Analysis and Performance through Film:
Song No.1, 'The Division'

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Analytical Description of 'The Division'
Performing the Song
Film Adaptation

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Analytical Description 

This poem was written in 1893 when Emma was still alive. There are many opinions as to what the poem is about: 

Evelyn Hardy believes that Thomas and Emma Hardy are sitting in a room together, yet there are 'a hundred miles between' them due to 'that thwart thing', their alienation;[1] Cecil Day Lewis has the idea that 'that thwart thing' is Emma's mental derangement; [2] Francis Bertram Pinion thinks Hardy is not addressing Emma, but his mistress, Florence Hennicker who is 'a hundred miles' away in London. [3]

Rain on the windows, creaking doors,
With blasts that besom the green,
And I am here, and you are there, 
And a hundred miles between!

O were it but the weather, Dear,
O were it but the miles
That summed up all our severance,
There might be room for smiles.

But that thwart thing betwixt us twain,
Which nothing cleaves or clears,
Is more than distance, Dear, or rain,
And longer than the years!

'The Division' has three stanzas. A study of the linguistic devices employed by Hardy in stanza one, reveals his careful portrayal of drawn out anger: the use of soft consonants (r, w, h, y, th), mixed with dissonant hard/sharp consonants (cr, d, b, g, tw), aliteration ('blasts', 'besom'), and long vowels (ea, ee, ere). Downes reflects this with dissonant music: conflict between E flat and E natural is first introduced in the triplet semi-quaver motif and then by the first vocal entry; the vocal line is jagged, consisting of intervals of sevenths and tritones mixed with tones and semitones; dissonant flourishes in the piano part are used to conjure up 'creaking doors' and 'blasts'. The rhyme scheme of this stanza is abcb, which creates tension from the end of line two to the end of line four. This is further strengthened by the music: the triplet semi-quaver motif in the piano, which has been immediately repeated on every previous appearance, only appears once on the word 'green', causing the listener to wait for the next playing of the motif, which occurs on 'between', the rhyming word. This unaccompanied passage (from 'And I am here' until the end of the stanza) lends itself to a feeling of forward momentum because there is no feeling of tonal centre: leaps of sevenths and tritones illustrate 'one hundred miles between'.

In stanza two, Hardy employs soft consonants (w, m, r, l, y) and sibilants, conjuring up a feeling of resignation. The contrast with stanza one is also a feature of the music, which is no longer dissonant. The conflict between E natural and E flat is resolved, as the music is now based on E flat. There is a predominance of lilting rhythms (for example dotted quaver, semi-quaver, two quavers), emphasising the feeling of resignation. The marking is mp molto legato, poco meno mosso. The vocal line, drawn from an octatonic scale, is far more conjunct, moving mainly by step.

In stanza three, Hardy reverts back to alliteration, hard/sharp consonants (which are difficult to articulate), and long vowels on the last word of each line to convey intense wrath. This is the only iambic cross-rhymed quatrain, meaning that tension is sustained throughout the stanza. The music from this stanza begins with the triplet semi-quaver motif on the piano from the beginning of the song, but this time is is marked subito mf: the feeling of anger has returned in the music as well. The use of conjunct motion and the octatonic scale in this stanza have the effect of emphasising the feeling of sustained fury as opposed to the feeling of resignation in stanza two. This could be due to the fact that the words are set in a highly declamatory fashion: each word has a crotchet except for key words, which have longer notes highlighting the long vowels. The music changes into different octatonic collections at apt moments: 'thing'; 'cleaves or clears'. These frequent shifts depict a kind of desperate rage. Underlying tension is created by soft diminished chords in the piano, which, rather than being resolved, move through intervals of a third, in common-tone progressions.

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Performing the Song, 'The Division'
The feeling of anger in stanza one could be emphasised in the following ways: sustained singing; a strong feeling of momentum (if rests are treated as breaks, and if the singer does not enter exactly on time at moments such as the first entry, there is a danger of dragging); extremely contrasted dynamics (the pianos could be sung in half-voice, and the fortes could be sung with an ugly nasal quality or chest voice if the tessitura is low); pedantic articulation of words such as 'blasts' and 'besom'. The rhyming between 'green' and 'between' can be emphasised by sustaining the note on 'green', and by maintaining momentum in the unaccompanied passage.

The feeling of resignation in stanza two could be emphasised by a modest use of crescendos and diminuendos: the composer has not added any dynamics, which is in contrast to the first stanza. The pianist has the difficult task of maintaining this resigned feeling until the last possible moment, before the desperation 'explodes' in stanza three.

In stanza three, the voice is marked forte while the piano is marked pp, so the voice has to maintain a loud, angry dynamic without much support. If this loud dynamic is not sustained right up until the end of each note (especially the final note), and if the momentum is not kept up through rests as in stanza one, the music is in danger of losing the underlying tension in the poetry. The'cl' on 'cleaves or clears' could be emphasised by pedantic articulation.

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Film Adaptation
You are now invited to watch a film realisation of 'The Division':

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[1] Hardy, Evelyn, Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography (London: Hogarth Press, 1954), 265.

[2] Lewis, 'The Lyrical Poetry of Thomas Hardy', 170.

[3] Pinion, Francis Betram, A Commentary on the Poems of Thomas Hardy (London: Macmillan, 1976), 70.

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