A Broken Appointment by Thomas Hardy and The Breather by Billy Collins
Compare how the speakers in these poems express feelings of being let down in love. You should consider:
• ideas and attitudes in each poem
• tone and atmosphere in each poem
• the effects of the language and structure used.
‘A Broken Appointment’ (ABA) and ‘The Breather’ (TB) both demonstrate that with love comes rejection and that this rejection can cause loneliness as well as feelings of confusion, fear and anger. Hardy’s poem ‘ABA’ explores rejection through an organised meeting which his lover did not attend; the speaker’s disappointment and frustration is present throughout the poem. Similarly, the speaker in Collins’ ‘TB’ explores unrequited love, yet, the reflective and melancholy tone suggests a realisation that perhaps this ‘love’ never existed and was in fact ‘taking place only inside me’.
From the very beginning, Hardy explores an immediate sense of rejection: ‘you did not come’. This direct, opening line demonstrates the inevitable which is hinted at in the title: ‘A Broken Appointment’. This line is repeated at the end of stanza 1, creating a cyclical form (meta poetry), suggesting that nothing has changed and emphasising the fact his lover did not appear. He feels ‘numb’: the use of this adjective creates an image of a cold, lifeless man, suggesting an uncertainty of how to respond, yet ‘grieved I’ demonstrates that he mourned this rejection, demonstrating his sorrow and disappointment. Collins also creates feelings of rejection with the speaker beginning with the discovery that ‘the phone calls are coming from inside the house’. This creates a sudden, scary revelation that the issue lies a lot closer to the heart, and the house, normally a safe haven, becomes dangerous. This reveals the personal nature of his feeling of hurt when he realises that the feelings of ‘sweetness, the love and desire’ have ‘been taking place only inside [him]’, contrary to what he has been thinking ‘all this time’. The realisation that he has been in a one-sided relationship ‘all this time’ reveals a sense of hurt, rejection and betrayal, something so scary that it can be likened to ‘horror movies’.
Hardy’s poem is full of animosity and anger towards his lover: ‘love alone can lend you loyalty – I know and knew it’. Here the speaker highlights that he is more disappointed with the lack of compassion and warmth offered, ‘of human deeds divine’, suggesting the right and decent thing to do would have been to meet and end things, rather than not show up at all. The speaker’s tone is bitter and reflected in the repeated opening and ending line of stanza 2: ‘you love not me’. This stark, monosyllabic line demonstrates the speaker’s direct reflection, yet the repetition highlights how this is still raw and perhaps something in which the speaker will need to accept. In comparison, Collins’ speaker has a much more sombre and melancholy tone, suggesting the speaker is reflecting and anticipating that ‘its been only me’. His previous tricolon: ‘that sweetness, the love and desire’ has ended with the conclusion that the speaker was in fact ‘dialling myself’ and that his thoughts and hopes for what he thought was love are delusional and never really existed. The enjambment in both poems also helps to demonstrate a realisation of both speakers that their love is in fact no more.
Both poems reveal a sense of distance between the speaker and the lover. In ‘AB’ the symbol of a telephone is used. The symbol of a telephone, a device used to contact people who are a distant away, runs through the poem – it begins with the discovery about “the phone calls”, and ends with the fact that “it’s been only (him) and the two telephones”. This symbol that is used throughout not only symbolises the distance between the speaker and the lover, it also highlights their inability to
connect and communicate, and there is “sometimes a little breathing / but more often than not, nothing”. This lack of communication symbolised by the telephone also highlights the distance. This distance and detachment is also seen in ‘ABA’, where the speaker reflects on how the relationship used to be: ‘once you, a woman, came to soothe a time-torn man’. This suggests how things have changed between the speaker and his lover. The use of the verb ‘soothe’ implies that his lover would once comfort him, demonstrating a distant and past affection which no longer exists: ‘you love not me’.