(Poem #96) During Wind and Rain
They sing their dearest songs-- He, she, all of them--yea, Treble and tenor and bass. And one to play; With the candles mooning each face.... Ah, no; the years O! How the sick leaves reel down in throngs! They clear the creeping moss-- Elders and juniors--aye, Making the pathways neat And the garden gay; And they build a shady seat.... Ah, no; the years, the years; See, the white stormbirds wing across! They are blithely breakfasting all-- Men and maidens--yea, Under the summer tree, With a glimpse of the bay, While pet fowl come to the knee.... Ah, no; the years O! And the rotten rose is ripped from the wall. They change to a high new house, He, she, all of them--aye, Clocks and carpets and chairs On the lawn all day, And brightest things that are theirs.... Ah, no; the years, the years; Down their carved names the raindrop plows.
Hardy's poetry is somewhat more depressing than I usually care for, but it has a compelling quality that makes up for it. Today's poem deals with some of his favourite themes - death, oblivion and futility - and does so with his characteristic elegance and economy. The imagery is vivid and hard-hitting, the last lines of each stanza stripping away the comfortable mask of life and order, and hammering in the coffin nails of time. Note the way the relentless progression is reinforced by the alliteration, and by the repeated use of the penultimate line. It's interesting to compare Hardy's poems with those of Christina Rossetti, who expresses some of the same sentiments, but in a far gentler, more wistful and mistier style. Biography and Assessment: Thomas Hardy was born in 1840, and has for years been famous on both sides of the Atlantic as a writer of intense and sombre novels. His Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure are possibly his best known, although his Wessex Tales and Life's Little Ironies are no less imposing. It was not until he was almost sixty, in 1898 to be precise, that Hardy abandoned prose and challenged attention as a poet. The Dynasts, a drama of the Napoleonic Wars, is in three parts, nineteen acts and one hundred and thirty scenes, a massive and most amazing contribution to contemporary art. It is the apotheosis of Hardy the novelist. Lascelles Abercrombie calls this work, which is partly a historical play, partly a visionary drama, "the biggest and most consistent exhibition of fatalism in literature." While its powerful simplicity and tragic impressiveness overshadow his shorter poems, many of his terse lyrics reveal the same vigor and impact of a strong personality. His collected poems were published by The Macmillan Company in 1919 and reveal another phase of one of the greatest living writers of English. -- Louis Untermeyer Hardy seems always to have rated poetry above fiction, and Wessex Poems (1898), his first significant public appearance as a poet, included verse written during his years as a novelist as well as revised versions of poems dating from the 1860s. As a collection it was often perceived as miscellaneous and uneven--an impression reinforced by the author's own idiosyncratic illustrations--and acceptance of Hardy's verse was slowed, then and later, by the persistence of his reputation as a novelist. [...] Indeed, there is no clear line of development in Hardy's poetry from immaturity to maturity; his style undergoes no significant change over time. His best poems can be found mixed together with inferior verse in any particular volume, and new poems are often juxtaposed to reworkings of poems written or drafted years before. The range of poems within any particular volume is also extremely broad--from lyric to meditation to ballad to satirical vignette to dramatic monologue or dialogue--and Hardy persistently experiments with different, often invented, stanza forms and metres. -- EB