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At An Inn

At An Inn

'At an Inn' (1898) is a poem by Thomas Hardy about friends thought to be lovers, who then become lovers thought to be ‘just friends'. Published in his first poetry collection, Wessex Poems, the poem has become a much-read classic.

'At An Inn': about

Hardy's poem 'At an Inn' can be summarised as a poem about confined or forbidden love, societal laws and separation.

'At an Inn'
Written in:1898
Written by:Thomas Hardy
Published in:Wessex Poems (1998)
Structure:Five octaves
Rhyme scheme:ababcdcd with slant rhyme and end rhyme
Meter:Alternating Iambic tetrameter and diameter
Themes:Confined or forbidden love. Separation.
Literary devices:Alliteration, enjambment
Imagery:Sea and land.

'At an Inn': full poem

'At an Inn' is one of Thomas Hardy’s poems possibly featuring Florence Henniker, a woman with whom he apparently did visit an inn in 1893.

When we as strangers sought

Their catering care,

Veiled smiles bespoke their thought

Of what we were.

They warmed as they opined

Us more than friends--

That we had all resigned

For love's dear ends.

And that swift sympathy

With living love

Which quicks the world--maybe

The spheres above,

Made them our ministers,

Moved them to say,

"Ah, God, that bliss like theirs

Would flush our day!"

And we were left alone

As Love's own pair;

Yet never the love-light shone

Between us there!

But that which chilled the breath

Of afternoon,

And palsied unto death

The pane-fly's tune.

The kiss their zeal foretold,

And now deemed come,

Came not: within his hold

Love lingered numb.

Why cast he on our port

A bloom not ours?

Why shaped us for his sport

In after-hours?

As we seemed we were not

That day afar,

And now we seem not what

We aching are.

O severing sea and land,

O laws of men,

Ere death, once let us stand

As we stood then!'

'At an Inn': Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was born in the Dorset countryside in 1840. His rural upbringing influenced his literary work on a thematic level, leading him to create the fictional area of Wessex.

Hardy first married Emma Gifford at age 34. After Emma's death, he remarried a much younger, Florence Dugdale. Both marriages were considered unsuccessful and unhappy.

Similar to George Eliot, Hardy is often referred to as a Victorian Realist. His influences include John Milton, John Keats, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the philosopher, John Stuart Mill. Starting his literary career as a poet, Hardy then wrote novels considered to be classics of the Western Canon before going back to poetry. This was largely due to the controversy caused by the themes of his novels.

Victorian Realism is when an author or poet depicted life as accurately as possible. This era is considered to be one of the earliest uses of the term, 'realism'. Authors sought to portray ordinary people, living ordinary lives and speaking in ordinary ways.

Consistent themes in his work include the realities of country life, the class system, religion as a social regulator, gender inequalities, and marriage.

Hardy died a short journey away from where he was born in Dorset, England.

'At an Inn': context

At the time the poem was written, divorce, although officially legal was still considered socially unacceptable and was only possible for the very wealthy. This was due to the huge cost of the legal fees required. Hardy is not known for hiding his views on gender equality and marriage, at least in his novels. In reality, at the time of the poem, he was involved in a mutually unhappy marriage to a woman he wanted to cheat on. It is thought that in addition to his unhappiness, Hardy did not believe in the "eternal" aspects of marriage, as dictated by the church at the time.

Do you think that marriage is both a religious and a legal institution? If so, why?

Florence Henniker, an aristocratic author, was already married and although Hardy propositioned her, she apparently refused to have an affair with him. In the Victorian era, the consequences for women found to be having an affair were much worse than those for adulterous men. Generally, women would be considered ‘ruined’ and become outcasts.

Hardy wrote other poems about Florence, including 'Wessex Heights' (1914) and 'A Broken Appointment' (1901). After a long friendship, the two eventually did become lovers, according to this poem at least. It is known as fact that Hardy and Henniker were life-long friends who also collaborated on a short story, The Spectre of the Real (1893). Originally published only in Hardy's name, the work caused a small scandal for Henniker when her name was eventually attached in 1896.

Florence Henniker was born in 1855 in London. Ironically, she was named after Florence Nightingale, her godmother, with whom her father had a frustrated love affair.

She was an accomplished author, poet and playwright whose common themes included the reasons for the failure of heterosexual marriages and the then-current taboo around homosexuality.

'At an Inn': summary

'At an Inn' tells the story of friends, a man and a woman, who visit an inn together. The staff at the inn assume that they are lovers, even though they are not.

Ah, God, that bliss like theirs

Would flush our day!' (lines 15–16)

Without directly disputing the frisson that the staff sense, Hardy clarifies that they are not lovers, so we are led to assume that they must be friends.

Yet never the love-light shone

Between us there!' (lines 19–20)

Ironically, once the two do become lovers, they are no longer assumed to be lovers by other people. They cannot publicly or officially be together because one or both are still married at the time.

