“Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave?” by Thomas Hardy has six regular stanzas of six lines, which are written sequentially. The lines generally have eight syllables. In all but the second and last stanzas, the second and last lines of each stanza have six syllables. The rhyme scheme is regular, with the second and last lines rhyming and the three lines in between rhyming with each other. The meter is very irregular, with accents falling on different syllables. This quality was possibly inspired by the folk music of Hardy’s time. Another musical quality of this poem is that there is a refrain: “Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave?”
In the second line, when the woman asks if the one digging is her “loved one? – planting rue?” the word ‘rue’ is a double entendre. Rue is a shrub that symbolizes sorrow, so the corpse is really asking her loved one both if he is planting flowers on her grave and if he is feeling sorrow about her death. When the woman’s kin say “No tendance of her mound can loose/ Her spirit from Death’s gin” they are referring to a gin as in a type of snare or trap used to catch animals. There is synecdoche in the phrases “the brightest wealth has bred” in the first stanza and “one true heart was left behind” in the fifth stanza. This poem also uses a lot of irony.
The woman-corpse wants to believe that her former acquaintances remember her and are affected by her death, but she continually finds out that the opposite is true: they have little concern for her now that she is dead. Hardy uses personification with the corpse and the dog. He gives them human traits like the ability to speak and feel emotions. When the dog is burying a bone on his dead mistress’s grave, it symbolizes how the people she knew while she was alive now view her. To them, she is just a bunch of bones buried in the ground, and no longer of any importance.
The central theme of this poem is that no love or hate outlasts death. There is a lot of disappointment in the poem, depicting death and the afterlife as tragic things. The black humor and irony reveals a sad message: the dead woman is forgotten and eternally lonely. The poem is also satiric, mocking the sentimentalism of continual devotion to the dead. Hardy takes a similar stance as the Feste in Twelfth Night.