A Broken Appointment
You did not come,
And marching Time drew on, and wore me numb.
Yet less for loss of your dear presence there
Than that I thus found lacking in your make
That high compassion which can overbear
Reluctance for pure lovingkindness’ sake
Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum,
You did not come.
You love not me,
And love alone can lend you loyalty;
– I know and knew it. But, unto the store
Of human deeds divine in all but name,
Was it not worth a little hour or more
To add yet this: Once you, a woman, came
To soothe a time-torn man; even though it be
You love not me.
THOMAS HARDY (1840–1928)
This is one of those poems that you can read and read and read again and still be left thinking what on earth is this about? But in the end, it is another example of how language has changed over the years. Note please, the dates when this poet and great author was alive. He was born in 1840, before the Crimean War broke out, when the British Empire was in its infancy as led by Queen Victoria and he was writing just after this time of great turmoil. Do some research on him, from his life, where he lived, what themes he wrote about and you will begin to see links into this and other poems. One of his poems is called Woman Much Missed for heaven’s sake. He writes about broken relationships. Tess of the D’Urbevilles is a fine example, so it comes as no surprise to see words like “You love not me.”
The title tells us a lot in this matter in the fact that the word “appointment” is indicative of a meeting like a dental or doctor’s appointment rather than a lover’s rendezvous. It suggests just a meeting rather than anything serious, but it also tells us from the beginning that this one was “broken” and as you read, it seems it has been broken without telling the man who is meeting the woman. Then as you read the first line, you begin to see the negatives in the poem, rather than the positives, so this is one of those love poems that is about broken love, or unrequited love, a love that is only one sided.
The speaker says “you did not come,” suggesting a meeting had been arranged and that as the speaker waited, “marching Time drew on,” or went by in such a way as to annoy. Anyone who has made a date with a man or woman and that person has not arrived will know the feeling that this evokes. It is a feeling of rejection and can be annoying as that time passes and you realise that the person has no intention of meeting you. It saps at the heart strings. It wears you down and makes you feel “numb” inside, leaving you with a sense of negative self worth; you feel as if you have done something wrong to deserve this sensation of pain.
Yet, the speaker [is this a man speaking to a woman or the other way around? Just because a man write it does not matter or factor into an answer to that question. We see the answer later]. Yet, there is a sense of “loss” felt by the speaker not so much because of a lack of “presence there” at that time, but more because of the feeling of being “found lacking” in the realms of love. This a poem about heartache and any amount of “high compassion” does not seem to matter for the speaker. It can be borne. It can be overcome. The speaker knows that [but will not like it] and the partner’s “reluctance for pure loving kindness’ sake” to attend the so called meeting gives no sense of happiness or relief at being jilted. In fact, there is a profound sense of grief, even though the partner did not attend. The speaker feels as if even in their good times, there was a sense of love and relationship, but “as the hope-hour stroked its sum,” which means as the hour of their appointment came, there was hope for that day, but then, says the poet, “you did not come.” The repetition of the start and end of the verse is worked on purpose [never forget that] to urge the reader into sharing the pain at being jilted for their meeting. The sense of pain and heartache is palpable.
But then we get the second verse and a slightly different take on matters. It is not sufficient that the poet has the speaker saying “you did not come.” Now, the tone gets stronger, as the speaker says “you love not me,” which is a slightly archaic manner of saying “you do not love me” as a result of their lack of an ‘appointment.’ Love, says the speaker, can lead to “loyalty.” The speaker knows that to be the truth but still shares the regret at losing that love, but the loss of such loyalty is the thing that is hardest to take here in this poem, especially as we consider the next few and remaining lines. If, says the speaker, with all the “store of human deeds” it is possible for that partner to share one last meeting together, then that person should at least have the courage to meet and say that this is the end. That would be the gracious thing to do. It would be almost God-like, sharing the “divine” nature of love “in all but name,” but then the speaker shows their true feelings for the absent partner in this liaison. “Was it not worth a little hour or more” of your time, the speaker asks, to “add yet this” one special moment to our relationship, rather than to just not attend? If she, the woman [as we see in the next line] would have attended the appointment, to “soothe a time-torn man” in his turmoil, then his life could continue apace and he be happy enough to see their relationship end. But we know, from the nature of this poem and the words contained therein that this is not the case. He has been left to think one thing – “You love not me.”
These are painful and powerful emotions at play here in this poem. There is nothing so beautiful as being in love. There is nothing so time consuming as sharing love with another person and in this poem we see how one man is able to share his love for a woman, but how she does not love him back in the same way, if at all. This is the pain and the raw power of unrequited love. From the days of William Shakespeare [and beyond] to the modern song writer poets, this kind of love poem has shown the painful side of human relationships and it is something that Hardy wrote about a lot in his works.