Thursday, November 8, 2012

"At Day-Close In November"

The passage of time is an ever-present theme in the poetry of Thomas Hardy.  Thus, for instance, Hardy often ponders the way in which natural and man-made objects stand as mute witnesses to the comings and goings of human beings.  Old furniture, wood floors, cathedral facades, rain-worn (of course!) tombstones, sun-dials, waterfalls, trees . . .

       At Day-Close in November

The ten hours' light is abating,
     And a late bird wings across,
Where the pines, like waltzers waiting,
     Give their black heads a toss.

Beech leaves, that yellow the noon-time,
     Float past like specks in the eye;
I set every tree in my June time,
     And now they obscure the sky.

And the children who ramble through here
     Conceive that there never has been
A time when no tall trees grew here,
     That none will in time be seen.

Thomas Hardy, Satires of Circumstance, Lyrics and Reveries, with Miscellaneous Pieces (1914).

                                  David Chatterton, "Devon Scene" (1942)

It has been suggested that the trees referred to in the poem are the trees that Hardy planted around Max Gate, the house that he built at Dorchester in Dorset.  When Hardy and his first wife Emma moved into the house, the land surrounding it was mostly bare of trees.  J. O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary (University of North Carolina Press 1970), page 291.

According to The Early Life of Thomas Hardy (the authorship of which was credited to Hardy's second wife Florence, but which was in fact mostly written by Hardy):  "Some two or three thousand small trees, mostly Austrian pines, were planted around the house by Hardy himself, and in later years these grew so thickly that the house was almost entirely screened from the road, and finally appeared, in summer, as if at the bottom of a dark green well of trees."

The following poem is about Hardy's planting of the trees for Emma.

       Everything Comes

'The house is bleak and cold
     Built so new for me!
All the winds upon the wold
     Search it through for me;
No screening trees abound,
And the curious eyes around,
     Keep on view for me.'

'My Love, I am planting trees
     As a screen for you
Both from winds, and eyes that tease
     And peer in for you.
Only wait till they have grown,
No such bower will be known
     As I mean for you.'

'Then I will bear it, Love,
     And will wait,' she said.
-- So, with years, there grew a grove.
     'Skill how great!' she said.
'As you wished, Dear?' -- 'Yes, I see!
But -- I'm dying; and for me
     'Tis too late,' she said.

Thomas Hardy, Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses (1917).

                                               Delmar Harmood Banner
               "Yews In Mardale Church Yard Before Destruction" (c. 1945)

In a note to the poem, J. O. Bailey suggests that the source of the poem's title may be the proverb "Everything comes to he who waits," and that the applicability of the proverb in this instance is sadly ironic since Emma died before the trees grew to their fullest.  (J. O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary, page 401.)  This is the sort of irony that would never be lost on Hardy.

An aside:  the image of a "bleak and cold" new house in which "All the winds upon the wold/Search it through for me" brings to mind Edward Thomas's "The New House," which I have posted here previously.  It begins:

Now first, as I shut the door,
I was alone
In the new house; and the wind
Began to moan.

                       William Rothenstein, "Wych Elm in Winter" (1919)


Bovey Belle said...

Thank you - on a day when my soul is brought low - it is good to have a snippet of Edward Thomas (he did NOT like that house for all its careful construction!) and dear Thomas Hardy, whose countryside I know so well. I love your connection between the poems of the two poets.

As for dear Thomas Hardy, the first poem is so descriptive of the sort of dour November day we have here today. The pines surely must have been those he planted around Max Gate. With the 2nd poem, Emma died in November 1912, and although I am not sure of the exact date the poem was written, it must be one of the grief-stricken (or guilt-ridden?) poems he penned after her death. Max Gate still lurks behind the shrubbery to this day . . . "Bower" seems a particularly romantic idea not quite at one with the concept of full grown pine trees!

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: it is good to hear from you again, although I am sorry to hear of how your day has been. I hope the Hardy poems helped a bit. Although Hardy isn't exactly the poet one thinks of when one needs cheering up!

You are correct: "Everything Comes" was written after Emma's death. Thus, it is one of the self-lacerating poems that Hardy wrote in its aftermath. He didn't place this poem in the well-known group "Poems of 1912-13," so I believe that it was written subsequently.

Thank you again, and I hope things improve.

Bovey Belle said...

Thank you Stephen. With life, there are ups and downs (the latter being all too often beyond our control, being in the hands of mortals who we would not welcome into our circle of friends - malcontents, if you like.)

To be able to turn to poetry or prose and glean hope and a degree of consolation from someone else's creative thoughts (even doleful old TH!) is reassuring.

Ah, dull November days - we have another such today!

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: thank you very much for your follow-up thoughts. In light of what you say, I realize that I was too glib and hasty in my first response. I agree that TH (like any good poet) is well worth reading when one needs cheering up (or at any other time): they help us to put things in perspective, and to focus upon what is really important.

Thanks for stopping by again.