Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Proper Place, Part Two: "On One Who Lived And Died Where He Was Born"

One's Proper Place may be where one is right now.  And where one is right now may be where one has been for ever.  Although it may be hard to imagine in today's world, there was a time in which one lived and died where one was born.  And this is still the case in many parts of the world. Perhaps this was not (and is not) such a bad thing.

                      Christopher Wood, "Lemons in a Blue Basket" (1922)

   On One Who Lived and Died
           Where He Was Born

When a night in November
     Blew forth its bleared airs
An infant descended
     His birth-chamber stairs
     For the very first time,
     At the still, midnight chime;
All unapprehended
     His mission, his aim. --
Thus, first, one November,
An infant descended
        The stairs.

On a night in November
     Of weariful cares,
A frail aged figure
     Ascended those stairs
     For the very last time:
     All gone his life's prime,
All vanished his vigour,
     And fine, forceful frame:
Thus, last, one November
Ascended that figure
        Upstairs.

On those nights in November --
     Apart eighty years --
The babe and the bent one
     Who traversed those stairs
     From the early first time
     To the last feeble climb --
That fresh and that spent one --
     Were even the same:
Yea, who passed in November
As infant, as bent one,
        Those stairs.

Wise child of November!
     From birth to blanched hairs
Descending, ascending,
     Wealth-wantless, those stairs;
     Who saw quick in time
     As a vain pantomime
Life's tending, its ending,
     The worth of its fame.
Wise child of November,
Descending, ascending
        Those stairs!

Thomas Hardy, Late Lyrics and Earlier, with Many Other Verses (1922).

Not surprisingly, the world-view of the "wise child of November" sounds a great deal like Hardy's own.  This world-view is distilled in "He Never Expected Much" (written by Hardy when he was eighty-six), which begins:

Well, World, you have kept faith with me,
           Kept faith with me;
Upon the whole you have proved to be
           Much as you said you were.

                  Christopher Wood, "Angelfish, London Aquarium" (1930)

2 comments:

Rick's wife said...

I haven't read much of Hardy's poetry, but lately I keep coming across references to him. First the Auden, and now I am reading "Cakes and Ale" by Somerset Maugham, who was accused of modeling the character of Edward Driffield in that novel on Hardy. Maugham denied this, but is at his most deliciously subversive here.

Stephen Pentz said...

Rick's wife: it is very nice to hear from you.

Thank you for the reference to Cakes and Ale: I haven't read it, and now I am curious to see how Maugham portrays Hardy. I see that it was published in 1930, after Hardy's death, so the ever-sensitive Hardy would not have seen it. I will track it down.

Perhaps these coincidental encounters with Hardy are telling you: read his poetry! (Please!)

As always, thank you for visiting, and for your thoughts.