(Poem #519) The Roman Road
The Roman Road runs straight and bare As the pale parting-line in hair Across the heath. And thoughtful men Contrast its days of Now and Then, And delve, and measure, and compare; Visioning on the vacant air Helmeted legionnaires, who proudly rear The Eagle, as they pace again The Roman Road. But no tall brass-helmeted legionnaire Haunts it for me. Uprises there A mother's form upon my ken, Guiding my infant steps, as when We walked that ancient thoroughfare, The Roman Road.
There is something ineffably romantic about the old Roman roads, those enduring remnants of a vanished empire. They spoke then, and speak now, of the might and organization of that empire, and their present day existence is a continuing point of contact between Then and Now. It is the second of these properties that forms the basis of Hardy's poem, a reflection on the Road, and the way it bridges the past and present - except that he refers to a far more personal and immediate past, and in doing so, raises the road to the same level of immediacy. The two images overlap - the Road of the ancient Romans, that survives even now and recalls a bygone civilisation, and the road of the poet's youth, recalling a bygone past. And finally, the use of 'ancient' in the penultimate line brings the whole thing into focus - the road not only is ancient, it *was* ancient even in childhood memory, and so the timeline clicks into place and two roads become one again. Links: You can find a biography at poem #96 We've recently done a theme on ancient Rome: poem #490 poem #492 poem #494 poem #495 And rather longer ago, one on roads: poem #47 poem #49 poem #51 And, of course, you can see all the previous Hardy poems we've run at [broken link] http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/index_poet.html PostScript: This is, by Hardy's standards, a remarkably cheerful poem :) -martin