is also personified in this poem through its "ghostly arms" (GAS, line 12).
Although time is personified in both poems, it is a very different figure in each. In "I Look Into My Glass" time is a malevolent forse whose purpose is to make the narrator suffer. Clearly, the narrator in this poem believes his actions are controlled by a higher power. There is even a prayer of sorts in the first stanza when the narrator says "Would God it came to pass/ My heart had shrunk as thin" (ILIMG, lines 3, 4). This poem says fate or destiny exists.
Differing greatly from the convictions of the narrator in "I Look Into My Glass" are the narrator's beliefs in "Going And Staying." The "we" in this poem at first postulate that a malevolent power is choosing the ugly to remain on earth while the beautiful disappears as soon as it comes into being. Because they...