About this sample
About this sample
Words: 1557 |
8 min read
Published: Aug 31, 2023
Words: 1557|Pages: 3|8 min read
Life is a tough journey full of many hardships and obstacles. One may question themselves on what exactly the meaning of life is and why it can be so cruel sometimes. Still, there seems to be no precise answers to these fundamental questions. Everyone interprets life in a different way. Correspondingly, the poems “O Me! O Life!” by Walt Whitman and “To Life” by Thomas Hardy are both about life and how exhausting, horrible, and hopeless it can be. However, rather than sulking, these poems teach us how to overcome struggles in life, be grateful for the experiences, and always maintain hope for the best. That is the central message portrayed in these poems. Both “O Me! O Life!” and “To Life” delve into the sorrows of life and society through their pessimistic tones and gloomy imagery; yet, they manage to find a glimmer of hope through a transformative shift in attitude.
Both “O Me! O Life!” and “To Life” share cynical and pessimistic tones to portray the sadness in life and society. In “To Life”, Hardy focuses on the bleak parts of his existence, often expressing how tired he is of life and his struggles. Hardy comments:
“I know what thou would’st tell
Of Death, Time, Destiny—
I have known it long, and know, too, well
what it all means for me.” (Hardy 5-8)
In this stanza, he speaks to life as if it is a person. He accepts his unpleasant fate and acknowledges how much of a struggle his life is. However, he never gives himself a chance to see his life from a positive perspective and merely assumes his destiny is going to be a horrible one. Anything could change his fate, whether it is good or bad. This just goes on to show the detrimental tones and how much of a pessimist Hardy is in this part of the poem. Additionally, Whitman’s poem also holds similar tones of cynicism.
In “O Me! O Life!”, Whitman has a highly negative view of life and usually immerses himself in self-loathing and hopeless thoughts. These thoughts and opinions of his are recurrently expressed throughout the poem. It shows he is nothing but cynical. In one line Whitman quotes, “Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)” (Whitman 3). This line demonstrates Whitman’s disapproval and disappointment in himself for not fulfilling his expectations and for not acting how he should. He deems that he is no better than the other foolish and imperfect people around him. This quote is evident in the fact that this poem possesses pessimistic and gloomy tones because of how negatively he thinks. The same goes for “To Life” as well. Both poems denote bleak and negative tones through their thoughts of pessimistic views and opinions on life and society. Furthermore, the two poems also share similar imagery of gloominess.
“O Me! O Life!” and “To Life” both have comparable depressive imagery. Especially in “To Life”, the gloomy imagery is prevalent where the topic of Hardy’s struggle against fate and life is repeatedly vocalized. Hardy states:
“O Life with the sad seared face,
I weary of seeing thee,
And thy draggled cloak, and thy hobbling pace,
And thy too-forced pleasantry!” (Hardy 1-4).
In this stanza, Hardy uses a variety of visually figurative devices to help readers imagine the setting and the atmosphere. He utilizes an apostrophe to directly address life as a person and describes it as sad and insensitive to the suffering it causes to himself and others. He expresses how fed up and weary he is by Life. In the next line, he uses personification to describe Life’s actions and looks, illustrating Life’s clothing as dirty and its pace slow and awkward.
Finally, in the last line, he talks about how Life keeps up a facade of happiness and joy when in reality, life is anything but that. From these descriptions, it is easy to imagine what life feels, means, and looks like for Hardy. The sorrowful imagery is obvious through his choice of words. Similarly, “O Me! O Life!” contains sad imagery of life and society as well.
In “O Me! O Life!”, a fair amount of visual poetic devices are used to convey an image and of misery and despair. Whitman notes, “Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me, / Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,” (Whitman 5-6). The first line depicts an image of a dismal, unexciting, and ignoble society since people around him are suffering through the battle of life or failing as well. The second line refers to hopeless ideas and dreams that people and himself spend years wasting and chasing after, and the frustration that comes with it when they fail to achieve them. Moreover, Whitman utilizes words such as “plodding”, “sordid”, “empty”, and “useless” to further emphasize the downcast imagery. Therefore, both “O Me! O Life!” and “To Life” share gloomy and depressing imagery through their choice of words and many visual figurative devices to illustrate the imagery. Likewise, both poems also share a change in attitude.
Towards the end of the poems, both “O Me! O Life!” and “To Life” are subjected to a shift in attitude. Firstly, in “To Life”, the shift is in the stanza where Hardy concludes:
“I’ll tune me to the mood,
And mumm with thee till eve;
And maybe what as interlude
I feign, I shall believe!” (Hardy 13-16).
Finally, the readers get to experience an ounce of optimism in the poem at the end. The first line is about Hardy finally accepting his fate can be changed for the worse or better. The second line deals with Hardy having to conceal his numb spirit through a mask of contentment until the day he dies. Last but not least, the final two lines mean for some time, he may pretend to believe life is well and full of hope instead of sulking about it. Although the message in this stanza is a bit dreary, it still teaches readers to appreciate their lives while they can and believe and think of the bright side of things rather than moping. It also tells readers to make the best of their lives and to endure the agony even though life may feel terrible. Moreover, the shift in this stanza establishes an alter in Hardy’s understanding of what he is unfolding and indicates to the readers that he has come to a conclusion. Similarly, this is also what happens in Whitman’s poem.
Contrastly, the last two lines in “O Me! O Life!” signal a shift to a more optimistic attitude. Whitman writes, “That you are here—that life exists and identity, / That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” (Whitman 9-10). In the first line, he describes life and existence itself is enough of a reason to live and that human life is sacred. The second line contains a crucial metaphor where the “powerful play” is depicted as the ongoing play that is life and that each person will “contribute a verse” equally and leave a mark on the world as well as teach others to do the same. When Whitman says “you may contribute a verse”, he signifies that every person has a role in life that assists in assembling the “powerful play” as well as the ability to contribute a verse whether it is a failure or successful one. He also explains that everyone should find their verse or purpose and not give up on their one chance at life. Whitman reminds readers that their time on earth is short, valuable, and unforeseeable so the best way to take advantage of it is to make a change and do not waste time. He mentions that being a unique individual rather than being part of a crowd is essential for living a good life as well. The sudden optimism and wise words in both poems are evidence of a shift in attitude. In short, both shifts touch upon living the best life while it lasts and enduring the hardships rather than sulking or having a negative state of mind, leaving the readers hopeful and confident.
Overall, “O Me! O Life!” and “To Life” give an idea of the sadness of life and people through cynical tones because of their depressive thoughts and perspectives on life and society. Secondly, they both share sorrowful imagery through their choice of vocabulary and the use of descriptive figurative devices to illustrate the imagery. Lastly, a shift in attitude is apparent in the last stanzas where at first, the negatives of life are discussed as the main ideas then, the positives are suddenly brought up, providing a strong contrast which leaves the reader feeling hopeful and motivated. The poems teach people that even though life is a difficult thing to get through, the ability to make something worthwhile and improve the quality of their life is within them. They both point out the daily struggles embedded in life and how tiring and doleful it can be, that even though it can change people’s faith in themselves and in humanity, it is always better to think through a positive perspective and seize the day.
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