When comparing four poems, two of which each written by Hardy and Rossetti, we can see that they portray death and the supernatural in different ways. Although all the four poems have the same theme, they have all been expressed in different ways. For example, Rossetti’s Up-Hill studies the transition from life to death, and it is displayed as being comforting and familiar. One way she does this is by presenting the poem as if it is a normal conversation between two people.
In Who’s in the Next Room? Hardy, however, makes this same transition seem very frightening and alarming. Comparing these two poems gives us a good example of how different poets can write about the same subject, and give their own interpretations, in this case, about death.
In Who’s in the Next Room? There are three different people talking in the poem; a questioner, someone to answer these questions, and the spirit that is passing over to the next life.
There appears to be no definite interaction between the speakers, and there is no proof that the questioner can hear the answers.
This gives a sense of the spirit being completely and suddenly cut-off from life. Rossetti’s Up-Hill is different in that the two speakers are responding to each other, and they are interacting. The questions that the enquirer asks are answered, making the poem more reassuring.
Hardy’s poem is very cold and chilling, and it seems as though only the reader can hear the answers. The inquisitive person is obviously very scared, and at the beginning of every verse keeps asking the same question, “Who’s in the next room? – who?”. This repetition of the word “who?” shows the fear and apprehension and that the question is never answered, and the repetition is like an echo, which makes the atmosphere more chilling. The person is also very unsure about what he or she sees, and is hesitant in what he or she says, for example “I seemed to see”. The responses that are given are neither comforting nor helpful; they are sinister and inconclusive, “Nay: you saw nought. He passed invisibly”. Reading this poem appears to give the sense that in the next room is indeed death, of which he or she is unsure, as it is unfamiliar and unknown. The answers given don’t give any reassurance, but simply create more fear, and the atmosphere of the poem is very mysterious and eerie.
Up-Hill is a much more optimistic poem, and is more reassuring and comforting. Although they both describe the journey to the after-life, Rossetti’s appears to be difficult, but not sinister or scary. Rossetti’s journey is difficult and long, which we can see from her description of the journey taking “from morn to night”. Despite this, there is a resting-place along the way, and inn, as she says. This inn could be a religious reference, i.e. like the resting-place of Mary and Joseph before Jesus’ birth. She also says, “Of labour you shall find the sum”, meaning that people will get what they work for, and expect the comfort they deserve. This could be interpreted as a Christian having to lead a good life for a place in heaven. Although, she does say that there are “beds for all who come”, which shows that God forgives all, and he has a place for everyone.
Hardy has no religious references in his poems, so maybe Hardy was not a religious person. He also does not make the “next room” seem heavenly, and maybe his poem is in reference to hell. And the spirit is in a sort of waiting room, before he or she moves on to the next room, with each person having the messenger of death, ready to guide you on to the “next room”. The door to the next room is described as being “concealing”, which makes it more mysterious, and all is hidden.
Even though these two poems are very different, Hardy and Rossetti have written two other poems which are very similar in style, both having four verses with eight lines in each, with the sixth and eighth lines of each verse rhyming. Hardy’s The Haunter and Rossetti’s At Home are both about death’s ability to make you lonely and take away the interaction with the people that you love. Despite the different situations of the spirits in the two poems, they are both very lonely.
Just as in Hardy’s Who’s in the Next Room?, in The Haunter we also see a lack of interaction between the two characters. This is about a dead woman talking about haunting her husband whom she has widowed. We can see that the husband cannot hear her as there are no responses from him. The echoing of rhyming word such as “know” and “go” makes it seem more haunting, and sounds like the echo of the voice of a spirit that is isolated in an empty space, showing loneliness.
Rossetti’s At Home is also about a dead person coming back to haunt his or her loved ones. This poem is about a person who views his or her friends whilst they’re dining, appearing unconcerned about their friend who has just passed away. They are carrying on their lives as if nothing happened. This shows how their friendship was quite shallow and the memories of their friend faded quickly and they are back to normal; “they sang, they jested, and they laughed”. The ghost realises that he “was of yesterday”, and is now unimportant as they care only of “Tomorrow and today”. The spirit went their seeking comfort from the old friends, but, “I shivered comfortless, but cast/ No chill across the tablecloth”. This shows how he or she is now unimportant to the world, and has no effect on it anymore.
The main difference between theses two poems is that one shows a man who cannot move on after his wife’s death, and the other shows a group of people who seem indifferent about their friend’s death now, and how he or she is no longer loved after death, and their death did not have much impact, whereas the husband in The Haunter has been very affected by his wife’s death.
Overall, Hardy’s depiction of death and the supernatural is much eerier and more negative, whereas Rossetti’s is more comforting and reassuring. Hardy uses techniques such as echoing to create the creepy, uncomfortable atmosphere, whereas Rossetti’s language is more naturalistic, and easier to relate to, making death seem easier and she gives more reassurance.
Both Up-Hill and Who’s in the Next Room? are about journeys from life to death, and The Haunter and At Home are about spirits visiting loved ones, and there are many similarities and differences which show the way they each view death and the supernatural. Hardy’s ideas are obviously more depressing whereas Rossetti’s are more upbeat. Hardy’s aim seems to be to make people uncomfortable with death, whereas Rossetti’s appears to be more about reassurance.
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