Thomas Hardy’s poem “No Buyers: A Street Scene” was published in 1925. This is particularly surprising as Hardy up to this point in his life had had a prosperous career as a writer (one of Hardy’s novels; Tess of the D’Urbervilles had even been at this point adapted into successful play) and it seemed strange that Hardy should be publishing such depressing poems such as No Buyers A street scene at this stage of his life.
In the poem, the reader is shown a small scene from the daily life of a man and his wife who walk aimlessly through dull and uninterested streets, trying to sell their ‘merchandise.’ The slow, sluggish rhythm of the poem and Hardy’s deliberate use of unnecessarily long words and overuse of conjunctions (such as: ‘A load of brushes and baskets and chairs’) which lengthen and prolong the poem, in a way, mirror the pace at which the elderly couple slowly walk the streets along with their ‘disjointed wagon’ and ‘whitey-brown hair[ed]’ pony.
Hardy in stanza one immediately creates a depressing scene as well as a sluggish rhythm by describing the couple as having ‘a slower tread than a funeral train.’ The comparison of their movements to that of a funeral procession is effective as it conveys to the reader how lifeless and excruciatingly slow their pace is. The man is even described as ‘chanting’ a ‘dirge’ (a funeral song). The song is not being sung, only ‘chanted’ which also suggests that there is a lack of melody, and therefore a lack of pleasantness about the song and the atmosphere.
In the second stanza, Hardy describes how the pony is not physically strong enough to ‘steer the disjointed wagon straight’ so as a consequence, the wagon ‘wiggles left and right in a/ rambling line.’ In the last line of the stanza, Hardy also writes that it is the wagon that is ‘pushing the pony’ instead of the pony pulling the wagon along the street (the plosive alliteration of the ‘P’ also emphasises the effort needed by the wagon to move the pony along as it is so ‘old.’). The language Hardy has used in this stanza is particularly effective as it suggests that it is in fact the wagon which owns the man, wife and their pony and which determines their path and movements, not vice versa. The poem shows that it is them who are enslaved to the wagon and the entire ‘load’ it carries, as they depend on the money from selling the items because otherwise they cannot survive.
In the third stanza, Hardy describes the woman in relation to her husband. This can be seen in the first two lines of the stanza:
‘The woman walks on the pavement verge,
Parallel to the man.’
Hardy purposefully leaves a blank gap between the two lines to show the physical gap between the woman and her husband as they walk along the street, and perhaps also to convey to the reader their emotional distance from each other as well. Hardy at no moment in the poem makes it clear how the old couple feel about each other, however after reading these two lines of the poem it shows that the woman has perhaps lost all emotion and feelings she once felt for her husband, as the shortness of the line suggests that the words and emotions that once would have filled the space on the second line about him, no longer exist.
Hardy proceeds to write in the stanza about the woman’s appearance, however the woman’s portrayal in the poem is not directly described; the reader only gets a description of her via her apron, as Hardy writes that she: ‘wears an apron white and wide in span,’ (the word apron is effective as it is associated with work, which is what she is doing, and as the apron is ‘wide’ the reader can tell that the woman is probably overweight). Hardy also writes that she ‘carries a like Turk’s-head, but more in nursing wise.’ This line from the third stanza seems to suggest that the woman is almost cradling the cleaning brush she is trying to sell, as if it were a child in her arms. Hardy includes this in the poem to generate sympathy for the woman, as she treats the objects she is trying to sell as her children, because she probably has not children or family of her own. She is described ‘as if her/ thoughts were on distant things’ which further emphasises that she longs for a different and better life to the one she has now.
The last two lines of the stanza: ‘So, step by step, they move with their merchandise And/ nobody buys’ suggest (like in previous lines in the second stanza of the poem,) that the man and his wife are dictated by the ‘merchandise’ they sell as they can only move forward in their lives by selling items. The use of enjambment between the two lines to fully isolate the line ‘And nobody buys’ is also effective as it accentuates the fact that actually nobody does buy the items they are selling, so the couple and their pony have to trek onwards in their miserable lives.
By Aysha Faroq-Garces