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The Roman Road -- Thomas Hardy

       
(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.
-- Thomas Hardy
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

25 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

* [Martin Julian DeMello on 19/08/00 05:00 -0500]

> The Roman Road runs straight and bare
> As the pale parting-line in hair

Wow ... typical Hardy ;) Does the man write about anything other than the
blasted heaths and moors? Yes in fact - see 'The Trumpet Major' - set in the
same moors, but far more lighthearted than, say, Jude the Obscure or The Mayor
of Casterbridge.

Surefire recipe for depression-induced suicide ...

1. Read Thomas Hardy
2. Play Floyd / Doors / Dead in the background
3. Get stoned on grass / vodka

;)

ps - replies tomorrow I hope ... am leaving for bangalore and my new job now.
'Net access likely to be a bit flaky for a while.

> This is, by Hardy's standards, a remarkably cheerful poem :)

I couldnt agree more ...

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