Eight O’Clock What happens when the church bell tolls your final hour? Does your party dress turn to rags and your beautiful carriage revert back into a pumpkin? What do you do when your last sixty minutes are up? Many people pray to their God for salvation, and many others wish to go back and correct the wrongs in their lives. Many, though, await death’s embrace by cursing fate and dreading their moment of death, just as the man in A. E. Housman’s poem, “Eight O’Clock” does. The man in the poem is on death’s row and, rather than repenting and hoping for forgiveness from on high he laments his fate and angrily awaits his doom.
It is apparent that the man awaits death because he is “strapped, noosed, [and] nighing his house. ” To be strapped means that there is no way out, presumably from his situation, and he most certainly is for his situation is quite dire, and at this point he has no real chance of survival. To be noosed means one has a noose – a rope for hanging – tied around one’s neck so that he may be hanged which only adds to the fact that he’s certainly strapped. To nigh one’s hour means to near it, and the man must be nearing his final hour for he is certainly ready for his hanging and he continues to count down until his doom.
Time is emphasized several times in the poem, showing just how close to death the man is. “[He] heard the steeple sprinkle the quarters on the morning town,” which is to say, he heard the bell toll each quarter of an hour as though it were raining down upon him just to mock him. The man counted them one-by-one until, on the final ring before he met his fate, “the clock collected in the tower its strength, and struck”. The clock’s strength refers most probably to how heavily it must ring. To the man, on that final quarter hour toll, it must have sounded as heavily as he had ever heard it.
For, truly, it would be the last time he ever heard it. Rather than accepting his fate, the man sits and curses it instead. To accept what is happening to him would be to admit that what he did to deserve his fate was wrong, that he was truly guilty of sin. To feel that guilt, to repent for what he had done, would be to ask forgiveness, which in all rights is the smarter path to follow. Yet, for some reason, the man asks not for forgiveness, but for the wrath of God. The man does this because it is most likely he has committed no actual crime, his fate is not deserving of the punishment bestowed upon him.
He has either been framed, or the punishment placed upon him much more severe than his transgression would merit, why else would he not ask forgiveness for what he had done? It is easy to curse one’s fate. It is easy to blame others for what has occurred. It is easier, still, to believe oneself innocent even when he is not. It is not easy, however, to stand and wait for death to arrive knowing that the path one chose should not have lead them there, that he should not be on his way out.
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