'At an Inn' is a poem about forbidden love and what Hardy viewed as the confines of his society that largely viewed marriage as something that was strictly ‘until death do us part’.

The poem is addressed to the woman who is first the speaker's friend and then his lover.

'At and Inn': form and rhyme scheme

The poem is five stanzas of eight lines each, so five octaves. It is written in blank verse with an rhyme scheme of ababcdcd. Some rhymes are examples of slant rhyme more than a direct end rhyme. This can be seen in the first stanza’s use of ‘care’ and ‘were’ as well as ‘ministers’ and ‘theirs’ in the second stanza.

Slant rhyme is a more subtle version of the usual end rhyme found in blank verse. It features words that sound remarkably similar without rhyming exactly.

'At an Inn': meter

'At an Inn' is written in alternating meters. Iambic Tetrameter is used for the long lines and Iambic Diameter is used for the shorter lines.

This creates a structural element to emphasis the enforced separation that the speaker feels exists between him and his lover.

Iambic tetrameter is a line of poetry that contains four metrical feet, each with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. It sounds like this:

duh-DUH duh-DUH duh-DUH duh-DUH

Iambic diameter is a line of poetry that contains only two metrical feet. Each foot is an iamb with two syllables, the first unstressed and the second, stressed. It sounds like this:

duh-DUH duh-DUH

'At an Inn': literary devices

Hardy makes extensive use of alliteration throughout the poem. Examples of his repetition of first letters can be seen in the first stanza’s ‘strangers sought’ and ‘catering care’. Other contrasting examples exist in stanza three’s, 'love-light', and stanza four’s 'palsied' 'pane-fly'.

The use of this device creates rhythm and accentuates words that Hardy would like to highlight. The sameness of alliteration, when contrasted with the alternating rhyme scheme, mirrors the paradox of the friends who appear to be lovers and the lovers who appear to be friends.

Hardy also makes use of enjambment, although this is reserved for shorter combinations than many modern poets use.

Enjambment is when a line of poetry runs on into the next without being broken by punctuation.

You can spot enjambment in the lines below:

And we were left alone

As Love's own pair;' (lines 17–18)

In this case, enjambment creates both rhythm and meaning, telling the reader how to connect the lines. Other examples of enjambment include lines 2–3 and lines 39–40.

What exactly is it that the speaker wishes he and his lover could go back to? Why do you think this?

'At an Inn': poetic references

Hardy alludes to another famous poem about romantic frustration. 'Mariana' (1830) by Lord Alfred Tennyson details unrequited love rather than forbidden love. The poems are linked by themes of confinement and separation, as well as references to a window (pane) and a fly.

Hardy’s 'pane-fly's tune' (line 24) is a fairly direct reference to Tennyson’s 'The blue fly sung in the pane' (line 63).

At an Inn - Key takeaways

  • 'At an Inn' is a poem written by Thomas Hardy in 1898.
  • Originally published in his collection, Wessex Poems, the poem is considered to be about Hardy and Florence Henniker.
  • Hardy’s main theme is forbidden and constricted love.
  • 'At an Inn' is a five-octave poem written in alternating Iambic tetrameter and Iambic diameter.
  • The rhyme scheme is ababcdcd that makes use of slant rhyme.


  1. Fig. 2 - 'The Spread Eagle' inn, Witham, Essex - geograph.org.uk (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:'The_Spread_Eagle'_inn,_Witham,_Essex_-_geograph.org.uk_-_196834.jpg) by Robert Edwards (https://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/3763) licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)

Frequently Asked Questions about At An Inn

It is five octaves of blank verse.

'At an Inn' is about forbidden or confined love and separation.

It is thought that Hardy wrote 'At an Inn' about his complex relationship with the author, Florence Henniker. They were life-long friends who may also have been lovers at a stage.

No. It is a poem with five octaves with an alternating iambic tetrameter and diameter. 

The poem has an ababcdcd rhyme scheme.

Final At An Inn Quiz


Who wrote 'At the Inn'?

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Thomas Hardy.

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Who is 'At the Inn' considered to be addressed to?

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The poem is thought to be addressed to Florence Henniker, an author who Hardy had a long term friendship with.

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What rhyme scheme does 'At the Inn' have?

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What types of rhyme does 'At the Inn' make use of?

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Slant rhyme.

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What meter does the poem 'At the Inn' make use of?

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Alternating Iambic tetrameter and Iambic diameter.

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What themes exist in the poem 'At the Inn'?

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Confined or forbidden love and separation are key themes in the poem.

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What are two literary or poetic devices used in 'At the Inn'?

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Alliteration, enjambment.

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What are some examples of imagery used in 'At the Inn'?

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Celestial bodies.

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What type of author is Thomas Hardy considered to be?

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Victorian Realist.

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What famous poem does 'At the Inn' reference?

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'Mariana' (1830) by Lord Alfred Tennyson.

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