Thomas Hardy’s dry wit and penchant for social critique are at the heart of his poem “The Ruined Maid,” which takes the form of a dialogue between two young women, former fellow farm workers, meeting after a period of years. The only named woman, ‘Melia, is the title character, who wears glamorous clothing and lives richly because she is “ruined;” she has become a prostitute. Hardy’s rhyme scheme underscores his satiric theme in the poem.
“The Ruined Maid” has six stanzas, each with two rhyming couplets. Unlike most poems using couplets, however, this one relies on a single, repeated rhyme for the second half of every stanza, giving the poem this scheme: AA BB CC BB DD BB EE BB FF BB AA BB. Dominique Costa of the University of Madrid points out that the first two lines of each four-line stanza are masculine, meaning they are stressed, single-syllable words. The BB lines, the final two rhymes of each stanza, on the other hand, are more complex, often artificially stressed syllables or final syllables of longer words, such as "la-dy" (line 15) or "melancho-ly" (line 19).
The poem’s regular, repetitive rhyme scheme combined with its anapestic rhythm, often used in comic or children’s verse, creates a light mood that is very much at odds with the subject matter. The rhyme and meter give it a “happy, musical lilt” that is “almost nursery rhyme in quality,” according to a British Broadcasting Company study guide. This lilting, playful tone, which relies so heavily on the rhyme scheme for its effect, provides much of the poem’s satirical intent, commenting upon limited opportunities for women in Victorian society and hypocrisy about female sexuality.