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During Wind and Rain -- Thomas Hardy

       
(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.
-- Thomas Hardy
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

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